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'Otherhood' gives voice to plight of childless, single women still seeking love

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TORONTO - At age 45, Melanie Notkin is still hopeful she will meet The One.

The Montreal-born entrepreneur is like many other educated, successful, modern women deciding to wait for love, marriage and children. But Notkin says such singles are often judged for putting their professional lives ahead of family — critiques rarely levelled at men.

"Somehow, the desire for love, marriage and children seems to be acceptable only for those within a certain window of time," Notkin said in a recent interview at a Toronto restaurant.

"You've done the thing you're supposed to do — graduate from college and maybe work for a year or two. Then, within another two or three years... you're supposed to find the guy, get engaged, get married and have kids by the time you're 30 — maybe 32 if you want to squeak in.

"If it didn't happen for you, somehow people want to be believe that you've done something to inhibit this from happening, even though it's the one thing you want more than anything."

In "Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness" (Viking), the New York-based Notkin explores why a growing number of women of childbearing age are childless. Through conversations with experts, men and women — and personal anecdotes from Notkin herself, the book probes the social and emotional effects of childlessness. She also speaks to women in their 20s who are already thinking about preserving their fertility by freezing their eggs.

"Here's the interesting thing," Notkin said. "Among those women that I spoke with, none of them had yet done it. Meaning again, the idea is out there — just like it is for this generation — to have a baby on their own. But the truth is, for most of us, it's not the way we want it to be, and so we're just not doing it.

"We're still holding on to whatever that dream was, and the dream was generally finding the man and getting married and living together and having that baby together."

Notkin said one of the reasons she called the book "Otherhood" is for women to acknowledge they are part of a larger community of women who need to support one another. She recalled a recent dinner with a group of friends whom said each arrived at the Otherhood from a different place, including one woman who doesn't want to be married or to have children and another who was engaged at 37 and is now inquiring about fertility treatments.

Notkin said married mothers and even men who've read the book have begun to understand that these women want to realize their dreams of a romantic partnership. Yet there remain others who say that true "feminists" should go their own way — namely when it comes to becoming mothers, she noted.

"The truth is, what feminism gave us was the opportunity to wait for the right relationship," said Notkin.

"For those who need to decide for us what we should want seems a little bit disconcerting to those of us who finally have the freedom in this generation to make the right choices."

"Otherhood" also examines the loving connections several of the women have with children, whether they're nieces and nephews or godchildren by relationship or choice.

"Often, this woman is thought of as sort of moronic when it comes to child care. If you see her in the media, she's a man-chasing woman that wouldn't know how to hold a baby to save her life. That is not who we are," said Notkin, founder of Savvy Auntie, a multi-platform lifestyle brand celebrating aunts, godmothers and "all women who love kids."

"Whether or not we become mothers...there are many ways to be maternal. Babies come from the womb, but maternity comes from the soul."

There is one true love story that emerges in "Otherhood": the affection shared between Notkin and her friends, whom she describes as "the family I choose" in her dedication, as the book illustrates countless examples of how they support one another through life's peaks and valleys.

As for Notkin herself, she said she "certainly wants love." And while she may be "on the other side of hope" in terms of having children, she maintains that she has an "extraordinary life."

She hopes the biggest takeaway for readers will be to continue to forge ahead, regardless of whether their goal is to stay solo, pursue companionship and parenthood, or to possibly become a single parent.

"Too often, women remain stagnant in the life that they're in because it's not the life that they expected, and they don't really know how to move forward. I hope that this collectively compels women to keep moving forward so that they're living their authentic lives."

Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.



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