Whether it’s choice, timing, or fertility issues, childless couples can feel uncomfortable in a Jewish community. A variety of support systems seeks to change that.
By Cathryn J. Prince for the Times of Israel
NEW YORK — Soon after Piper Hoffman married she and her husband started talking about how they would raise their children. He had attended yeshiva and grew up in a Conservadox home, so wanted any children they might have to do the same. She wanted something more egalitarian. The more they discussed it, the more they couldn’t find a solution.
And then came the proverbial light bulb moment.
“It just occurred to us we didn’t have to have children at all. For me it was like a weight had been lifted and the heavens opened,” Hoffman said. “I had never had the urge, and realized I didn’t have to have children.
“I don’t particularly enjoy spending time with children. I don’t get the same warm and fuzzies that others do,” said Hoffman. “But there are times where I have not felt so welcome in the Jewish community because children are seen as symbols of light and joy.”
The idea of the “Yiddishe momme” is ingrained in Judaism, but what about women who, for various reasons, don’t have children?
“Forty-eight percent of women of childbearing age are without children, up from 35 percent in 1976,” said Jamie Allen Black, who was appointed executive director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York this past May.
“This is a shift for all people, especially the Jewish people. Because of that it’s important to realize that a strong Jewish future must include all Jewish adults, regardless of parental status,” said Black.
Her remarks came at a recent panel entitled, “Not Having Children by Choice, Chance or Circumstance.”
The discussion looked at what it means to have children — or not — or what happens when infertility or obstacles to adoption throw roadblocks. The panelists also spoke about what it means to have children later in life, and women who live in communities that put motherhood on a pedestal.
“From the articles that cry ‘Oh look at her baby bump!’ to the Grammy Awards where Beyoncé came out on stage as a pregnant goddess, it’s on every magazine cover. You can’t escape it,” said Melanie Notkin, entrepreneur and author.
For Notkin, 47, not having children wasn’t so much about choice as it was about chance. She didn’t want to marry someone she didn’t love just to have children, and she didn’t want to go through the adoption process and raise a child as a single mother.
Instead, she embraces her role as doting aunt to five nieces and nephews.
In 2008 she founded Savvy Auntie, a lifestyle brand for the rising demographic of child-loving non-moms she dubs PANK — professional aunts, no kids.
In 2014, Notkin introduced “Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness,” her memoir on the lives of modern single, childless women.
“My life is beyond my expectations. That said, there’s been a lot of grief along the way. I thought I would have children in my 20s, in my 30s, in my 40s. I grieve that loss I never had, ” she said. “I don’t feel less than, but I do feel like the ‘other’ sometimes.”