Sunday, July 24, 2011

Auntie’s Day: Today this Auntie begins to speak her truth

Note: This entry is going to be “a very special” blog post. For once, and probably only once, I am going to break my own rule about subjects that usually are not posted on this blog (see the footer below for details), and will not try to not consider how this might or might go over with the few people that read this, but to break through my own “artificial wall” and document my truth. This is one of those posts that really for me, and ultimately for generations of my nieces and nephews. (see Blog mission statement.)


This is not a mommy blog. I would hope that that would be fairly obvious from the title of this blog, but I just want to make that clear - especially today: Auntie’s Day.

Long before I had an on-line presence and before I became an official aunt, I started a little crafting business. My sisters in spirit, my high school/college/and other friends, had begun to pair off, marry, and to have children of their own. As my mother’s college friends had been to me, I decided to become their honorary aunt and make them little presents. The tags on the baby blankets needed a label telling them who the gifts were from and voila Auntie Nettie’s Attic was born. (Auntie Nettie’s Basement just didn’t have the same zing, you know?)

Over time, my own siblings began to pair off and marry. Eventually, I became an aunt to four more precious little kids – the oft mentioned Drew, Amber, Elle, and Nathan, my little loves.

I am an auntie. I always will be. I am an auntie by choice and by blood. I love my all of my little nieces and nephews probably more than they, or their parents, will ever know, or more than I can probably ever express to them. I am proud of them. I share their photos and artwork. I brag about them constantly. I love them and rejoice in them. But at the same time … I wonder what I am to them and what my influence is on their lives.

There are days dedicated to celebrating the contributions, and rightly so, of our mothers, our fathers, lately, even grandparents. The changing dynamics of what is considered an official family is morphing, with different combinations of units being more and more accepted (depending on where you live) and the caregivers, daddies, mommies, stepparents all being celebrated.

But what about those of us who love and care, but don’t quite fit any of those categories?

What if you are the odd person out: In society? In your culture? In your religion? Even in your own family?

For a long time, I thought it was just me.

I felt like I couldn’t complain; like I didn’t have a voice—that my feelings needed be suppressed because of a variety of circumstances.

I have seen, first-hand, the long, difficult struggles of friends and extended family members trying to deal with financially, physically, and psychologically draining bouts of biological infertility. I have added my prayers to theirs for outcomes which bear fruit, or for resolutions that would, perhaps, in time, bring them peace. After experiencing those emotional roller-coasters, I felt I had no right, no right at all, to grieve, even a tiny bit … for the windows and doors that were closing in my own life.

Over the last few years, I have been going through the stages of a grieving process about my own waning fertility; a frustration and sadness, a debilitating depression that lasted a whole season and often threatens to return in dark moments. Only now, very slowly, am I coming to a sort of acceptance of how things will be. On the one hand I still feel (somewhat) like I shouldn’t talk about it at all -- because my “infertility” is more a result of circumstances than anything else: timing, personality issues, an ambivalence about whether I’d even be a good mother if I actually ever did find the right husband/father, etc. I’ve been pondering how to express myself about this particular issue for more than two years, but haven’t had the courage to write the post.

Thankfully, for me, someone else finally did, giving me the impetus to articulate some of the above.

Melanie Notkin, the founder of SavvyAuntie.com, an on-line community for aunts, recently published an article in The Huffington Post, entitled “The Truth About Childless Women.”

The entire article is excellent, but my favorite quotes are these (emphasis my own):

“Nearly 46 percent of American women through age 44 are childless. That’s up from 35 percent in 1976. ... some, like me, are what I call ‘circumstantially infertile.’

I’m 42 and still single and I have come to acknowledge the truth: it’s very possible I won’t have children of my own. I’ve grieved and have found my happiness on the other side. There are days that are still hard for me (Mother’s Day, the day a friend announces her pregnancy, when I hear a guy won’t date me because I’m too old to have kids, my birthdays, my monthly reminder...) but most days I’m happy. Very happy. I’m not in the wrong life being the wrong wife and trying to get out. I have no regrets.

My circumstances have left me infertile but they have not left me non-maternal. I love the children in my life with boundless adoration. If I was not meant to be a mother to 2.1 kids, then perhaps I was meant to be motherly to many more. From a girl in Tanzania I’ve adopted as a niece and email with many times a week, to the little ones down the hall in my apartment building, and of course to my amazing nephew and nieces by relation, I am an aunt. I’m not childless, I’m childfull. I’m not a mother but I am maternal.

My infertility is circumstantial but my life is not barren. And to the women who are on the other side of hope, know that you are more powerful than your womb. You are maternal whether or not maternity ever comes. You are a woman and your love and how you choose to offer and receive it, is a gift.

And you’re not alone.”

Bless Melanie for her courage. Thanks to her efforts, the contributions of aunts are beginning to be recognized and we are gaining a voice.

It’s hard to ask for a show of appreciation for love freely given, but she makes the case about why we should get our own holiday in another recent article, one for Psychology Today.com, entitled “Why Aunts Deserve a Day.” [Click here for the entire article.]

“…There are all types of aunts:

Aunties by Relation; Aunties by Choice; Great-Aunties; Godmothers; Cousin Aunties; Long-Distance Aunties; StepAunties; Single Aunties; Married Aunties; ... Fairy GodAunties; and Aunties to the World - the BenevolAunts who give so much to children they’ve never met. And there are also the Bon VivAunts, the GourmAunts, the BohemiAunts, the ConfidAunts, the Aunt-Rageous Rocker Aunties, the Crafty Aunties, and the eco-loving Auntie Earth among others. What a diverse group of positive influences for America’s children!

Unfortunately, our contributions to the American Family Village often go unnoticed and under-appreciated. …

Aunts by relation or choice give of their discretionary income and time to children-not-their-own in their immediate lives, in their communities and around the world every single day. Every boo boo they kiss, every little hand they hold, every hug they give is a gift. And as far as the other kinds of gifts - the kind tied up with a bow - are concerned, an Auntie will often stretch her budget to put a smile on the face of a niece or nephew on birthdays or the holidays. She’s also more likely to jump on a plane for Thanksgiving than expect a family of four to travel to her. [Amen Melanie! Christmas/Hanukkah too.]

Aunts not only give directly. When a co-worker mom leaves work early to tend to a sick child, or when that big assignment is due and working late or over the weekend is necessary, a childless woman is (often expected to be) the one to pick up the extra work so moms can have family time. While indirect, aunts deserve to be appreciated for their contributions to the American Family Village in this way too.

These are just some of the ways aunts give of themselves selflessly.

Sunday, July 24th, 2011 marks the third annual Auntie’s DayTM. …It’s a day to honor and celebrate the women in the American Family Village who love and give to children not-their-own. On Sunday, give the Auntie in your child’s life a call, send her a card, or acknowledge her in whatever way you can to say thank you.

Aunthood is a gift. This day is theirs. And they deserve it.”

Thanks to Melanie for permission to post the excerpts.

I am an auntie by blood and an auntie by choice. Whether or not I ever do have my own children, you, my many scattered nieces and nephews, will be my own “little loves.” This is my truth and my gift to you.

much love,

Auntie Nettie

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