With the birth of my third great niece this morning, I rejoiced, shed tears of joy and felt my heart swell with pride for my eldest niece, Sara. I texted relatives. Announced it to my friends. Shared pictures with my sister. Sent my niece a giant, “I love you!” My heart was happy.
And then suddenly, I felt a twinge of something else. Right at the surface. A bubbling sadness weaving its way through the jubilance asking me to recognize it and acknowledge it for what it was. And what was it exactly? Sorrow? Loss? How could I be feeling loss at a time of birth? But there it was, a definite woe waiting to be addressed. A lamenting for fleeting life, perhaps? A magnification of the loss of my own mother? A sense of mourning for the children I would never have? Melancholy for the fact that “my babies” have grown up and somewhere along the line passed me by? Or was it a combination of all of the above?
From the time each of my nieces were born, I was by their side. I couldn’t have loved them any more if they were my own children. I was the master. “Teta Lisa, draw this for me.” “Teta Lisa, how much is this?” “Teta Lisa, braid my hair.” “Teta Lisa, help me with my science project.” I had the answers when they didn’t. I knew things they had yet to learn. I was a person they looked up to.
Then life rolls on and suddenly they’re driving. Then the oldest becomes a doctor. Then the youngest becomes a teacher. The oldest moves across country. The youngest gets married. The oldest has a child. The youngest follows with a child of her own. Then the oldest has a second child and suddenly I was feeling like the child to these adults who once saw me as the ultimate expert and the apple of their eye. And — as I go through menopause — I realize that they now know something I’ll never know.
“Sara, what’s it like to have a baby?”
Not having a child of my own is one of my biggest regrets and sources of sadness in life. After battling horrendous PMS since my pre-teen years, month-after-month, year-after-year, only to have the pain and emotional fury that took its toll on me every 28 days culminate in, well, nothing, is devastating to me. And to ask them, “What does it feel like to have a baby inside of you?” “Does birth hurt?” “What is it like to breast feed?” makes me realize that I’m no longer the master of anything. I am the student. They have surpassed me.
This is a very different phenomenon than mothers experience watching their children have babies of their own. These mothers can share their wisdom, they have experienced this miracle and they can bathe in the joy of knowing that the child they nurtured and raised is now watering a seed of her own. That is pure joy. And that is what I wish I could feel today.
But I have learned enough in life to know when to put my own feelings away and celebrate for the highest good. So I open up that place in my heart where we store these sorts of things and put it away for another day. After all, today is not about me. It’s about Cali Nicole Ream. A delicate, healthy baby girl who was born to my beautiful, intelligent, kind and loving niece, Dr. Sara Goich. I couldn’t be prouder. And some day I will braid Cali’s hair and teach her to draw and tell her about boys and help her with her science project. And when she surpasses me, my heart will beam with love and pride for her, too.