that special aunt

Growing up I had three aunts (more if you count great aunts, but I’m not). One was estranged and I never knew her. One was sort of uptight kept to herself back in the day, but has warmed considerably since then. One was my favorite. She married my mom’s closest brother a few years before I was born and became a part of our family. 

Her first son — my cousin and father of my cousin-nephew and cousin-niece (more here) — was born the year between my two older brothers. Five years later, my aunt and mother were pregnant again at the same time. They suffered miscarriages within months of each other. Eventually, they both conceived again. This cousin and I are seven months apart. He is like a younger brother to me, and I am like the sister he never had. The Amazing M officiated his wedding, and I held his new baby girl at her blessing ceremony

My aunt and uncle have been like surrogate parents, embracing us into their home and hearts. I’ve always adored my aunt and idolized my uncle. They play a pivotal role in my life.

My aunt and I have a special relationship. I was her first niece. She was my second mother. I shared things with her I never shared with my mom. Everyone thinks we we are blood-related. At one point in my early 20s and her 40s, I suppose there were some similarities, but not so much anymore. 

They were the model of the happily married couple missing from my life. (My parents separated when I was 12, and I had no good role models.) She was my witness at our wedding, and they had a huge party for us days before our ceremony. When, months afterwards, their own marriage was threatened by infidelity, our family was in crisis. They were reluctant to tell me, for fear of what it would do to my view of marriage. (They survived in tact, if a little worse for the wear.)

My aunt had my cousins in her early 20s, and dedicated her life to raising her family. Aside from volunteer work, she never worked outside the home until much later. She would never say so, but I know she passes silent judgment on women who put off having babies for a career, or who pay others to raise their children. We don’t see eye to eye on everything. 

My aunt has never known how to talk to me about infertility. I know she loves and cares about me and wants the best for us. But she just doesn’t get it. What’s worse, I have felt judged. Without the words ever being spoken, I’ve sensed that she thinks we shouldn’t have waited so long. In reality, it wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference — I was infertile long before we started trying to make a baby. 

When I finally became pregnant in fall 2006, she was overjoyed. Finally, she knew how to talk to me again. She could not handle my infertility. But this she knew. She could talk about babies all day long. Then, when it wasn’t looking good (i.e., when shit went horribly wrong), she sat with me on bedrest. She fed me, watched cooking shows, propped up my pillows, told me stories, anything I needed. And she grieved with me when our son died. That was more than two years ago.

Since then, I think maybe she’s asked how I am — I mean really how I am — just a few times. She might ask my mom, but not me. She’s sad for us, but she’s busy with her life, her grandkids, sharing stories of her friends’ grandkids, etc. So she doesn’t ask, and I don’t tell. Such a different relationship than we once had. As with so many other relationships in my life, we have grown so far apart. Sad, really. 

My aunt and uncle know how much we love our nieces and nephews and baby cousins. They see it. And part of me knows they hurt for us. They just don’t talk about it, with me anyway. 

Now that I’m trying my hardest to accept that my nieces and nephews and cousins might be as close as we may ever get to being parents, I find myself wondering if being that special aunt will ever really be enough. 

~ by luna on May 28, 2008.

15 Responses to “that special aunt”

  1. “When I finally became pregnant in fall 2006, she was overjoyed. Finally, she knew how to talk to me again. She could not handle my infertility. But this she knew. She could talk about babies all day long.”

    This is so the story of so many of my relationships too. I have two university degrees, I have an interesting job, I have hobbies, I read widely, I like to travel. But people don’t know how to relate to me because I’m not pregnant or a mother. Isn’t it sad? I try to tell myself “their loss,” but I feel like I’ve lost something too. 😦

    I adore our nephews. They have one other aunt (their mom’s sister-in-law), & I like to think I stack up well in the favourite aunt category. ; ) But they are not my children.

  2. This is a very touching, sad story. It is always so disappointing when people with whom we have been close let us down when their support would really have mattered. In my life, I have found it very hard to accept people’s emotional limitations and to let go of relationships that were of a certain time and place and for whatever reason can’t translate into new times and new places. And it can be as hard or harder to mentally let go of family relationships than friends or romantic partners, particularly when the reason for growing apart is not anyone’s “fault.”

  3. I’ve struggled with this, and I have no sibblings. But I’ve wondered, would being someone’s special aunt be enough? I had such special women in my life growing up. I’m thankful for them, but I’d take the chance to be mum anyday.

    Sorry you are struggling, and really really sorry your family can’t be there for you.

  4. Can I just tell you how much I hate stories like this? so much. I just want everyone’s special people to be with it when they suffer, but I’ve found not so much. For me, it’s really made me look back on the relationship and wonder what in hell we had in common in the first place. We’re apparently going through sort of the reverse of this, which is Mr’s brother who finally had a baby last fall. He was the last one in the fam to have a baby, and felt this was his ticket “in” or whatever — like we have a secret club and secret conversations, or something. Instead we have no baby, and the other people who had a baby aren’t into the daily phone-calls to compare notes, so apparently he STILL feels left out. But know what? They have a baby. We don’t. So I don’t feel that badly. Just for the overall circumstances.

    While relieved to see mine isn’t the only one who can’t handle crap, I’m really sorry to see that yours can’t either. It really sucks.

  5. Hey Luna

    I don’t think many people are equipped for dealing with the tragedy of others. I go through phases of being tolerant of it and being extremely judgemental. Today I seem to be tipping on the angry and intolerant side of things. I spend time shouting in my head at people who should know better. Who should be able to understand me. Who should know what kind of support I need even when I am totally lost and have no idea myself. And even while I do it there is another part of me that says “let go lady”.

    There are 1000 reasons why people stop asking “how you are”…..

    But it really sucks feeling so alone.

    It really does suck.

  6. I have a special Aunt who is childless. I don’t know if it’s enough for her; but having her in my life has saved me.

    But since the last loss, the stillbirth, she’s drifted away. Instead of chasing after her, I let her go. I don’t understand the divide but I will wait for her to cross it hopefully.

  7. It’s so sad how much infertility can change and damage our relationships. I’ve grown apart from so many girlfriends because I was left behind as they had children. I’m not in the “mommy club,” so I don’t get invited to all the mommy events. And, even when I am invited, the last thing I want to do is go to the baptism of a friend’s second or third child (all conceived in the years we have been desperately trying to have baby #1). Infertility sucks, huh?

  8. “I find myself wondering if being that special aunt will ever really be enough. ” Enough for what? To fill that hole? As one who has tried to fill that hole with food, with booze, with anger, with sadness – nope. The hole may get smaller as years go by, but I suspect it will always be there. Even when you have your own child, some traumas just become a part of who you are. And that’s just not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different.

  9. As much as I adore my niece and nephews (and they me), I do yearn for a more directly involved role.

  10. One of the most sobering things I’ve learned in this life is that sometimes the people you love the most let you down the worst. Reaching the limits of any relationship can be difficult, but it can be crushing when the other person is a parental figure. I’m so sorry you had to experience this with your aunt.

    Maybe the question isn’t so much *whether* being the special aunt is enough, but *how can I make sure* that being the special aunt is as fulfilling as it can be. Because it won’t ever be enough, but you certainly can make the most of it. Big hugs to you, Luna.

  11. That’s what I am too – a special aunt. I just spent a long weekend with my sister and her two kids and then my best friend and her two. I love them to distraction, and I think they love me too – they certainly seemed pleased to see me and sad to see me go. But, like you, I feel it’s probably not enough. When I’m not there, I fade from their thoughts. It sounds selfish, but I want to be someone’s “most special”. I see how they are with their parents and I want that for myself. Oh, it’s hard. When I’m at my most realistic I tell myself that if fate has it in store that I never have my own kids then I’m lucky that I have a few who are the next best thing.

  12. My favorite aunt actually had some mysterious infertility issues — so both of her children were adopted (as was I). There’s so much I want to ask her about now… what did they try? When did they decide enough was enough, etc? But it’s amazing how untouchable the topic feels.

  13. I don’t think being that special aunt will ever be enough for me, but, sigh, it’s all that I’m going to get so I’ll take it. As for the way your aunt has behaved, I’m with B and others here who point out that some people are just not equipped with how to handle the topic, the hurt, the lasting effects. I have all the more respect for the strength and compassion that those who do understand exhibit. It’s far easier to ignore than to deal with it. Those who deal with it have my deepest respect and admiration.

  14. […] to small children. We did invite a few family members but they are unlikely to attend except for my aunt. I think she feels like the surrogate for the rest of the family, which is […]

  15. […] huge hugs in the hall and she couldn’t believe how big Baby J had gotten since December. Then my aunt and cousin showed up with her two girls. Her two year old adores Baby J and apparently screamed in […]

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