Aunt Sandi reflects on her tough decision not to have children.
I admire mothers more than any other group.
It's a non-stop job from the moment your child is handed to you after birth and it never ends.
Long after you are gone, you live on in your children and their children. Stories about you will be told for generations, your precious possessions will be cherished by your descendants.
I made the toughest decision of my life in my early 30s.
I decided not to have children.
My practice husband and I had always planned to wait until we were in our 30s to start a family and by the time we got there, our marriage was falling apart.
Most interestingly, our divorce had nothing to do with my decision.
I had my first genetic panel done when I was 33, and that's when it was confirmed I have the gene that carries arthritis, asthma, allergies and multiple sclerosis and I had a 50/50 chance of passing it on.
In my mind I saw two scenarios, neither pretty.
First, my child would grow up with a sick mom. I had no way of guessing how sick I would get, but not being able to do things like pick them up or run and play on a playground was a hard one. Also, I had no way to gauge the toll pregnancy would take on my already battered body and damaged spine.
The clincher was the chance I'd have a baby who could develop one of the diseases on that gene. How do you explain to a two-year-old why they are in pain and if they would take this pill or that shot they would feel better?
One summer I spoke at a camp for children with rheumatoid arthritis so they could see that they too could have a fun job while dealing with this nasty disease. What got to me were the questions they asked me about the realities of living with arthritis.
"Did I cry when they stuck me with the needles for blood tests?"
"Did the people laugh at me when I fell asleep in class because I hadn't been able to sleep the night before?"
I showed them the big white dents in the crook of my arm and was able to give them some cold comfort: "After a few years of those blood tests, the nerves there will die and it won't hurt at all."
I told them not to be afraid to ask for help or to ride in a wheelchair when the pain was so bad.
After that visit, I thought about it a long time and finally decided to not roll those dice.
Though I don't have children of my own, I have nieces and nephews, both by blood and by love.
Perhaps because I have never had to truly grow up and take care of my own children, I am the go-to aunt for fun.
All my brothers' children have done some pretty cool things because Aunt Sandi pulled some strings. Once, a niece and nephew were the children picked from the audience to star in the pre-intermission extravaganza at a performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
One niece went backstage at a Garth Brooks concert. Her brother met Brooks & Dunn.
Another has gone to movie screenings with me and another owns a personal message from Tigger himself, telling him to mind his parents and say his prayers before bed.
Every member of my family has personalized autographs from various movie stars, rock bands and other celebrities. They own merchandise from movies and concerts and have spent time sitting with me watching concerts while I write the review on my laptop. They were always cool about walking slower when I used a cane or to help carry things for me.
I love all my nieces and nephews, whether they're related to me or not and I cherish it when those who are not really related call me "Aunt Sandi" anyway.
I was able to do a lot of traveling and bring home cool things because I didn't have children of my own to worry about at home.
Yes, many times it was a struggle to get myself home, but once there I didn't have to take care of a child before collapsing myself.
Still, I see parents with their children, creating memories and a tight-knit family while I watch from the outside.
My first husband remarried and now has children of his own. I am happy for him and enjoy hearing him tell me all about them.
It's funny to me, but he tells them stories about me and the things I've done, so in a very modern way, I'm a member of their family too.
Now that I'm well past the age to have children, do I regret not doing it? Truthfully, not at all.
Still, when I feel depressed I wonder what will happen to me when I can't take care of myself, if I will wind up in a nursing home, the lady with no visitors.
Better days I know I may wind up in a nursing home, but all my nieces and nephews will come visit because of all the stories I have about things I've done with them, and maybe because they consider me family.
Every person with any form of this disease will make this decision on their own, or it's already out of their hands. If they got sick after they had children, it's a moot point.
I know for many women, having children is an essential part of their lives and they are heroes to me, sick or well. I'm just glad so many of them have let me borrow their children from time to time so I could be "Aunt Sandi."
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