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

(page 2 of 2)

Finally, someone has written a book that fearlessly traces the internal terrain of a sharp, awake, unsentimental Jewish woman caught in what Euripides famously called motherhood’s “potent spell.” The problem for our highly likable, sharp in mind and tongue, bitchy and all-too-familiar heroine is, she can’t even get into the club, cannot participate in the most communal part of her community. She cannot be a soldier in the Mommy Wars, because her body won’t do the very thing it promised to do when she finally lined up the professional Jewish gal’s hat trick of maternal readiness: a thriving career; a terrific marriage; the wisdom, confidence and strength of self that emerges in one’s mid-to-late 30s.

Infertility is an epidemic in the Jewish community. Many Jewish women marry later and put off having children until well into their 30s. Why? Because for a wide range of cultural, financial and emotional reasons, professional Jewish women’s lives awaken to motherhood at precisely the moment our eggs are careening toward their expiration date.

There is so much to love about Gilmore’s meditation on the meaning of motherhood in general, and in particular of Jewish motherhood. What does it mean to give up the dream of the bloodline? Does it matter? What do mothers truly pass on? At the Passover Seder, she considers this: “It was three generations singing ‘Dayenu’ as if our lives depended on it…. Three generations. All at one table. I will be the one to break that.”

But is she? What will her mother-story look like? “What would I do?” she asks. “Take our African-American, Italian-and-Spanish-speaking baby to Hebrew school?”

That’s the thing about the path of the infertile: Possibilities that seem impossible when you’re three months in are the outcomes you can dream of after only 18 months. One of the many elements I find so compelling about Gilmore’s take is that she’s not in it for the parable or the bumper sticker. She sticks so close to her characters’ hearts and gives them so much real-time insight, you don’t realize how much you’re getting until you come up for air.

With unblinking clarity and — what do they call it when men write with power? — muscular prose, she wrestles to the page and peels away the Hallmark card narrative of infertility and motherhood and writes right to the breaking heart of it all. With babies, she writes, comes “a chance to fix the past. Because that is also what a mother does. She fixes the past from the future. If you cannot be a mother how do you fix the way in which you were mothered?”

I won’t tell you what happens in the end, because Gilmore doesn’t, not really. At first I found it slightly jarring. I’d become so deeply invested in this woman, I was desperate to know for certain how it turned out. But a bow-on-it ending would have been a disservice to this lovely, nuanced story.

Pamela Cytrynbaum is the executive director of The Chicago Innocence Project.


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!
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • 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.