Thanks To My Little Sisters, I Love Being An Auntie – But I Might Be Too Anxious To Ever Be A Mum

Baby bottles

by Daisy Buchanan |
Updated on

When I met my niece, Penny, for the first time, I burst into tears. I loved her so much, so instantly, that it felt physically painful. I remember realising that each of my feet, in their winter boots, were bigger than her entire body. When I held her, I felt her breath shudder through her lungs, a visceral reminder of how new she was. She was so fierce, and so fragile. I wept all the way home. Not because I felt happy or sad, but because I was terrified. The idea that my little sister had produced this perfect person was overwhelming, and the other idea, that she was entirely responsible for keeping Penny alive, made me shake with fear. A month later, I repeated the entire process with a different little sister and her baby, my nephew Arthur. My desire to hold and protect these little people was suffocating. I couldn’t watch the news, cross a road or even see a bus without panicking about the state of the world and the harm that might befall them. Everywhere I looked, I saw catastrophes, and I struggled to function.

While I’ve always been ambivalent about having children, there was a part of me that believed that when I watched my little sisters getting on with motherhood, some missing emotion would click into place. I’d realise that motherhood was normal and natural, and if my baby sisters could do it, there was nothing to stop me from having a go too. After all, Penny’s Mum once leapt off a flight of stairs wearing a rubber ring, believing she could “swim through the air”, and Arthur’s Mum once burst into tears during a play about Mr Men, believing that Mr Bump and Mr Happy were real life monsters. My darling little sisters are some of my favourite people in the whole world. They’re sweet, smart, funny, gorgeous, and they make brilliant Mums. But I know them well enough to realise they can be idiots. There’s nothing they can do that I can’t. In fact, most of the time, I lead and they follow. On the rare occasions when they overtake me, I race to catch up. Yet motherhood seems to be the one instance where I’m happy to be left behind. Well, not happy, exactly. Just too scared and anxious to follow in their footsteps.

It’s thought that at least one in four people are living with mental illness, and I’m one of them. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2010, but I struggle with anxiety every single day. Earlier this year, a report published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, authored by researchers at Kings’ College London, found that a further one in four women suffer from mental health issues during pregnancy. Pregnancy is sold to us as the ideal feminine state. We’re supposed to glow and bloom, and be filled with a deep sense of serenity that is palpable to passers by. Yet, I can understand why pregnancy is difficult for many women. If you’ve ever experienced body image issues or eating disorders, you’re going to have complex thoughts about the way that your body is changing. Also, it’s a time when strangers may well provide unsolicited advice and comments about the way your body looks, and how you treat it. You’re flooded with brand new hormones, which different women react to in all kinds of different ways - and it’s a time when you may well be thinking about your own family history, and exploring emotions that have been difficult to process. Quite honestly, I don’t know how anyone does it.

When Beth, Penny’s Mum, was the first to give birth, she made us promise that we wouldn’t share too many details of the experience with Grace, Arthur’s Mum, until Arthur was born. My sisters and I are extremely protective of each other, but very honest too. While they’re very measured when it comes to telling scary parenting stories, they’re careful not to sugarcoat anything, and they tell me that being a Mum can be lonely, isolating and stressful - in fact, stressful isn’t a strong enough word for juggling all of the practical and emotional worries that come along. However, I know it’s the best thing they’ve ever done too. They’re in love with their babies, their families and their brand new lives. Still, when it sometimes feels as though the rest of the world wants me to get pregnant within the next five minutes, they’re the only people who truly understand my ambivalence. Even though I’d never make this judgement about another woman, sometimes I worry that not wanting a baby means that something is seriously wrong with me. But my sisters are always quick to tell me that every single one of us is different. While becoming a Mum is the greatest adventure they will ever go on, it’s not meant to be a journey for everyone, and I’ll find different missions that fulfil me in different ways. Motherhood might not be for me, but I can still lead a rich, happy life, while being an amazing - albeit slightly anxious - auntie.

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