On Being a Childless Mommy

NOTE: I wrote this about nine years ago, while struggling with my decision to live a childless life.  At that point, my self-proclamation of Childless Mommy soothed my soul and steered me toward a path of self-healing. Today, I no longer allow my childlessness to define me: I know that I am far more than what I am not. I am happy and blessed.  I’ve filled my life with wonderful people, cherished experiences and tremendous love.  Still, each Mother’s Day delivers a sad (although thankfully brief) pause…

This may be an issue of semantics, but lately I’ve sworn off calling myself childless. I am not a mother, but I am a mommy: a Childless Mommy.

The decision to remain childless was hardly an easy one. My own physiology has denied me the ability to create offspring.  Adoption is cruelly unaffordable, and I haven’t the emotional stamina needed to foster a child who deserves far more than what I might be able to offer.  Making a life-changing decision is never as hard as living with it, but for the most part I accept my childlessness and enjoy a happy life.  There are moments, however, when it is a grueling struggle.

I have often been the beneficiary of bold statements made by people who cannot conceive why I have not conceived. Remarks made by friends on how difficult it is to raise children make me wonder if these parents have ever considered how difficult it is not to have children to raise. And sometimes, while listening to friends relate their experiences of postpartum depression, I am quietly overwhelmed with nonpartum depression.

My lack of participation in ‘kiddie talk’ often leads people to the false conclusion that I detest children and am relieved not to be burdened with these issues.  They are wrong: I do not hate children… I hate my inability to have children.

But I am not childless.

Much of my maternal longings are fulfilled through several nephews and nieces, who frequently spring through my kitchen door to joyfully land upon my lap. My sisters lovingly include me in their children’s lives, and I partake gratefully.

My participation extends far beyond the typical role of Aunt, who is often left to receiving Santa photos and attending school plays. I paint black nail polish upon little witch fingers, drop off forgotten lunches to hungry little faces at school, deliver want-to-be ballerinas to weekly dance lessons and volunteer for field trips to the fire station. In each instance, I delight in their open, car-seat-dancing, hand-clapping glee at my presence.

To these children I patiently recite songs, rhymes and silly idioms their mothers sometimes wish I wouldn’t. They jump on my bed, run down my halls, eat in my living room and throw balls across my kitchen… rule-breaking activities at which mothers cringe but Aunties permit. And hearing these children say they don’t want to leave my home is the reward I subliminally seek.

But sometimes after they are gone, I wander through my quiet house and feel a familiar, empty sting.  On these days, I realize with stark clarity how possible it is to miss something I never had.  And I do miss a lot: bedtime stories, Christmas mornings, car-ride singing and, mostly, the delicious sensation of a newborn softly breathing in the crook of my neck as I gently rock him to sleep.  I miss the joyous squeals made when that one special person walks through the door. I miss being that one special person who comes to collect those children from my home.

I miss being a mother.

Lately, though, I have recognized that I am also missing temper tantrums, the enormous cost of college, emergency-room trips for stitches and cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night. These realizations have helped me reconcile that the status of Auntie affords me the privilege of fun without the burden of responsibility. I am experiencing most of the good, and none of the bad. And I’m surrounded by children who love me deeply and unconditionally.

Recently this became clear when my six-year-old niece asked why I had not attended Parents’ Day at ballet.  I explained that, because I was present at her class each week, it seemed only right to leave that day to her own parents.  Her little face expressed hurt as she looked up at me and softly replied, ‘but Auntie Susie, all the other Mommies were there.’

There aren’t enough moments in a person’s life when time stops and your heart sings a sweet, powerful lesson.

Since then, I have proclaimed myself a Childless Mommy. I rejoice in the knowledge that I am not childless. I struggle to survive in a world of diaper commercials, minivan-filled highways and baby showers.  I deal with my loss, rejoice in my blessings, and I take it all one day at a time.

And I borrow my sisters’ kids every chance I get.