What Life Could Have Been

I almost wasn't born. I almost didn't get adopted. I almost got delivered to the wrong family at the airport. I almost didn't get to where I am today. But here I am, happy and grateful. My story starts in Romania in 1992, where I was immediately handed off to an orphanage after birth. Then three years later, I left for the United States to live with the only people I've ever called family.

For me, there were always stories that danced in my head about my secret past that resembled a princess fairytale. None of those stories were ever true, but I've always been imaginative. My imagination and my impulsiveness have always gotten me in trouble, so when I was 17, I secretly contacted the adoption lawyer who made my adoption possible. At the time, discussing adoption records with minors was prohibited, so my parents were notified.

The process of finding my birth parents taught me so much about myself, adoption and family. Here are four things I learned from the experience:

1. Great parents are those who tell their children how special they are and support their dreams, even if they don't completely understand them. These are my parents, and they've raised me to believe that I've always been wanted and I'm special. They've been so gracious to help me find my voice and story. They were the ones who didn't let me quit when I had difficulties learning how to read and write.

My parents understood that I was extremely curious about my past and agreed to take the steps to help me find out more about where I came from. Within a year, we had tickets to Romania and we were met by a friend of the adoption lawyer who worked as our translator and guide.

2. Nothing can prepare you for the realization of what your life could have been. Driving in a manual transmission vehicle along dirt roads and hilly terrain, past men on haystacks and stubborn cows, was not ideal. When we pulled up to the village, a boy on a horse led us to their home. We followed in the car. I was petrified, scared and sad. We then stopped in front of a small fence made out of thick tree branches. Three people greeted us: a man, a woman, and a little girl. None of them looked like me, and yet the the little girl and I immediately connected. The woman was overly eager and the man was reserved. These people would have been my direct family, if they had not given me up at birth. They told us about their lives and why I had been given to an orphanage.

3. People can be happy in their current conditions, even if they don't align with your perception of happiness. I was surprised to see that they were happy in their home, which was a small brick structure of two rooms.Their hands were leathery from hard work under the grueling sun. They had livestock on the side of the house and a patch of olive trees and grapevines out back. It took me a while to understand that circumstances are not as important as being with the ones who you love. Their way of life was much different than mine, and seeing the remarkable difference was important. That could have been me.

4. Life is an accumulation of events that directly and indirectly affect each other. There are so many hypothetical "what-ifs" to my story and multiple chances that could have prohibited me from living the life that I have today. Every time I look back on my trip to Romania, I find true strength and motivation in how far I've come. I'm truly grateful to all the people who've helped me become the person I am today.