Don’t Make Us Choose. A Missive To Adoptive Parents.

The unfair cruelty of secrecy

Mindy Stern
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readSep 21, 2022


Tiles spelling “truth” partially buried in sand
Photo: S Buwert/Shutterstock

Exhausted, sweaty, jet-lagged, and anxious, I got off the elevator with no idea where to go so I turned left and wow, there was my mother at the end of the long, antiseptic hallway. Her tiny body — four feet, eight inches — and gleaming white hair, gripping a walker, a tall nurse walking beside her.

A day earlier my mother had emergency heart surgery. I was shocked they had her up and around. I smiled and waved even though I knew she couldn’t see me. Eighty-eight years on this earth has stolen most of her vision.

“Look at you!” I said.

It took her a moment to realize who it was.

“Oh! That’s my daughter!”

“Wow, where did you get your height from?” the nurse asked me.

The question stunned me, not because I’m unaware of our size difference, but because it’s been years since someone pointed it out. I’m five foot six and look nothing like my mother. I’m adopted.

As a child, people often asked who I looked like. Where did you get those blue eyes? I grew accustomed to the uncomfortable grip in my stomach when I lied and said, “My grandfather.”

I didn’t know where I got my blue eyes from. The other questions about my thick curly hair, height, athletic build, big boobs? No answers for those either.

When I lied, my parents didn’t intervene, correct me, reply on my behalf, “She’s adopted.” The pretending was implicit in our contract. Intended or not, their silence told me lying about my identity was acceptable, even encouraged.

No one should grow up believing who they are or where they come from isn’t worthy of proclamation. Imagine what that does to a child. The way smothering truth creates shame in an innocent body and mind.

I’ve spent my adult life undoing that shame. I found my biological family and speak openly about adoption. But in that moment, in that hospital hallway, at 54 years old, having traveled 3,000 miles to take care of my elderly mother, I felt like a child, too ashamed to answer honestly.

“It’s a mystery,” I said to the nurse. But as we inched forward, and I knew my mother…