What Becoming An Aunt Taught Me About Love

By

Aunt and nephew
With all the recent talk about childless women, can a niece or nephew actually inspire motherhood?

Growing up, I felt cheated. I wanted a baby in my world.

It could have been anybody's baby: my parents', my aunt's, the little sister of a friend at school. I just wanted to know one. I'd smile at infants in church as they peered around curiously to take in their surroundings, or I'd scamper by the children's clothing section at Target wishing for a reason to grab one of those miniature outfits in baby blue or powder Pink. At night I secretly prayed my parents would have another kid. Just one more, I'd beg, staring up at my ceiling.

I thought babies were the cutest creatures in the universe and oh-so fun to have around. But no matter how much I wished for one to arrive, the odds weren't hopeful: I was the youngest member of a very small family, extended relatives included. I lived in a neighborhood largely absent of cooing infants and adorable toddlers. Most of my friends were the youngest in their homes, too. Even when I was 12 and my cousin Ryan (one of my only two cousins) finally had sons, I rarely saw them thanks to their across-the-country geographical status. Why I'm Perfectly Happy Being The Child-Free 'Cool Aunt'

I felt ripped off, but I didn't give up. Babies had to be in my future. I'd grown up in an evangelical Christian household in the Midwest, and babies were  just part of the traditional order of things: meet a man, get married, have babies, repeat with the next generation. And I wanted that. I really, really did.

But then, over time, something shifted. I got older. Life started to unroll in front of me. Real life. Not just those blissful early years that look like a blur of wishing on stars, popsicles, soccer practice and incessantly long school days. I went to college. I started a career... I grew up.

My friends and I vented over how overwhelming adulthood was, how hard it was finding decent men to date—not to mention it was clear I had a lot of personal journeying to do before I found my future husband. As I thought about, dabbled in and eventually wrote about romantic love, I had to wonder if a good partner actually existed for me. Where was he?

I fantasized about marriage, about a wedding and that incredible husband... but with all the pressures and stressors life piled onto my shoulders, babies had fallen off my wish list. I just didn't feel that longing anymore. The maternal instincts that I'd once been convinced were programmed in me—somewhere between womanly intuition and romantic attraction—had somehow dissolved. I couldn't picture myself rocking a newborn in the early morning hours or changing innumerable dirty diapers. Maybe sleepless nights, dark circles painted under my eyes, dishevelved hair and spit-up stains weren't for me after all. I mean, that was the essence of motherhood, right? Taking care of myself was challenging enough. I couldn't imagine feeling responsible for another person's survival. Maybe I'd lost something over the years. Or maybe, as much as the notion hurt me, I just didn't have it in me.

But then, it happened. I hadn't just imagined those early instincts.