Experienced mothers told me that motherhood can change you, your marriage, your priorities, and your body – for good and bad. They warned me I would be tired. They warned me I would worry. They told me I would love this precious creature that I grew inside me for almost 10 months more than anything.

What they didn’t tell me was how becoming a mom would heal me, repair my soul, and make me stronger than ever before.

I always assumed I would be a mother, just like my mom and the generations before. I knew becoming a mom was like growing breasts. It’s going to happen eventually, but I didn’t know when.

Friend’s and older sibling’s kid’s birthday parties didn’t inspire any tug at my baby heartstrings. Actually, they had the opposite effect when I was in my early 20s and newly married. Yes, most of the babies looked cute – when they weren’t screaming or drooling or smelling bad or wiping sticky fingers on me. But I left those parties as soon as I politely could, and with a migraine, thinking, I’m so not ready for that.

My uterus felt zero pangs of longing. Zero. Thankfully my husband was on the same page.

And then it happened to us. One sunny summer morning, my husband and I were enjoying pancakes and lattes at a little neighborhood café. We noticed an infant sleeping peacefully in a baby carrier next to our table. We looked at each other and smiled.

“Let’s have a baby,” he said. I felt a mix of terror and excitement at the prospect of growing a person inside me. I was 24.

“Don’t think about it, just have fun trying to make babies,” said one well-meaning friend as she rocked and soothed her 6-month-old side to side against her chest after I told her it hadn’t happened yet. Each month that I peed on the narrow white plastic stick but didn’t see a plus sign made me want what my body was denying me even more.

After almost a year of trying, I finally got pregnant.

My husband and I agreed we didn’t want to know the sex until the baby was born. But at the requisite 20-week ultrasound, the baby’s sex was obvious. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing to a blurry white shape on the screen. “That,” said the doctor, “is his penis.”

A boy. I was having a boy. I would name him after my father, whose death left me sad and adrift when I was 17. We would have a beautiful baby boy to carry his name.

My husband beamed. He couldn’t wait to share the news with his parents. But, alone in my car on the drive home from the doctor’s office, I pulled over to the side of the road and cried. My father would never meet his grandson, adding again to the growing list of milestones he had missed.

I relished every pound I gained, carefully choosing every bite that crossed my lips, and marveled at the life growing inside me with every kick. But it was his first breath that began healing my broken heart. His sweet baby scent and dewy soft skin was completely intoxicating.

I carried my precious son everywhere and never wanted to put him down. Never did I think I could love so deeply, or be so happy, again.

The emptiness inside me began to fill with each day, each smile, each gentle coo, each time his little hands reached for me. Yes, there were times I was too exhausted to feel anything but frustration during the late night feedings or the countless middle-of-the-night diaper changes.

But I had changed. No longer were my needs the most important. No longer was life just about me. I was a mom now. And I was whole.