Ok I admit, I submitted this letter for a Real Simple writing contest on love. The contest asked you to write about when you learned the true meaning of love. So I did. I didn't really think I would win and I didn't, but I don't really care. What matters is that it inspired me to write. And now that I know I definitely didn't win, I wanted to share the letter. There couldn't be anything more true and I'm thankful to the folks at Real Simple for the inspiring contest.
When Did You First Understand the Meaning of Love?
I first understood the meaning of love through the selflessness of my daughter’s birthmother.
I am a very fortunate person. I have so much love around me, being married to the love of my life, being close to both of our parents, siblings and extended families, and of course the love of our beautiful daughter who we adopted when she was four days old. I can hardly imagine a life more full of love, so I thought I had learned the true meaning of love several times before we adopted our daughter. But it turns out I hadn’t.
I thought I understood the meaning of love when I was growing up. I have a wonderful mom, dad, sister, thirteen cousins and dozens of aunts and uncles who I was and still am close to. There was always so much love around. My sister and I were best friends and we did everything together. There were long family vacations, easy Sunday mornings eating Cheerios, homemade Michael Jackson dance videos that we still laugh at today, and plenty of evenings spent outside waiting for the ice cream truck, staring up at the stars on warm Texas summer nights.
I thought I understood the meaning of love when I was in middle school, when I fell deeply and insanely “in love” with three to four boys/victims who I would follow around and sneak notes to during class. Unfortunately none of them “loved” me back.
I thought I understood the meaning of love when I was in high school, when I met my first real boyfriend who actually loved me back. When all there was to do was get homework done and then I could spend all my extra time daydreaming about building a life together with him, about being an adult and having my own family. He was my driver to and from school so I didn’t have to take the bus, my prom date, my warmth during my first cold winter in the north after growing up in the south. This was a great love, but college changed me and a career changed him, so we gave up our daydreams and went our separate ways after high school.
I thought I understood the meaning of love in college, when I was surrounded by the best friends and roommates a girl could have and a boyfriend who taught me how to be a truly original person. College was such a fast blur, but the bonds of friendship created during that time of craziness, experimentation, and drama were so strong that I still love and stay in touch with all of my college friends.
I thought I understood the meaning of love in the years after college, when I finally broke out of the chains of my childhood insecurities and learned to love myself.
I thought I understood the meaning of love when I met my husband Brandon. After a few relationships that were great but didn’t last, I wasn’t sure I had the capacity to fall so crazy in love again. I was worried that if I did the feeling might go away after a while as it had in my past relationships. But I did have the capacity to love again, and that love has never, ever gone away. In fact it has grown far stronger through the challenges we’ve faced together.
I thought I understood the meaning of love when all of our family and friends stood by us through the painful years of infertility and the adoption wait. We struggled through two early miscarriages, three failed rounds of IUI, three failed rounds of IVF, and a 17 month adoption process that finally brought us to Emma. During that painful time we were blessed with a love so deep from the support of our families, friends and even coworkers as we rode through the roller coaster of emotions in that process. Our friends and family lifted us up when we were down, dealt with the sadness, anger, and jealousy that we felt so guilty for feeling, and were there to encourage us to keep the hope for just one more day to get through it.
But none of this, and I mean none of it, can compare to when I actually did fully come to understand the meaning of love. I’m not belittling all the love in my life prior to this. Honestly I can’t imagine a life more full of love than the one I’ve been blessed with. But I truly, totally, and wholly learned the meaning of love on the day we met our daughter Emma.
When her brave and wonderful birthmother so selflessly created an adoption plan so that Emma could have a life that her birthmother couldn’t give her. This is the true meaning of love.
When we learned that her birthmother didn’t name her because she wanted us to be able to do that so that we could be a family from the start. This is the true meaning of love.
When I had the pleasure of a brief conversation with Emma’s birthfather the day after she was born and he told me that he was there for her birth and that she was beautiful, and that he hopes God blesses us and thanked us ten times. This is the true meaning of love.
When I learned a few months ago that Emma’s birthmother had reached out to our agency for pictures and letters and admitted that she thinks about Emma every day and was just afraid to be in touch, she wanted to leave us alone. This is the true meaning of love.
For all of you parents out there, think about how strong and fierce your love is for your children, and how much love it would take to admit that you wanted them to have a better life than you could give them. Creating an adoption plan for her child was a totally selfless act that I know left a hole in Emma’s birthmother’s heart that will be there forever. That is why I believe it is the strongest love I’ve ever known, and I thank her every day for the gift she gave us and for helping me to finally understand the true meaning of love.