Mariela Andersen had always dreamed about running into her biological mother. When she finally got the chance to do so, she flew 2,000 miles to make the meeting happen - only to be greeted by 30 long-lost relatives at the airport.
The 31-year-old was raised by her loving adoptive parents, but had always wanted to meet her birth mother.
Mariela hired an online investigator who located her birth mother, 51-year-old Maria Sanchez, in Bogotá, Colombia.
The pair spoke on the phone and six months later Mariela flew from Atlanta, Georgia, to South America in order to meet Maria in person.
But when Mariela landed, she was astonished to find 30 uncles, aunts and cousins waiting for her.
Sign language interpreter Mariela said: "I was worried I wasn't going to be able to find them, but it was difficult to miss them.
"I flew there by myself with no translator. I felt very much like a fish out of water. I had never travelled internationally before.
"When I saw the big group of people waiting for me. I was so relieved but also overwhelmed. I felt very welcomed and loved and celebrated."
Mariela truly loves her adoptive parents Lisa, 61, a retired teacher, and Pete, 65, a civil engineer, and considers them her parents, but she always wanted to know her birth mother.
Reflecting on having grown up with two brothers, also adopted from Colombia, she added: "In our family we felt that being adopted was something to be celebrated, not something to be ashamed of.
"When I was little, I would dream about running into my birth mother at the grocery store. I would ask women who looked Hispanic, 'Are you from Colombia? Did you give up a child for adoption?'
"I was curious and believed that I would find her at some point."
Mariela also wanted to assuage any guilt her birth mother might have felt about giving her up for adoption.
She added: "I wanted to put her mind at ease because I worried that she felt guilt or shame and questioned her decision. I wanted to let her know that I was living a good life."
Mariela first spoke to Maria for the first time on 2 May 2012 and she said: "I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was plagued by guilt.
"She said 'Please forgive me.' She said she wanted to give me a hug and say sorry in person."
Mariela saved up for six months and then flew to Bogotá for a two-week trip to meet Maria. During that trip, Maria told Mariela that she gave her up for adoption because she was living in poverty with no support, and didn't believe she could offer her daughter a good life.
The 31-year-old added: "She was already living in poverty. My birth father didn't want to have anything to do with her or me.
"She didn't feel like she had the resources to look after me and she didn't want me to grow up without a father."
She also met her two half siblings in Colombia: Santiago, 27, and Sarah, 13.
Mariela has since returned to Colombia eight times, but admitted that considerably fewer people meet her at the airport now.
She said: "There are less and less people who meet me at the airport and now it's down to just one person who picks me up. My newness has rubbed off!"
Mariela has written about the experience of finding and reconnecting with her birth mother in her book Home Sweet Casa.
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