Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences.

By Sheila Quirke

“I love you, Mama.” I hear those words and my heart cracks open, its contents oozing out over the kitchen counter. They take my breath away for a hundred different reasons. The words are a gift from my youngest son, who came to us through adoption. No matter how many times I hear them, they thrill me and humble me.

Before we adopted, I wondered if loving and parenting a child who did not grow inside me might be different for us. Our first two children came to us the old-fashioned way. Loving them from the get go was natural, immediate, organic and uncomplicated. Would loving a child who was adopted feel different? Be different? I didn’t know, but I wondered.

In retrospect, my concerns were a little reminiscent of the wonderings I had as we awaited the birth of our second child. How on earth could we ever love another child as much as we loved our first? Was there room in our hearts for two? Will that love feel differently to us? Oh my goodness, what if I have a favorite?!

Then, that second child – a son, it turns out – was born. The love was there. Unconditional and effortless. Any concerns I had, any worries, faded away on a river of diapers and sleepless nights.

But similar concerns, sure enough, popped up as we moved to adopt. Uncertainty crept in, worries, wonderings about loving a child who was not conceived by us. Those concerns seemed justified and I indulged them, never allowing myself to feel shame for feeling what I was feeling.

Those concerns were rooted in online exchanges where I learned that adoption was not seen in the best light by many individuals. Where people who were adopted or placed a child for adoption felt cheated and unwhole and angry. Adoptive parents were often seen or portrayed as the enemy, baby thieves, selfish and brutal. Comment sections are always an education.

I reached out to the couple of friends I had who were raising a mix of biological and adopted children. I asked questions. I listened. I absorbed. I learned. And I hoped.

The reality is that it has been different raising a child who is adopted. Mostly because adoption is different. Our son has a Birth Mom who exists in the world and struggles every day with her loss. That is real and is never lost on me. Our son has biological connections to folks he has never met. Those connections are real. And the grief they feel is real, too, having a member of their family that is not part of their everyday orbit.

At three, our son is still too young to understand the complicated nature of adoption. He knows me and my husband as Mama and Daddy and while we speak of adoption and what that means, it is still too abstract a concept for him to fully grasp.

I think because adoption is different, I don’t take any “I love yous” from my youngest son for granted. They are a gift to me each time I hear them. As with many of life’s most important matters, my children guide me, show me the way. They have a purity and innocence and levelheadedness that is unclouded by adult cynicism, guilt, shame, or any other countless reasons for why an adoptive mother might feel less than or unworthy.

I trust in my youngest son’s love for me. I value it and experience it in a way that is different than with my two older children. Some part of me knows that I have had to earn that love, even in its three-year-old incarnation. I honor that and value it, too.

In truth, I should not take the love of any of my children for granted, regardless of how they came to our family. That is one of the valuable lessons my youngest son has taught me. “I love you,” is a gift that I try hard to be worthy of every day.

Sheila Quirke lives in Chicago where she is a mother, wife, blogger, and freelance writer.  She also throws a mean Halloween party for 2nd graders.  You can find her words HERE.

Are you looking for some awesome children’s chapter books? The BRAND NEW second book in the Jazzy’s Quest chapter book series for adoptees is HERE!!! Be sure to get your copy of Jazzy’s Quest: What Matters Most, the sequel to Jazzy’s Quest: Adopted and Amazing!

Carrie Goldman is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter.