Author Jennifer Gilmore's New Novel Confronts the Mother of All Struggles

'The Mothers' Addresses Jewish Infertility Epidemic

Gilmore’s Complaint: Novelist fearlessly traces the internal terrain of an unsentimental Jewish woman caught in motherhood’s potent spell.
Amanda Marsalis
Gilmore’s Complaint: Novelist fearlessly traces the internal terrain of an unsentimental Jewish woman caught in motherhood’s potent spell.

By Pamela Cytrynbaum

Published April 25, 2013, issue of May 03, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

● The Mothers
By Jennifer Gilmore
Scribner, 288 pages, $26

In her novel “The Mothers,” Jennifer Gilmore has written the book all women of a certain age going through the infertility cycles of hell long to hand to any member of the fertile world who asks that innocent but searing question: So, are you pregnant yet?

If this achingly honest book had come out 15 years ago, when I was slogging through the maternal obstacle course of infertility treatments, I would have carried around copies of Gilmore’s raw, unflinching report from the reproductive trenches. What a relief it would have been to have the words I could not utter in such precise, poignant form.

Here comes that colleague who gets pregnant when her husband sneezes. “So, any news?” she’d ask. I’d slide the book out of my purse, hand it to her and walk away.

Jesse and Ramon are a smart, devoted couple. Jesse is a cancer survivor. She’s also Jewish. Ramon is not. His Spanish and Italian culture and her yearning Jewishness are explored with nuance, and with especially elegant wrinkles that play out with food (what else?), his mother (who else?) and, not surprisingly, the meaning of motherhood.

Gilmore’s writing is crisp and visual, and sits you right down next to her. Unlike most books on this topic, Gilmore, mercifully, doesn’t drag us through the details of the couple’s infertility treatments, what Jesse calls “the fairy-tale forest from hell.” Instead, the book takes us through the heartbreaking, relentless, comical and otherworldly journey through the byzantine process of adoption. There are lovely, fully realized sub-stories involving birth mothers and fellow infertile travelers.

And all that magical thinking. The mind of the infertile woman is ripe with endless bargaining about what will — and won’t — get her the Holy Grail baby. When Jesse and Ramon are, again, late for an adoption training session, Jesse notes, “Again we would be late and all the babies would be taken by the sane and the prompt.”

I love Jesse. She’s a worrier. She worries if any of the Christian birth mothers will give her their baby though she’s Jewish. She tortures herself on Facebook by monitoring the “baby status” of all her colleagues, acquaintances and distant relatives. She’s sassy, saucy, sharp, funny — and a dazzling tour guide through her own pain.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.