The Gifts of 'Missing Mothers'

This week I have been posting excerpts from the prologue to my recently published memoir Missing Mothers. In the prologue I convey the lifelong sadness I have felt as a woman who lost her mother when she was so young (six years) that she struggles to remember her.  I describe the gratitude I feel upon unexpectedly receiving letters she wrote a few years before she died. I recount all that I come to understand from these letters, about my mother and myself, that I had never known before. The book is not only about my experience as a bereaved daughter. It relates my experience as an adoptive mother whose children have also lost their birth mothers, as well as their birth cultures.  I acknowledge my grief about failing to give birth to children who would have a biological connection to my mother. But when I meet my children, I fall in love. I endeavor to provide them with the childhood I didn’t have myself.  Parenting is humbling, I soon find out, and my efforts to be a perfect mother often fall short.

A book isn’t worth reading unless the protagonist grows. In my book, I am the protagonist. And I do grow. Often it is my children who are my teachers.  I learn that my children have different attitudes toward the loss of their birth mothers than I do, perhaps because of our different personalities or because they never spent much time with their birth mothers after they were born.  I consider the different choices each of my children makes as regards their birth countries. My husband and I travel to the countries where each was born, seeking to understand their cultural ancestors.

As my story unfolds, it is intertwined with my lifelong struggle with maternal loss. But it ends as it began, when I again receive an unexpected gift which evokes both gratitude and understanding.

My reasons for writing Missing Mothers are complicated. I wrote it to better understand myself and to be better understood by others. I wanted to honor the mother I couldn’t remember and the father who raised me and my siblings in the face of unthinkable loss. As I wrote the book, I realized that it also honored my children, who have endured their own sets of challenges. Finally, I wanted to write the best book I could to entertain and inspire readers I will likely never meet.

My heart is filled with gratitude toward all of you who have read my posts for She Climbs Mountains. I hope you will also read the book.

Martha, daughter of Jean