I became an aunt for the first time when I was 21. My eldest niece was born in March ’91 and all of a sudden there was this little person in my life.
Being only 21, I wasn’t remotely interested in having children of my own and the thought that I might never conceive didn’t even enter my mind.
I had imagined that at some point I would meet my Mr Right, that we would have children together, and thus my nieces would have cousins to play with in the future.
When my 2nd niece was born two and a half years later I was 5 months shy of being diagnosed with endometriosis. Once again I fell in love and in spite of feeling so unwell, I tried to spend as much time as I could with both girls.
After I was diagnosed, I was told on several occasions that the best way to ‘cure’ my endometriosis was for me to get pregnant. But at the time I was single and was in no position to conceive a child, let alone bring one into the world. What was I supposed to do? Go out and find the nearest stranger and ask him to impregnate me on doctors orders? The whole idea was ludicrous. (And as for pregnancy being a cure for endometriosis - well, that’s just a myth.)
In fact I was so uninterested in having children, I even asked my consultant if I could have a hysterectomy. I just wanted my life back and if it meant that I couldn’t have children, so be it. Thankfully he had the foresight to say no. He said that one day I would meet someone with whom I wanted children and that I would come back and sue him.
And of course, he was right. I met Lee. My consultant did offer me an alternative. He suggested that I go through several cycles of IVF. We could then freeze the embryos and remove my ovaries once and for all. But the trouble was, I had only just met Lee and as much as I wanted to have children with him, it was a huge ask. There was always the risk that we might split up in the future and that he would end up being a father to a bunch of unwanted embryos.
With hindsight I wish that we had gone down that road, rather than waiting for as long as we did and missing the boat all together.
I was almost 30 when we married and was 35 years old by the time we got around to trying for a baby. I was also incredibly unwell and the prospect of bringing a much-wanted child into the world was a scary one. Had I gone down the IVF route and had my ovaries removed prior to us getting married who knows what would have happened? And had we succeeded in conceiving a child perhaps my life would have improved?
It wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps I was never destined to be a mother so that I could concentrate on being an aunt. But it was hard at the time as all of our friends and colleagues were popping out babies like nobody’s business. Every time someone else had a baby I had to put on a brave face. Every time someone announced their happy news I had to bite my tongue and congratulate them. It was so unfair. Here I was married to the man that I loved more than anything in the world and I couldn’t even give him a child. What’s more, he’d have been a great dad.
At some point, something had to give. As much as I was thrilled for anyone when they announced their pregnancy, there was that little ticking bomb inside of me ready and waiting to go off. Therefore, when I did eventually lose the plot at a family party, it wasn’t really all that surprising.
We had gathered to celebrate my father-in-law’s 60th birthday and the whole family was there, including aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. Lee’s cousin had already managed to produce one child and so when his wife got pregnant again it was a joyous occasion. Everyone fussed around her & made sure that she was all right. It was all perfectly natural and had it been at any other time I wouldn’t have minded. But the more they clucked and fussed, the more it made me wish I were somewhere else. It was all too raw and in the end I completely lost it. I managed to make it into the ladies before bawling my eyes out & then I locked myself in the loo and howled. Even now, as I sit here & write this, I remember that feeling of complete and utter hopelessness; of how unfair the universe was & how much I wanted to be the one being fussed over.
Eventually my mother-in-law was sent to find me and considering that it was in the middle of her husband’s party, she was incredibly kind. I sat there and I sobbed my heart out, all the while telling her that we had tried to have a baby but that it hadn’t worked. I told her that I was a failure and that I was so, so sorry. I apologised for losing it, for being jealous. I apologised for marrying her son, when I knew that I was damaged goods and I apologised for not being able to produce a grandchild.
But instead of getting cross with me, she sat there & held me and told me that it would be all right. She told me that I had nothing to be sorry for and that she could see how hard it must be watching everyone cluck around her nephew’s wife.
It was the only time that I had shown my vulnerable side to the family and because everyone was so kind, I felt all the more guilty.
But it’s hard being married to the love of your life and you’re unable to conceive. Everyone expects babies to suddenly appear as if by magic. People used to drop the odd hint about hearing the patter of tiny feet and occasionally Lee’s mum would ask us when we were going to make her a grandmother. And all though it was done in jest and light-heartedness I know that the longer they waited, the sadder they became. Soon she stopped asking as she knew that something must have been wrong.
Some of my friends would just skirt around the issue. One of them didn’t even tell me that she was pregnant, because she thought that it would be kinder not to; in fact it had the opposite effect. Why hide a pregnancy from me, when I was going to find out in the long run? It didn’t make any sense.
And when the day came that I knew that I would never again have the opportunity to try for a baby, my heart broke all over again. Trying for a baby is one thing. Having a hysterectomy when you’ve not been able to conceive is on a whole different level.
Knowing that you’re about to take away the what ifs and maybes from the whole conception game is a bit like taking away your hope all together.
As much as I knew that we would never conceive naturally and that there wasn’t a chance in hell of me falling pregnant, it was always something to hold on to. The moment I took all of that away by having a hysterectomy, I knew that I would have to face further issues down the line.
My brother re-married that same year and I knew that before long there would be more babies. I found it hard being around pregnant women and my first follow-up appointment after my hysterectomy completely threw me. I was last to go in which meant that gynae clinic was ending & pre-natal clinic was about to begin. All of a sudden I was surrounded by smug, fat women who had managed to conceive when I hadn’t. And the minute my name was called & I saw my consultant, I started to howl.
I then howled again when I found out that my sister-in-law was pregnant. I knew that it was inevitable but even so, I sobbed at the unfairness of it all. How was it that she managed to get pregnant so easily when I had struggled for so many years? I admit that I avoided her like the plague and very rarely visited the house. I couldn’t stand being in a room with her, even though it wasn’t her fault. I had dreaded this pregnancy, knowing that it would be hard after my hysterectomy but I had underestimated just how hard it would be.
But 5 days after my 3rd niece was born, I was holding her in my arms and just as I had with the previous two, I fell in love at first sight. When my sister-in-law fell pregnant again I was determined not to stay away. I spent as much time as I could with my tiny niece and 18 months later her sister was born. Once again I fell head over heels in love & begrudged no one these two beautiful babies.
I now see the youngest girls whenever I can. I have been given another chance at being an aunt. When my eldest nieces were born I rarely saw them and I didn’t meet my nephew until he was 17 years old. Therefore having a couple of nieces who live down the road is pure joy. The relationship that I have with the littles is completely new to me but I love it. I love reading to them and spending time with them. I love getting my beads out & making garish jewellery with them. And most of all I love the cuddles that I get when they’re tired (or just in need of a cuddle or two).
I love being an aunt. I love being able to spoil these five precious siblings. I love being able to buy them fun presents; I love being able to take them shopping or out for a meal. But it’s hard.
It’s hard knowing that I will never have that unconditional love and that no child will call me mummy. It's hard just being Aunt Antonia & having my 3 year old niece laugh when I said I would have liked to have been a mummy (she said I looked like a ‘mumma' in a photo of me holding her sister at 5 days old). She thought it was hysterical. How can her aunt also be a mother? At 3 years old it just doesn't compute. You're either an auntie or you're a mummy. You can't be both. I don't blame her for laughing. But it was hard.
I'd have been a terrible mother. I've been so poorly, I wouldn't have been able to look after a child. And as much as I'd have loved to bear a child of my own, the fates decided otherwise.
However, I still find it difficult going to parties & bumping into old friends who ALL have children.
Some of them were born before we even tried to conceive; others after. Even so, there are times where that old feeling of envy creeps in, so I overcompensate by whipping out photos of my nephew & nieces instead. Whilst they wax lyrical about their darling daughters I go overboard telling funny stories about my 5 year old niece.
Life goes on. More children are born to friends & somehow I get through it. I'd rather have friends with children, than have no friends at all.
The great thing about being a childless aunt is that I am able to give all of the siblings my unconditional love. All of the love that I had stored for my own children is now poured out in bucket loads on these five extraordinary people.
I know that I will always be Auntie A. I know that I will never be loved as much as if I were their mother but I also know that I get all of the best bits without the tears. I get to play and have fun with them. I get to choose crazy presents and am able to spoil them rotten. Best of all, I get to be there, as and when they need me.
I know that it’s going to be difficult when they start producing children of their own. Once again I will miss out on that special bond and that no one will call me grandma. I know that all of this pain and envy will come back, but I’ve come so far and I’m no longer bitter. I am lucky that I have five beautiful children in my life. I am lucky that I’ve had this sweet relationship with the littles and a strong bond which will never go away. I am the luckiest aunt in the world. And even though I’m not a mum, I am and always will be an aunt.
Have a baby. That will make you better
You look well. Are you better now?
Stop being so melodramatic