Anna Bernacki’s birth mother taught her the true meaning of family.

*This story was originally submitted to Love What Matters by Anna Bernacki

Family isn’t always the people you share blood with.

Family is also your chosen family: those who are there for you when you really need it. They love you, know you, and would do almost anything for you. And while it’s nice to share a birth bond with someone in your family, it’s not all that matters.

At least that’s the lesson one woman is taking away after finally finding her birth mother.

A Dream to Meet Her Real Mom

woman wearing glasses

Growing up, Anna Bernacki knew she was adopted. Her parents never hid the fact from her, explaining how her birth mother was only a teen who sacrificed her relationship with her daughter in order to give her a better life.

Anna did have a great life, to be sure. She was surrounded by people who loved her and cherished her, but still, she felt as though a piece of her was missing. She wanted to know the mother who had brought her into this world, but because it had been a closed adoption, she didn’t know where to start.

As a result, she grew up not quite feeling as though she belonged.

“As I approached adolescence, I placed so much blame for the internal struggles I was having on my adoption,” Anna wrote in an essay. “I felt so strongly that because I was not biologically related to my parents, they could not possibly understand me,” she continued.

“I now understand that these are very common feelings that all teenagers have. However, because I was adopted, I felt that my lack of biological connection was the reason I could not understand or connect with my parents.”

Putting a Plan Into Action

When Anna turned 18, she started the search to find her biological mother in earnest. She turned to the internet, but at the time, it wasn’t as sophisticated as the tool we use now. So she put her search on hold and graduated from college. Then, she wrote a letter to the address she found for her biological mom and hoped for the best.

She was mildly surprised that after a week, she heard back. She and her biological mom began exchanging letters and, eventually, made plans to meet up at a hotel halfway between where they each lived.

“This was going to be it! I was finally going to have my incredible moment and immediate connection that I had always dreamed of,” she wrote.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go that way.

Reality Sets In

Anna was excited. She pictured running into her mother’s arms for an embrace. Instead, when she got there, her mother was already seated and had no visible reaction to her daughter.

“I saw her and walked up to her, but she was quiet and did not seem to want to see me at all,” Anna wrote. “I later found out that she was legally blind, so she was unable to see me well. However, she still could have had more enthusiasm in getting to meet her daughter for the first time since birth.”

The disappointment was crushing, but Anna kept trying to build a relationship with the woman for the next several months. Over time though, she realized this woman wasn’t trying to get to know her or develop a bond with her. Instead, she was using her to get things.

“I had no choice but to end the relationship for my own mental health. It broke my heart, but I had no choice,” Anna admitted. “I later learned that there were a lot of mental health issues that complicated the entire situation.”

A Hard Life Lesson

a judge and a man and a woman carrying two children

Knowing her biological mother wasn’t the mother figure Anna dreamed about growing up was tough. But it was also a reminder of all the good things Anna did have in her life. It also taught her the importance of a chosen family.

So much so that, a few years later, when she and her now-husband Brian were trying for a family but couldn’t have kids of their own, they too turned to adoption. They became foster parents and fell in love with a pair of siblings placed in their care. A year later they jumped at the chance to adopt them permanently.

“It was hard, and there was so much pain and suffering that took place during those first years. [They] had lost the family they were born into, and they were learning to love our family in a new way,” Anna wrote.

“I realized that biology really had nothing to do with connection and feeling fulfilled,” she wrapped. “I found an incredible sense of healing in the realization that connection and understanding does not come from shared DNA.”

Family Is What You Make It

Anna’s story — and so many others like it — remind us that family isn’t just those who you grew up with or the people who gave birth to you.

Many people have solid relationships with their kin, and that’s great. But others don’t, and they rely on their chosen families to build the same kinds of bonds and relationships.

As this woman proves, real love goes beyond whom you share DNA with. It’s okay to let go of toxic relationships no matter who they are with.

At the end of the day, the only person you owe anything to is yourself. In this life, it’s important to surround ourselves with the people who really matter. The rest is all just small details.

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