Recently I heard an interview of Jennifer Gilmore, who was promoting her latest book, The Mothers. Until then I hadn’t heard of her work, but was so inspired by hearing her talk about the book and her own personal experiences that shaped this novel. Her story on trying to become a mother was heartbreaking and hopeful, soul-searching and uplifting. When I finally got my hands on this book, I couldn’t put it down. It’s our pick for this week’s New Fiction Friday, and although it was released in August, it will be out in paperback soon.
Hearing her talk about trying to have a baby reminded me of so many of my friends, and their struggles to also become parents. Gilmore actually had difficulty becoming a mother herself, and that experience went into this fictional tale of Jesse and Ramon, who have also struggled to have a baby. Jesse and Ramon had led a transient life before getting together – they meet while traveling in Italy, Jesse was 29 and Ramon was 33, though both were New Yorkers. Jesse actually had cancer at a younger age, which she feared would threaten her chance to have children. They struggle to become pregnant, try IVF (which is incredibly difficult and expensive), and nothing seems to work. It is revealed later in the book that she was pregnant once, but she lost the baby, which was heartbreaking for both of them.
In the beginning of the book she and Ramon are on their way to an adoption agency hundreds of miles of way from New York City. This is the first step in their adopt journey. Here they encounter a variety of couples who are also trying to adopt. Here they’re also weighing their “adoptability” with these couples, who will be given a child first? It takes almost 2 years for the adoption process, including multiple forms to fill out, meetings, interviews, and home visits. The most heartbreaking part of the adoption process is that “birth mothers” begin to call them, under the guise of finding the right prospective adoptive parents. I put that in quotes because some of these women haven’t even verified they’re actually pregnant with the agency. Can this really be legal, for these women to manipulate adoptive parents like this? Apparently it is, because this experience Gilmore actually mentioned she and her husband went through in their adoption process.
Jesse had been busy completing her education, and hadn’t married Ramon until she was already in her 30s, that coupled with her cancer experience, made it difficult for them to conceive. One thing I found interesting is Jesse’s view on motherhood:
“I had always thought about what a mother is in relation to what she is not. I knew, had I the choice, for instance, that I would not choose to be my mother. My mother was stretched thin. My mother was nervous. She grew up in the fifties. For her, working was a political act. Being a mother was both the equal and opposite of a political act. As an adult I believe in my mother’s politics, and I understand as a chronicler of history – women’s history in aprticular – that making a choice was necessary. But as a kid, I did not care about post-war American society and the myth of the feminine mystique; I just wanted my mother to take me to soccer practice” – 15
How many women have felt this? Torn between being a great mother and having a great career? It’s very difficult to have and be both, and honestly most women don’t. That’s one of the things Jesse feels is key to her identity as a woman. And in her heart, she feels like less of a woman because she’s not able to bear a child of her own. We’ve had friends who have adopted, tried IVF unsuccessfully, struggled to conceive. This story is incredibly sad, yet so relatable, and definitely worth a read.