By Abby Fortune
I am not a mother. I have never carried a baby in my belly, nor have I brought life into this world. Aside from having pets that I do consider my babies, the closest I’ve ever been to having a child and being a mother is being an aunt.
Being an aunt has been the most rewarding part of my life. There isn’t one thing I wouldn’t do for my niece, Layla, and nephew, Jayden. Their presence in my life not only has made me a better person, but it has prepared me to one day have a child of my own. I always get a strange look when I say that to people. No one understands what I mean when I say I’m ready because of my niece and nephew. They tell me, “There’s no way to be prepared to be a mother. You’re never as ready as you think you are.” Sure, maybe I’m not ready for the physical and mental tolls that pregnancy and motherhood bring. I agree that there isn’t really a way to prepare for either of those things. But I will always stand by the fact that I will beready to be a mother—when the time comes—because I have been an aunt.
I have helped care for Jayden and Layla for most of my nephew’s life. Jayden turns 10 in May and Layla will be 4 in June. I spent a good amount of time watching my nephew when he was little. I was still in high school at the time, but Spring/Fall and semester breaks were spent with my little man. I always tried to come up with fun activities we could do at home because I couldn’t drive yet. If the weather was nice and warm, I typically turned the sprinklers on, or we would go out back and jump on the trampoline. Rainy days called for crafts indoors or snuggling up on the couch with snacks and a movie. I remember one time I had found DIY birdhouse kit, and we spent an entire day building it together. After we finished painting it, Jayden asked me if he could paint his arms with the rest. He needed a bath anyway, so I figured why not? By the time he used all the colors, his arms were black from his fingertips to his elbows! I still have a picture of it and let me tell you, it is one of the cutest pictures ever.
While I babysat Jayden a lot when he was younger, it wasn’t until after Layla was born that I became a consistent caretaker. My sister-in-law was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was pregnant with my niece, and four months after giving birth she had to have radioactive treatment for two weeks. During these two weeks, she couldn’t have any contact with her children. At the time, my older brother was working even more than he already had been to try and compensate for my sister-in-law not working. Jayden, who was 6-years old at the time, stayed with different family members during that time because it was easier to move him around. Layla, however, was only 4 months old and needed consistency. The two weeks lined up with my Fall Break, and my grandma came up to help care for Layla while she stayed with us. So I could help as much as possible, I quit my job because family always comes first.
Those two weeks are what I attribute to a lot of my skills with babies. I know what it’s like to be up and down all night to change diapers or get a bottle. I have felt the frustration when the baby won’t stop crying no matter what you try. Layla’s playpen, where she was supposed to sleep when she stayed at our house, was in my bedroom. When it came to sleeping, she was always so finicky—she wanted to be held or she would not sleep. I had a lot of sleepless nights over the course of those two weeks. Eventually, after nights of trying to rock her to sleep or attempt to sleep sitting up with her on my chest, I learned that if I put her in her vibrating monkey seat she would sleep soundly.
When my sister-in-law went back to work after maternity leave and recovering from her treatments, she and my brother were on opposite schedules. This is when I started watching the kids two, sometimes three, nights a week. I would go their house around 6:00 PM and would typically stay until after midnight, so I fed them dinner and put them to bed, following their bedtime routines with them. Despite staying so late, my coursework for my college classes was not interfered with. I was watching them regularly and when their schedules changed, I changed mine to be able to help them out. I scheduled my classes and work availability so I could watch Layla and pick Jayden up from after school care or from the school itself. I was no longer just an aunt doing some babysitting, I had become a main caretaker in their lives, and it was and still is a responsibility I hold above all others.
Over time, I have gone to only watching Layla on Fridays due to needing more room in my schedule for work and classes. She’s almost 4-years old now, so having just one day a week with her is nowhere near enough to cherish all those little moments sometimes. I try to pack in as many activities week to week as I can, but schoolwork can make that difficult at times. When the weather is warm, one of our favorite activities is going to the zoo. No matter how many times we go, Layla’s eyes always light up with excitement as we walk in. Another favorite activity is going to playdates. I have a friend who has a daughter about Layla’s age, so we often go to their house and play. The girls have formed such an adorable friendship, and Layla is constantly asking to go play with her.
In less than a year I won’t watch Layla regularly anymore because I’ll be done with college and going out into the real world. This also means I won’t see Jayden after school every Friday anymore so I plan to soak up as much love as I can while I have the chance. Our bond that we’ve built will last forever no matter how far apart we are, but the thought of not seeing them every week puts a terrible knot in my stomach. I cherish the time I spend with Layla every week and I hold onto those precious moments as tightly as I can, just as I have done and continue to do with Jayden. I often tell people that my niece and nephew are my world, and I mean it. I don’t know who or where I would be without these kids. They are the ones who made me realize just how much love my heart can hold.
I am not a mother. I have never carried a baby in my belly, nor have I brought life into this world. But I have gotten up in the night to get a bottle. I have experienced blow-out diapers that seem to be never ending. I have sat next to a child as they’re sick and wished I could take their pain. I have listened to the annoying kids songs to the point where I sing them to myself without realizing it. I have been the best friend one moment and the bad guy authority figure the next. I have hauled a child kicking and screaming out of a public place. I have set up playdates and I have gone to the zoo countless times. I have experienced that unexplainable fear that something will happen to these children that I love, and there will be nothing I can do to stop it. I have experienced what the day-to-day life of a parent is like.
I am not a mother but being an aunt has prepared me to be one.