I'm back in Beijing these days, but despite being miles away from home I am still quite aware of Mother's Day. I would much rather not be still in the child's role of sending out good wishes to my own mother and mother-in-law. I certainly at this point in my fertility journey would like to celebrate this day as a mom. But since I can't, I thought I should try to recognize the closest role I play to motherhood, which would be aunthood. Shouldn't there be a day of recognition to thank all the aunts out there who adopt some nurturing roles like good old Aunt Bee from the Andy Griffith Show and all the other aunts who step in sometimes to offer love?
Even though it can be hard to spend time with family when I am childless, I truly believe that I will be a warm memory for all my nieces and nephews someday who will look back on my love with fondness. Thankfully my siblings are done procreating so I don't have to feel the pain of new babies while I have all these fertility problems. I have eleven nieces and nephews between my family and my husband's family. So you could say I am a pro when it comes to being an aunt. Each one is a fun little kid who becomes my pal and feels at ease with me because I am not a parent. I am not a fellow child to them either. I am like some unicorn to them where I fall into some mythical category of neither child nor adult. If you ask my 8 year old niece how old she thinks I am, she'll answer "Thirteen!!" And sometimes that's how I feel when I visit family since I am the only one not a mom.
But I have to admit that my nieces and nephews think I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread. They jump into my arms and their pudgy little hands clasp my neck and I feel connected. I feel unconditional love. I feel like they can't get enough of me. Up until now, the best part of being an aunt was having that bond but never having to take responsibility for them. As soon as they cried or whined or freaked out I could safely say, "Go to your mom." Now I am in a position of wanting that maternal responsibility after years of being relieved I didn't have it.
There is the enduring stereotype of having a crazy single or childless aunt. For me, I have one of these off the beaten track aunts and I am also pretty sure I've become that kind of aunt too. My father's older sister was the renegade that broke all social taboos for her generation of women as well as her culture. She got married twice and divorced twice. She had her share of wild days as a young woman who broke a lot of rules. She was that same unicorn to me as a child. She was the aunt that I could watch movies with all night long. She was a pal and not a parent. Growing up I always knew that she was unable to have her own children but it never occurred to me until now what that meant.
Now at the age of 74 she's a single divorcée who is hip, fashionable, and looks about 40 years old. I've never once in my whole life asked her about how she felt not having her own children. It was never relevant until now. No doubt the pain she felt came out in all sorts of emotional ways as a young woman and we talked frankly about how hard it was in the late 50's and early 60's when she had intense pressure from in-laws, no medical help, and zero support from her friends. She told me how lucky I am to have other options like IVF and that she didn't have any choices. As much as I complain about IVF, I do have to admit that at least I have this option. I keep thinking how cool it would be if my aunt could be my surrogate and experience carrying a child - if only she was not in her 70s. We'd surely be profiled on Oprah.
So talking with her has given me a whole new perspective. She's always been a part of my life. She's been to every Christmas and Thanksgiving at our house. She's bought me a birthday present since the day I was born up until now. She's always been there and been enormously loving. I think about how she might have resented my mother or been jealous of her at times for having us. I think about how she deals with being single and childless at her age now. My appreciation of her love has changed tremendously by my own struggle with infertility. I've come to understand the meaning of an aunt's love, especially the kind from an aunt who has no children. Some might see this as a sad story. Indeed, it has aspects of sadness, just like my story does, but there is nothing sad about what she gave to me and my sister and brother. I know she had no other options to try for her own genetic child and a lot of her love was given to us instead. I have been blessed with living decades later at a time when medicine has advanced so tremendously. I haven't given up hope that I will make that transition from aunthood to motherhood someday, somehow. I know for sure that aunthood has been my greatest training.
P.S. I've been able to get access to my blog to read your comments. Thanks so much for reading while I am away!