Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mother to none, aunt to all

Day 14: Age 49

 At 49, I am pretty well resigned to the fact that I will never have biological children. And I'm generally good with that. I always assumed I'd have kids ("a colleague calls me the 'baby whisperer'") but also steadfastly knew that I wanted to be in a relationship before I conceived. No partner, no baby.  When I met the man who is now my husband, he broached the subject of kids right away: "Do you want any?" he asked, after we'd been talking by phone for a few weeks after meeting on the porch of a Block Island inn at summer's end. "Well, obviously I haven't made it a priority," I said. "I never wanted to have a child on my own. But if I met the right person, I'd be open to adoption."

 "Uh, oh," he said quickly. 
"Why uh, oh?" I asked.
"Because I'm done," he replied. Mine are almost grown up, they're leaving the nest. I love being a father, I love my children, but I don't want to start a new crop. I'm ready for the next phase."  I understood that and I told him so.

Yet it's still painful when a close 40-something friend announces a pregnancy. Joyous and painful. I get a twinge, and feel left behind--worry that my relationship with the mother-to-be will shift (it always does) and I inevitably become filled with 24 hours of self-doubt: What's wrong with me?  Why do nearly all women go to sometimes great lengths to conceive? Why didn't I? What are they feeling that I didn't? Because I love babies and children, love the feel of an infant nestled in the crook of my arm, the tiny fingers gripping one of mine. But I felt that if I had a child on my own, I would utterly lose myself--my life would be that child. 

And so, I made a choice. The partner. Not the baby. Instead, I surround myself with kids, starting with my own nephews, who I've known since each was five minutes old. My sister thrust the boys into my arms after their births, always so generous with her offspring, wanting them to have her love and all of my love, too. My nephews have given me sustenance--they live three blocks away and we've graduated from sleepovers at Aunt Yes's house (so called because I never say no) to nephew-aunt jaunts to Rome--my other favorite city. If I didn't have my nephews, I truly would be heartbroken at my childless-by-choice status, but they are my boys and I feel as if I have an understanding of what it's like to have precious cargo in your life.

I also take sustenance in my friends' kids. This weekend, an old friend from Mademoiselle days came to visit with her husband and six year old twin boys. I've know these little ones since they were only weeks old, still have vivid memories of watching their distinct personalities emerge immediately out of the womb. This afternoon, when the whole group was lounging in the hot tub together, one little boy leaned over and whispered something to his mother, my friend: "Is she our family?" Lisa smiled and said yes, and I felt an incredible surge of happiness. I love my friends' kids--watching them learn to read, cannon-balling off the dock--"KOWABUNGA!"--and even turning into teenagers now, having blogs and facebook pages of their own. (One friend's ten year old even runs his own network server!")
But the twinges still come and so, sometimes, do the tears. Because it's a loss, choosing not to make motherhood happen. You are stepping off a path and opting for a life that feels freer, more yours for the making--which carries a degree of responsibility: You better enjoy life to the max! Milk your passions to the max! Take advantage of all that freedom. Do something super-special with that free time. Or at least I feel that way sometimes. And so I try to live up to that, savoring life, love and reminding myself that though my yearning for a baby doesn't go away (it's physical, visceral), I can fill my life with kids til I'm 90 years old, talking to them, snuggling them, watching them grow, loving them like the cool aunt I strive to be. I am living the life I chose.

With my boyz at my wedding and at Pompeii.


  1. aw Paula.. I love the Aunt Yes part.. I wonder if it was like that for my Aunt Marilyn?? Looking back now..I think it was. She was MY Aunt yes. ( and I LOVED HER DEARLY!)..
    I miss you my friend.

  2. I don't think I realized that your aunt Marilyn didn't have kids. I remember her--that's a nice memory to share.