My mother, Jean Sargent Birkett, died in childbirth when I was six years old. Because I was so young, and perhaps because of trauma, I can’t remember her. I must rely on the recollections of others, a situation that has troubled me my entire life. I know that she grew up in Red Wing, Minnesota, the second of five children; that her family struggled to make ends meet; that she had a lovely singing voice, so talented that she briefly considered a career as a professional singer; that she and my dad met at the University of Wisconsin, where she obtained a degree in social work. I look more like my dad than I do my mother, but from photos I figure we share a similar body type. I credit her for my shapely feet. I am told by relatives that my voice and my walk remind them of her. I became a psychologist, which is closely aligned with social work. I suspect she was an introvert, as I am. Partly because of my failure to remember my mother, I wrote a book about her. (The book is also about my experience as an adoptive mother). The book is titled Missing Mothers. I wanted others to remember her, even if I couldn’t. Over the course of this week, I will be sharing the prologue of the book which I believe effectively captures my experience, and hopefully the experience of other women, who spend a lifetime longing for their mothers.
Martha, daughter of Jean