My niece is now fifteen months old. She still can't walk, she's slightly smaller than most babies her own age, and her vocabulary is limited to lots of animated sounds (including growling like a lion, her favourite animal), although she does shout "oh noooo!" in a theatrical way if she drops anything. I think about her everyday, bore strangers with stories and photos of her, and sometimes ache to be able to hold her - and she's not even my baby. I never thought that being an aunt would affect me this way. I remember years ago reading an interview with Sienna Miller in which she said her sister's newborn first baby was as much hers and she felt insanely in love with him. I remember thinking calm down, love - that's not your baby! And whilst I'm not declaring my niece to be mine too, I now understand what Sienna meant - you feel an immediate bond that's sudden and surprising, and definitely intense.
Baby A was much wanted, and I crossed everything during the difficult and stressful IVF process that my sister and her husband went through. She wanted to be a mum so much, that I was too busy supporting her and praying it would all work to actually stop and think about my new role. When I think about the effect I'll have on Baby A's life as she grows up I feel a bit overwhelmed and I wonder what kind of aunt I'll be - a distant one she doesn't see much, one that's only in touch at Christmas and on birthdays, one that's around a lot but she doesn't feel close to, or the one I really want to be - an aunt who's very much a part of her life, someone she can have fun with, but she also feels close enough to get support from when needed.
Much like being a parent for the first time (I'm guessing as I don't have kids) there's no way of knowing how to be an aunt either. I've just kind of thrown myself into whatever needs doing; chasing her whilst growling like a lion as she giggles and crawls away, reading her favourite books a hundred-thousand times, pulling endless faces whilst she either laughs or looks at me like I'm mental, and loving the novelty of carting her round the shops in her pushchair and alarming strangers who ask me how old she is (I have to think about it, and they must think I've stolen her or something). It's all a novelty because I can leave at the end of an aunty-niece day, and that's a bloody huge relief whether the day has been exhaustingly fun or nerve-shatteringly fraught with tantrums. I'm not sure who Baby A thinks I am, but a couple of times she's looked up at me whilst I'm changing her nappy and sleepily called me mum. It melts my heart, not because I want to be a mum, but because I love how I can make this tiny new person feel so safe and comfortable that she calls me the name of the person who makes her feel safest in this world.
That feeling of looking out for my sister hasn't lessened, and that's the odd thing about being an aunt. You're in a middle ground where you adore your niece or nephew (and often worry about them), but you still feel fiercely protective of your sibling and don't like to see them stressed with motherhood, or upset or anxious. My sister has had what I assume are all the first-time mother feelings - including so much guilt and concern, and I can only try and empathise with her. She also has what appears to be overreactions to things that I just have to try and understand, and be careful how I comment on... ahem. Becoming an aunt has not made me want to have children, if anything I'm put off by fully comprehending the mental and physical struggle it is to be a parent in the first year (and forever). But it's also opened my eyes in so many ways to the wonders of bringing a person into the world and being totally responsible for them.
Being an aunt means to me being an extension of the love and support Baby A's parents give her, whilst also being there for my sister. I may yet decide to be a crazy, eccentric aunt, I'm kind of halfway there. I'm just hoping that Baby A will think I'm an amazing aunt even when she's Adult A.