We Find Our Birth Parents to Find Ourselves

To know where you’re going, you need to know where you’re from

Mindy Stern
Published in
6 min readJul 7, 2021


Photo: Chakrit Yenti/Shutterstock

“If your own parents didn’t want you, what are you doing here?” — Olivier Rousteing, Wonder Boy

We sit at her small glass kitchen table. The Scrabble board she’s had since college takes up most of it, the ceramic napkin holder with neatly folded paper napkins takes up the rest. We haven’t seen each other since before Covid and waste no time getting to our favorite activity: cutthroat, take-no-prisoners Scrabble. That no one likes to play with us is a badge of honor.

I haven’t seen my mom in real life in almost two years. Now, sitting in her house, surrounded by her collection of teapots and abundant family photos, I realize how much I missed her — and how much of her I missed. FaceTime didn’t capture the beauty of her shimmering silver hair against her tanned skin, and it didn’t capture her decline. I did not see the fatigue in her eyes or the weariness of her soul; I did not see what 15 months in lockdown does to a human who’s already spent 87 years on this Earth.

She struggles to see the board with her regular eyeglasses, so she reaches for her new ones that look like binoculars attached to an eyeglass frame. The macular degeneration that has been stealing her vision is about to claim victory. Most devastating for her is that she can no longer drive; most devastating for me is this, our last game of Scrabble.

“I just can’t figure out where it came from,” says my mom, wearing those crazy-looking specs. “It’s genetic, and I don’t know of anyone in my family who had it.” She’s frustrated, as if knowing where it came from will help her control where it’s going.

I want to say, “Welcome to my life” or “Now you know what it’s like to be me.” I don’t because this is about her, but the irony is searing. For most of my life, I did not know who I looked like, sounded like, or laughed like. I did not know why I loved fashion or martinis or boys; I did not know why my eyes sparkled emerald while the parents who raised me had eyes like chocolate.