I’ve known for a while that I won’t have children. It wasn’t a conscious decision, at least not at first. It was just something that never happened, for a variety of reasons, and in recent years I’ve become pretty certain that being a mom isn’t for me.

A few of my close friends have kids, but most don’t. I hardly thought about babies at all until last September, when my sister Susanna dropped me a Facebook Messenger bombshell that she was pregnant. (We live many thousands of miles apart and delivering news via Messenger is the norm for us.)

I hadn’t considered how overjoyed I would feel at the prospect of becoming an aunt.

Even though it would mean two long trips back home within a six-month period, there was no question I would travel to the U.S. to meet the baby after he was born. I might only become an auntie once.

Baby JackThis is my nephew, Jack, at his house in Middlebury, Vermont. I met him when he was five weeks old.

Susanna and Jack outsideSusanna and Jack, moments after my dad backed over Susanna’s mailbox with his pickup truck. It was an exciting moment for everyone, Baby Jack included.

Tenney and JackMy father, Tenney, meets his first grandchild.

Jack and Scud MissileBaby Jack and his cat, Scud Missile.

Heather and Baby Jack
Baby Jack and me. (Photo: Susanna Mason)

Two days after I booked my ticket to the U.S., I received a text message from my best friend Claire. Claire was having a baby too! It was an adoption, so Claire and her husband had only a few weeks to prepare to become parents. Claire’s daughter would be born just a couple of weeks after Susanna’s son, and I would be home at just the right time to meet both babies.

Just like that, I became an auntie twice.

Claire and AbigailClaire and Baby Abigail at their hotel room in Alexandria, Virginia, where they stayed temporarily while the adoption paperwork was completed. (They’re now back home in Washington D.C.) I’m proud to say that I was Abigail’s first official visitor. She was two weeks old.

Claire, Isaiah and AbigailClaire’s husband Isaiah joins the photoshoot.

Abigail
Burrito baby.

Heather and Abigail
I got pretty good at holding babies on this trip. (Photo: Claire Sneed)

I suppose I’m biased. But I’m pretty sure I became auntie to the two most beautiful babies in America.

This trip, like all my trips back home, was such a whirlwind. In addition to meeting the babies in Vermont and Virginia, I made stops in New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Mexico City. I was constantly exhausted and elated, and now that I’m back in Joburg I’m just plain exhausted. Nonetheless, I can’t ignore the extra momentousness of this particular visit.

I felt such a mix of emotions before the trip: huge excitement for Susanna and Claire, who had both wanted babies for a very long time, but also apprehension about lots of different things. I know nothing about babies…What if I hated being around them? What if my presence added unnecessary stress to the parents? How would my relationships with Sue and Claire change?

What if meeting the babies made me regret my decision not to have one myself?

None of these feelings came to pass. Another regret did arrive though.

My nephew and almost-niece will grow up fast and I’m very far away. I know that South Africa is where I need to be right now, possibly forever. But the thought of what I’m missing makes me sad.

When I said goodbye to Susanna and Jack outside a Middlebury diner on a cold April morning, I didn’t know when I’d be back. I felt like I was leaving part of my DNA behind, and I guess I was.

I cried a lot on the flight back to South Africa, partly from exhaustion and partly from sadness.

I’m crying a little bit now, too.

Heather and Jack by TenneyHope to see you soon, Baby Jack. Don’t grow too fast. (Photo: Tenney Mason)

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