Embracing 'Otherhood'

In Their Forties, and Accepting the Possibility of Childlessness

Elusive Motherhood: When a baby is not in your future.
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Elusive Motherhood: When a baby is not in your future.

By Melanie Notkin

Published March 23, 2014, issue of March 28, 2014.
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‘Would you date a non-Jewish guy?” Sarah asked over dinner a few weeks ago. She’d started dating non-Jewish men in her late 30s.

“No,” I said. “I want to marry a Jewish man.”

“I understand,” Sarah said. “I always thought I would, too. But I’m 41 and I just want to give it everything I’ve got. I can’t imagine not having kids.”

I understand that, too. I had always expected to marry and be a mother. From the time I was a little girl, I imagined my own family Sabbath dinners, a daughter to recite the four questions at our Passover Seders and a son to light his own handmade menorah. For me, marriage, children and a Jewish home were intertwined.

But now, like Sarah, in my 40s, I know that my life has turned out much differently than I had expected. Frankly, it’s turned out differently that just about anyone expected for me.

Jewish women not only carry the Jewish babies, but also the Jewish guilt for ensuring that those babies have two Jewish parents. But today, so many Jewish women remain single and childless as our fertile years wane.

Some assume we have eschewed marriage and children for our careers, or because we are too picky or too naive about our fertility. And yet, the desire among Americans to be married and have children has not changed in a generation. A 2013 Gallup survey reports that 90% of all American adults under 40 are parents or want and expect to be parents. Of those, 50% actually are parents and 40% expect to be.

Those of us among that 40% who are now in our 30s and 40s, who expected to have the social, economic and political equality our mothers didn’t have and the husband and children they did and yet remain single and childless, are what I’ve called the Otherhood.

This rising trend is the most overlooked and underappreciated social issue of our time. And among Jews, the trend is even greater.


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