I am going to be 40 this year. And life’s been good to me so far. I have two children who have grown into the kind of people I most enjoy in the world, a kind and bright husband, and a career that is budding–bursting sometimes, but budding now with new ideas and new things that make me think positive thoughts about the future. I am lucky.
But 40, ah, that is something else. And a few months ago, I turned to my husband and said, “9 months til 40. I can either have a baby or a plan a party.” He looked up at me over his book and squeezed my hand and I smiled at him, grateful that he didn’t say no to either.
And the exchange, of course, got me thinking about what it means to have a new baby. What it feels like, what state of mind and being is required to go there in the first place, or again. When you give birth and especially for the first time, it is a lot of things—energizing at first and then quickly exhausting, frightening, maddening, and on and on the complicated list of new feelings goes. Achy and shocked maybe from the trials and exhilaration of labor and delivery, the flush of it all starts to wear off somewhere in between your arrival home and the arrival of your baby’s first fussy period.
But there are a few things it is not—relaxing, centering, confidence-boosting. These feelings are reserved for others, for other things usually—work, friendship, Cross-Fit. But for me, these are the very feelings that swept over me the first time I held my newest niece in the hospital room. And at that moment, I felt I was there for a reason.
There is a groundedness that comes over me when I hold my newborn niece, when I am able to hold and handle her in ways her parents can’t yet. Her parents, who are so strong and calm and funny about the whole matter—so much more so than I was, by miles—have not yet found that easy, secure way a more seasoned caregiver handles a tiny baby. It takes experience, it takes your first child crying it out and your second rolling off the sofa at two weeks old, to fully realize and acknowledge in your soul, the resilience of these creatures. “They bounce,” my father once told me, hysterical about the aforementioned second child on the floor. And they do, but they won’t, because you get so good at it being with them—cradling them in one arm, gliding around the house, baby in one hand, one million other things in the other—making coffee, filling a Brita, flipping a pancake, tending to another child, squatting down to pick up one of one million things that have fallen on the floor that day.
The newborn period is so short, so very fleeting for the people on the outside of it, for the aunt. For the new parents, it is an eternity and it is dark and lonely in ways you forget about the way you forget about the tearing and trauma of childbirth the minute you are healed. In a few more weeks, when she is more sturdy, and when her parents’ shakiness has worn off into a competence they didn’t know they had, I’ll go back to what I was doing. But for now, for this bunch of weeks, this is what I can offer them. 5-ish months away from 40, this is the one thing I’ve earned that feels steady and exciting and enough. Being an aunt is something to behold—so much love and admiration and affection in both directions–easy giving, nothing at all given up.
I am lucky to have the dreamiest and most interesting collection of nieces–each of them with a brightness and wit that infects each and every FaceTime and real-time visit with something special and close. Lucky also to have a brand-new nephew that could move mountains with his thinking eyes. But being an aunt who is both far away enough from my own kids’ babyness and geographically nearby enough to be helpful in the very same ways a baby nurse is helpful but better—with sisterly love, deep understanding, and nowhere else to be—is the best gift any 39.7 year old mother of school-aged kids could ask for.
So, yeah. I’m going with the party, but the babies are invited.