“Aunt Lesley!”, a girl in my son’s Kindergarten class squealed as she ran to a person I didn’t recognize in the designated pick-up area.
“I won an award!” She took out a certificate from her backpack and passed it to her aunt who then pulled in her for a hug, immense pride evident on her wide grin.
This exchange instantly took me back to a time when my nieces and nephews played an integral role in the healing process of my infertility journey. When I was so wrapped up in the quest for children, my nieces and nephews were like a soothing balm to a very bruised and battered interior. They gave me the chance to indulge the mothering instincts that I had been forced to keep under wraps for so long and they in turn showered me with the purest of love — the love that only a child can give.
While the pregnancies of friends and loved ones often triggered intense grief, somehow when the children were born, I was able to temporarily forget about failed cycles and negative pregnancy tests. For a brief moment, I could push those thoughts out of my mind and enjoy the smell and feel of a squishy newborn. Of course, certain days were harder than others and sometimes I needed nothing more than to be alone but for the most part, nurturing other people’s children was a bright spot in a very dark journey. They are in no way replacement children but simply, a way to give and receive love during a difficult time.
Here is what your nieces and nephews won’t do:
- They won’t take away the grief you feel on a monthly basis.
- They won’t fill the void of the children you are hoping to parent.
- They won’t negate the loss of not being able to experience pregnancy and birth.
- They won’t take away the sting of seeing your parents fawn over grandchildren that didn’t come from you.
- They won’t smooth over the sometimes-strained moments at family events when everyone is trying to balance your pain with your siblings’ joy.
Here’s what a close relationship with your nieces and nephews can do:
- Give you a chance to participate in pumpkin-carving, trick-or-treating or Christmas-tree decorating.
- Allow you to see your genes passed on, perhaps with a physical resemblance or particular character trait. “She’s just like you” my sister often says of my twelve-year-old niece.
- Let you experience the beauty of story time and bedtime kisses.
- Allow you feel like yourself when you need it the most. They won’t care if your hormones aren’t rising properly or if your treatment cycle just failed. Instead they will distract you with swing-pushing requests or Monster High dolls and if you’re just not up for it, they may make you a card, that says “I’m sorry you’re sad” with a big red heart on it.
Being around your nieces, nephews, or the children of close friends, will not only enrich your life but theirs as well. Melanie Notkin was one of the first to catch on to this idea when she created SavvyAuntie.com — “The First Community for Cool Aunts, Great Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids” and then one year later created Auntie’s Day which this year is happening on Sunday July 22. She established the celebration for aunts and godmothers “as a day to feel acknowledged and appreciated for all that you do for the children in your life — from every boo boo you kiss and every word of encouragement you offer.”
I was very active on the site for the last half of my struggle with infertility and still pop over for a visit from time to time. It was for me, a way to feel part of a community and feel celebrated at a time in my life when I felt I had nothing to celebrate.
My nieces and nephews still play an active role in my life.
Now they are helping me with my own young children as designated hand-holders or activity leaders. They are nurturing my children in some of the small ways I once nurtured them.
This Sunday on Auntie’s Day, I’ll be thinking of my aunts both living and deceased, and I’ll be reflecting on a time of my life when being an aunt was among the most cherished of all my roles.
By Lori Sebastianutti