~ On being an auntie ~

MesnakeThis is a Polaroid of me from around 1981; i asked my mum to dig it out for me, and it is exactly as I remember it – the green jacket, the stiff denim jeans, the little sticker on my ear that I pretended was an earring. I remember how the snake felt in my hands, warm and supple, not cold and slimy as I was expecting. We were visiting a wildlife centre somewhere in the south of England, and if you paid a pound you'd get a Polaroid taken with the snake. My sister did it too.

This is the same sister who we found out last week is carrying a boy – my nephew. She rang me as soon as she left the hospital, and when she said the words i really did scream. A boy! A baby! It's suddenly all feeling very real. So many of my friends have children, you'd think i'd be used to it by now, but this is something different. This is family. This is my sister. We think the same; at times we are the same. And yet now she has embarked on a very different road from me, and it has brought up a lot of stuff.

After she rang me from the hospital, i sat in my chair, reeling. I felt such an intense rush of emotion, it was unexpected and overwhelming. At the heart of it all was love – love for a little baby that i haven't met yet. Now i knew he was a HE and real and on his way, i could feel my heart expand as i took it all in. I could imagine how i'd play with him, and take him to the park, and teach him about girls and buy him the futuristic equivalent of an iPod. I could see Christmases and birthdays with my family gathered round, a family that has been just the three of us for so long. Boyfriends and fiances have found their way into our tiny tribe, but now there's someone new. Someone connected to me by blood.

I was truly happy for my sister when she fell pregnant as i knew that was what she wanted, but at my age you can't help but look at your own life and compare.  I don't know if i will ever have children. In all honesty, i don't know if i want to. The urge comes and goes, often off the back of an assumption of how my life should be unfolding, but when i look into my heart i don't know if motherhood is something i truly want. Maybe if i was in a relationship things would look different (and predictably everyone says that to me all the time) but i know myself well enough by now to know that i see a different path ahead of me, one that has a partner-in-crime, a thriving work life, a chance to explore the world, and a nephew i will dote on. Being an auntie feels like such a gift to be given – when i felt that ache of love for the baby my beautiful sister is carrying, i saw my world take on a new shape. I wonder if anyone has ever written a book about being an auntie – the Art of Auntiehood. How we get the honour of helping bring up a child without the sleepless nights. Now I know someone will visit me* when i'm old and grey and surrounded by cats – my handsome sensitive and talented nephew :)

Maybe all this sounds silly, but it's comforting to get a glimpse into a possible future. After five years of independent living you find yourself existing in the moment more and more, the future a mystery when you don't know who you'll spend it with, if at all. Our society is so wrapped up around the family, around relationships, around 2.4 kids and the school run and the woman in the bank calling me "Mrs Conway" so once again i have to correct her. My 37th birthday is fast approaching and still i do not feel the urge to have a child, and a part of me wonders if my books will be my babies, just as my nephew will be my little pal. The thought of it makes me smile. Whatever happens, I'm sure it will be okay, either way.

* fingers crossed.

38 responses
  1. Vanessa

    I remember feeling the EXACT same way when my nephew was born. And although I love children, I just don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to have one. So wonderful to know I’m not alone!
    My 26th birthday was a few weeks ago and thinking how my mom was 27 when she had me has started to make me wonder about the exact same thoughts. Only time will tell (for the both of us regarding the “having children” topic) but in the mean time I hope you have a blast spoiling your nephew. ;-)
    P.S. Great Polaroid photo!

  2. Catalina

    oh!!!! so happy news! being and Auntie is a wonderful experience! When I first saw my first nephew it was literally love at first sight! I didn’t expected to be like this….it just happened. My nephews and nieces are as my own children to me.

  3. Jenna/The Word Cellar

    Congratulations on your Auntie status!
    Everyone says you’ll “feel differently” once you have a partner you love. That’s not always true. I’m happily married to my best friend and lover, and I still don’t know if I want babies. I’m closing in on 34, so I feel that tug of time to make a decision. The desire for a child comes and goes. I can almost imagine a life of motherhood, but a life of birthing books and creative projects often seems just as — if not more — right for me. I don’t have any answers yet, but I’m embracing the journey.

  4. beth h

    I just became an aunt for the first time 3 weeks ago… I love my nephew to pieces, and cannot wait to play with him and hold him (he’s in the hospital still… health complications). A new level of really having a nephew comes all the time. When my sister told me she was pregnant, when she told me it was a boy, when he was born, whenever I see him in the hospital, when you touch his little hand… when he finally comes home it will be all new and real all over again, and I can’t wait.
    Congrats and have fun getting ready for him!

  5. Mel

    There are so many roads to happiness and I think it is a general misconception that happiness requires 2.4 children. Whatever your choice is it’s your path that you are walking. No one else’s

  6. Ali

    You’re so so right to enjoy it. being an Auntie (especially to little boys!) is the biggest treat.
    It combines all the very best parts of motherhood, while omitting most of the drudgery. Plus the fact you’ll earn masses of brownie points from your sister while you are in fact, having fun being a kid and playing again.
    I was an Auntie for 4 years (and two nephews) before having my own kids and they truly were the very best of fun times.
    My husband’s brother has no family of his own and I see the way my boys adore him, mostly because of the importance of their relationship to him.
    Everyone should be as lucky as to have an aunt or uncle without charges of their own. You’ll be a very special one, I’m sure.
    And the other plus is that I’m sure watching someone you are close to going through the process of becoming a parent, helps to crystallize your thoughts about parenthood as an option for yourself.

  7. Mausumi

    Congratulations! For you becoming auntie susannah and for your sister too!

  8. Lisa

    What a brave and honest post. I’m feeling the same ambiguity, having just gotten married at 34 the pressure is mounting. But I’m still not sure. My friend’s little 6 month old is gorgeous, but I’m always happy to hand her back! I think it’s tricky either way. My friend just had twins at 43, and while she’s happy, she remained ambiguous up until they were born. How scary and brave and strong we all are, no?

  9. Amanda

    I felt the same way about my littlest 1 yr old cousin. I felt that way because his mum is more like my sister than my aunt. It was a totally different feeling to finding out about friends having babies. It’s so much more surreal.
    I know you will be a wonderful aunty, Susannah!

  10. charlane

    being an auntie is the most beautiful feeling in the world. it is the very best of all worlds in that you get to love and hold and kiss (and can i say love again?) a precious dear child. you get to see the face light up with sheer joy – the joy that you feel deep inside – so warm and wonderful.
    you will be one of the best aunties ever…i just know it.

  11. Liz

    Oh, being an auntie is the best! I was just at my nephew’s adoption day and I can’t tell you the deep love I have for that cuddly little guy. I now have three nephews (still waiting to meet the newest one) and they’re such a delight to me — even just the idea that I will be surrounded by these huge (two of the birthfathers are quite tall and all evidence points to the same for the third), sweet guys makes me so happy. I’m 40 and I know I’m missing something not having children of my own, but I’m quite happy with the path my life has taken and being an auntie feels just right to me:) Enjoy!!

  12. Debi

    I never had children, and at 56, obviously will not, but oh! I AM an aunt – only one grandchild for my mother, one niece for me – and it is the best! I’m the one who has art shows she attends, who has the blog she reads (she is almost 13), who is the wild silly aunt. It is, as I said, the best. I still remember the first time she walked to me – it makes my eyes tear up to just type those words. You are going to have so much fun – so much! Congratulations!!!

  13. Lu

    The thought of a new little person is so exciting. Congratulations, Auntie Sus!

  14. Angela Negro

    Trust in yourself… Sounds trite but it’s ever so true. I love my 3 children more than words can express – but … with respect to mariage, I let myself be influenced by other women who dreamed of a family that I didn’t. I have NO regrets – but at 39 I know who I am and I am still the same as the 28 year old from back then! Know yourself and it will always work out ok. I accept myself now – that’s the best wisdom I can bring to my wonderful children …and nephews! Congratulations Auntie!!

  15. jennifer

    this happened to me recently, too. it was comforting to read your words and know i’m not the only one. my brother is having a boy as well, and when i found out, i had to sit with that news for quite some time. i was and am happy for him, and excited to meet this little creature. but he’s my younger brother. i’m 35 and feel and don’t feel the urge/pressure to have a child. and truly, it’s been exhausting going back and forth in my mind, sometimes all day and night long.
    i liked the sentence about now knowing somebody will come to visit you when you’re old – your nephew. i hadn’t thought of that possibility before, only the ones society projects onto us, that if we don’t have kids, we’ll be all alone in our wrinkles and sadness and unloved lives. so thank you for that.

  16. Jo

    You are so lovely. Really. While we were waiting for Evie, my sister had two boys. The second one was born around the time I knew Evie would be born in China (they’re actually 10 weeks apart)and the 13 months she had there without us were, for me, in part spent watching him grow and imagining my mystery baby at a similar age. He was special. But he was special ANYWAY. I love his older brother to pieces but I held younger nephew in my arms the day he was born and something just went bananas. I still have a special place in my heart for him. I look at him and I melt. He is the little boy I’ll never have and that’s cool and okay and so much MORE than okay.
    You’re going to be the best auntie ever. (And DAMN…were you ever NOT gorgeous???) x

  17. Fiona Robyn

    Lovely post. What a lucky boy to have you as an auntie.
    I’m choosing to be childfree, and am very happy to have my books as my babies. I’m looking forward to being an auntie at some point, but I’ll be glad to give my nieces and nephews back!

  18. decor8 Holly

    We had the SAME chair in our house. HA HA! Oh this is sooo cute Susannah!

  19. kristen

    the kid question is a hard one…we always said zero to one and for a long time it was the former. when we did decide, it was always one and it’s interesting that, because even as a mum, it’s not the usual.
    i think you’ll be a fantastic auntie and yes, auntie is a divine thing…i love my neice and nephew in a different way even from my own sweet girl…it’s a blood thing truly.
    whatever you choose sister, it will be right for you. lovely, open and honest posting here. xoxo

  20. decor8 Holly

    And I relate to what you are saying. I have no children. And birthdays are coming and going, and I’m a bit fatigued by the thought of HAVING to have a child simply due to my ovaries and running out of time when, in my heart, I do not feel emotionally prepared to have a baby right now. Maybe in a year, maybe in two, but also maybe never.
    In some ways, I envy you. Your sister is nearby and you can be that 2nd parent to her son. You have back up (like that film, About A Boy). I have no siblings so I’ll never have the chance to be an auntie, unless my husbands siblings have children but it won’t be the same as if it were my own sibling. Plus they’re native language will be German and no matter how well I learn this language of my new country I still connect emotionally via English – not German.
    It’s difficult. My husband and I are not ready, yet we need to sort of BE ready soon you know? I’m not growing younger, I’m growing older. I have around 4 years and then I’m 40.
    What depressed me lately was when one of my friends who is 35 told me that she doesn’t want to have children because she fears being someone’s “old mama” and that “no kid wants a 55 year old mom visiting him in school”. And this made me feel old, over the hill, and very, very depressed. I vowed that I would never talk to her about children again because I found her viewpoint twisted and extremely dysfunction to say the least. A child not loving you because you’re a bit older than the other mothers? Um, I seriously doubt that. But her comment made me a bit ill. And it also made me realize that in our society, woman hold themselves back with age concerns/fears and seriously negative views of growing older.
    Sure it SUCKS to age. I am not going to sit here and lie. Seeing a gray hair or a wrinkle reminds me of how time flies whether you like it or not. But in an attempt to make myself sane, I try very hard to focus on what I do have vs. what I do not. I have my health, a loving husband, a fabulous career and a network of friends that I could never have imagined I’d end up with someday. And I have a close relationship back again with my dear mother.
    And I have no children.
    I can live with this fact. And I think that if I don’t “run out of time” and I do have a child, then it needs to be when I feel like I am emotionally ready for it. Even if I turn 40 and decide this, I’ll have a baby then if I even can. And if I cannot there is adoption. And if not adoption, there are cats. There are dogs. And there are plenty of opportunities for me to teach English here in my new city to children — I could have a book reading in a local store (or the dream store I want to open someday) where I read to children in English and serve them cupcakes and milk and for a few hours, I have kids in my life on Saturday who adore me.
    I guess in the end we have to look forward, not back. But we cannot look forward so intensely that we fail to focus on the present and the good that we DO have.
    From my standpoint, you are living the LIFE. And I’m sure the mom with 5 kids reading your blog from her massive designer home in the best neighborhood also envies parts of your life. It’s always the grass is greener syndrome.
    Congrats on your wonderful new baby boy because well, he is yours too! :)

  21. Michelle Shopped

    my friend kendra has a little line on her myspace page — love children but not for me — met her nephew last weekend — every child needs a special auntie to dote on them, and you are it for this lucky boy…and dang, if i didn’t used to stick little bits of paper with tape on my ears when i was young — actually fooled one of my friends to thinking they were pierced…colored with crayon and everything…

  22. Marianne @ Zen Peacekeeping

    You know how much I love being an aunt and although there are already books out there about aunts (I just gave one very funny one to my nephew for his birthday) I also think that there is always room for another. I actually find that idea incredibly inspiring. Collaborate with me on it one day? I can already think of five aunts who would make great contributions. xx

  23. michelle

    I am auntie at 38 (and not a mom) and I love, no no I adore, adore AND love, and spoil my niece relentlessly. It really is the most amazing thing ever.
    The why I don’t have kids story is a long one – but the role of auntie is SIMPLY amazing – and my sister in law just announced she is pregnant again and it is another GIRL! I was to the moon and back with happiness.
    I am sure you will love every moment of it too!

  24. Sarah

    Congratulations! Don’t worry about what everyone else says – you do what is right for you – for your life. Only you will know what’s best for you – everyone likes to tell you what they think you should do. Follow your heart…I hope that helps. I decided not to have children – I do sometimes think I should have gone through it, but now I have 2 stepchildren so I have no regrets. I also have a cat I positively dote on!! You’ll have sooo much fun with your nephew – lucky you!

  25. hope | paper relics

    this photo reminds me of a polaroid of me from about the same time – in a purple jacket next to a stuffed deer or elk. Hmmn, I may need to try and find it – to see if it is as I remember!

  26. Imene

    Everyone needs to find their own hapiness. There is no stereotypes married, single, with children or without… It doesn’t really matter.
    Life never happens the way we plan it. But i do try to live according to my values and making mindful choices each time.
    Everyone expected me to have a brilliant career after my graduate school and i did…at least for a while. Then i had kids and chose to be with them. Will i regret it? Maybe… But i do it because i believe in it.
    So do as your conscience tells you.

  27. maggie may

    I just adored this post. And I’m 35 (today, actually) and the mother of three, and I still adored this post. You are charming and intelligent and observant and interesting.

  28. gemma

    Congratulations to your sister! What a wonderful joy to have in your life. I can completely understand your concerns and sadness as having a sister myself you are always drawn to comparing your life with theirs (sisterhood is a very intense and at times strange relationship) It is the most connected to someone i think i have ever felt, so i can completely understand your intense emotians for this little boy.
    Don’t compare it to your life though, even though it’s hard, you are you and she is she so things will always happen differently and just think you have all the advantages of motherhood but then you can hand him back at night when he’s whinging and crying and get a good nights sleep :)
    Big hugs to you this Wednesday

  29. Rhianne

    I feel the same way – I can’t wait to be an Auntie but I have no idea if I will ever have children myself.
    Congratulations to you and your sister :)

  30. Amanda

    I loved this post because it shows how much you connect with your thoughts and soul. You know yourself so well and you know what fits your life, not someone elses. Thanks for being a role model for young women like me :)

  31. Jan's camera

    Susannah, being an auntie is wonderful. Especially when it is your sister and you are so close. I have a special bond with my sister’s children that I don’t have with my brothers. Somehow it is just different. It’s as if they have two moms. I took a different path also. I love kids but somehow it was more than enough to love all of my nephews and my niece. I am so excited for you. Little boys are so darn cute.

  32. Fiona

    Such a lovely post. Thank you for your honesty, as always. I just watched your interview video, lovely to hear your soft voice again, and your thought-provoking responses.
    Fiona :)

  33. amy

    i adore being an aunt i have three nephews — nineteen year old twins and an almost ten year old — and they are three of my favourite people. i love the fact that they know i would do anything for them. you’ll be a wonderful aunt, no doubt!

  34. Tea

    This is so lovely–and so true. I have two nieces (the niecelets) and it is such a great gift. Like you I have books, no babies, and I’m not sure that will change, but getting to be part of a young person’s life is a joy and an honor, pure and simple.
    I was raised by a single mother without much (any) family. A few of my mom’s friends took an interest in spending time with me over the years, and it made me realize how important it is to have non-parent adults in a child’s life. Some of these women introduced me to their own passions–art, cooking, etc–things I wouldn’t have got from my mom. These adopted aunties absolutely changed the outcome of my life (an art history degree and a career as a food writer). I know I bring a different world to the niecelets lives than does their mother. And I’m all for wider worlds.
    I think it does take a village to raise a child well, and the more grownups to love a little one, the better off we all are. Welcome to the adventure—I can tell you’re loving it already!
    PS. My first time at your beautiful site—I’ll definitely be back.

  35. becky aka theRAV

    Yet another wonderful, raw and honest post. Congrats to all. I only became an aunt thru marriage as I was an only child. I had my best friends kids call me “Aunt Becky” before that just so I could be an aunt.

  36. Lorna

    auntyhood is amazing. Since April this year Jamie John, my first nephew, has blown me away. Tonight his mama is in Germany and it took me nearly 2 hours to get his sleepy lids to shut over his eyes. His blue blue eyes, slate and sea all at once, that pierce the corners of my heart. He has opened my eyes. He lives up to his hype 110%. he has two exceptionally besotted aunts. I have started my book. The first six months were enough inspiration. Good luck. X

  37. sanne

    this brought a tear to my eye, your sister is sooo lucky to have a sister like you!

  38. MS

    Amazzing..beautifully conveyed! Felt exactly the same on hearing the news from my sister (only difference- baby girl it is!) Even shared part of ur msg, it made for a wonderful way to expree my deepest emotions! Thankss. Well, hope you, your sis and the baby are enjoying life! Best regards.

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