Not looking for my birth parents just wasn’t an option for me. I’ve had this crazy curiosity about them since I was eleven years old. It started in seventh grade, Christmas Eve. I woke up in the middle of the night, completely covered in sweat and drowning in my comforter. I tried shaking the dream out of my head, but it was the first time I’d put a face to someone.

Before I woke up, it was Christmas day. We had just finished opening presents and were sitting down to eat breakfast casserole—a tradition in our house. I heard an engine running out front and then silence. Because I was the queen of being the first to answer the phone or the door, I bolted to the front entryway to see what surprise visitor we had. I opened the door and my jaw dropped.

Sitting in our driveway was a big red truck. Not like the trucks you see for families, but one pulled out of the history books. It was an old Ford, two doors and low to the ground. A man with wiry red hair and a brown coat was walking up our driveway. He stopped for a moment when he spotted me at the door, then continued up to the front porch, on a mission. He had a burly beard, but his face looked young. Striking blue eyes contrasted his red hair. I stood there, frozen.

I don’t remember how the conversation went, but I woke up when I learned the most important detail: my biological dad had come to visit me for Christmas. He had resisted doing a drop-by visit for 11 years, but that day he couldn’t sit still long enough to talk himself out of it. He had to come see his long-lost daughter in the flesh.

I woke up from my dream in a panic. I had just experienced the first image of the man that chose adoption for me before I was ever born. It put realism to this idea I had of my biological parents. They’d always just been this vague concept before then. It was in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve that I realized there were two very real people out there somewhere who gave me life.

This is what struck the match to my curiosity. I realized I had many unanswered questions that I hadn’t even tried asking yet. I think my parents were a little shell-shocked when I came into their room sweaty and crying, not knowing how to explain the confusing and overwhelming thoughts swimming through my mind because of that dream.

That dream struck a match of new conversation in our household, too. I was in seventh grade and asking my parents impossibly difficult questions. The simplest of those questions was, “What did they look like?” In an effort to protect their identity, the answers I received were very ambiguous. For a time, I was satisfied with vague. I was 11 and realizing that they don’t hold all my life’s secrets, but another set of parents did.

As a teenager, I grew more and more frustrated about the great unknown of where I came from. I started going through this identity crisis that led to rebellion: weekend parties where I came home too late or not at all, cutting class to get away and unwind. I had all these hormones and emotions overwhelming me, and school became a daily reminder of what made me different.

In Biology, I sat out of several assignments because I couldn’t go home and do a punnet square to find out where I got my curly hair from, or my green-gray eyes. In English class, we had to write a paper about our family’s country of origin. Because my background was lost in the adoption, all I knew is that my family came from somewhere in Europe. So instead of writing a paper about the country, I had to write a paper about adoption.

I suppose my desire to meet my biological family stemmed from all of these things. I’ve always been an independent person, persistent and unafraid of pushing boundaries. I asked my parents impossible questions, expecting them to have every answer. It took from the time I was 11 to the summer after my freshman year at college for my parents to start the hunt for my birth parents.

Until our hunt began, we had countless conversations about our relationship. The relationship between my parents and me, I mean. I was so careful to remind them how much they mean to me as the parents that raised me. The last thing I wanted was for them to question our relationship because of my desire to meet my birth family. This conversation took place over and over again for five years before the day I met them. Even now, I’m careful to remind them that they are my parents, and my love for my birth parents is a different kind of love.

Many adoptees don’t have an interest in meeting their birth families. I respect that, too. As I’ve said countless times before, every adoption is so different. The birth parents’ stories are sometimes too much for the adoptee to grapple with. Some see their adoption as that final choice made by their birth parents—they chose not to know me, so I choose not to know them either.

My personality is such that I couldn’t rest without at least trying to find them.  I was prepared for the worst-case scenario: maybe they were in jail, maybe they died, or maybe they’re fine and are just not interested in knowing me. The opposite happened to be true. They had been waiting for a phone call from me for almost two decades. They wanted to meet me; they wanted me back in their lives.