If I had been told, prior to having children, how difficult, how wrenching it would be, and I took those words to heart, I would never have become a mother.

If I had known then, how hard it was to raise a truly unique individual, one who doesn’t meet anyone’s definition of normal (yeah, yeah, I know that whole “what is normal anyway?” crap, but until you’ve met or loved or dealt with a person on the spectrum, you truly have no idea (I put myself in that category, I assure you)), I would have shied away from starting a family that included more than furry children. If I had known how whole my heart had been before it had been touched with children, and how it would tear into little pieces every time one of them hurts, I would have insisted on more birth control. If I had even an inkling of how children in my life was going to completely throw me into an identity crisis that could have killed me; had I known beforehand that I would struggle with the face staring at me in the mirror for years after the birth of my son; had I been able to divine the future and see that I would give up my dreams of continuing education indefinitely for children; I mostly likely would have run screaming in the opposite direction of parenthood.

Had I known the ramifications of unprotected sex, truly understood them, I would have clamped my knees together and demanded a damned chastity belt.

But then.

I would never have experienced how large my heart could grow to accommodate these children. I would never have seen my husband hold his babies in his arms and feel my love for him grow exponentially with each one. I would never have completely fallen apart at the thought of losing one of my kids and then found the iron core within myself to fight for their happiness. I would never have heard their little voices laughing with the sheer, unadulterated joy of life and breathing. I would never have gotten to view the world through the eyes of a child as an adult. I would never have looked into the clear eyes of my children and seen the purest, truest kind of love shining back at me.

I would never have known what it is to be someone’s parent and not their best friend.

I would never have been able to embrace the ways in which my parents’ raised me. I would not be able to look back at things I’d considered unfair or uncaring at the time they happened and see the love of my parents blazing out at me. I would never have experienced the bliss that I feel whenever my kids run and hug on my parents.

I would never be able to look my mom in the eye and tell her that I know. I know and I love her and I’m grateful.

Being a parent is hard. There are no words that can hold the amount of effort, the amount of pain, the amount of fear, the amount of irritation, the amount of lost sleep that being a parent contains.

But there is so much that makes it the best experience of my life.

Not the least of which is the end of I and the beginning of we.