The moment was captured on film. My husband and I flung our arms around my sister-in-law, CJ, shuffling into position for what we thought was a photo. “Smile!” CJ instructed. “Say ‘CJ’s pregnant!’”

CJ and her husband collapsed into giggles. My husband’s eyes widened. And I took off running. 

Maybe it was a bizarre impulse, but excitement charged through me so forcefully that I couldn’t help but spring into action. I ran to the other end of the room and back before seizing my sister-in-law in a giant embrace. I was as thrilled as if I had won the lottery–and, in a way, I felt like I had. 

As an only child, I never thought I’d have the chance to be an aunt. When I married my husband, who has two sisters, I realized that my chances had increased exponentially. Now, I am the proud aunt to Baby JoJo, who was born in September of 2021. 

I don’t know if other women dream of becoming aunts. But it’s the highest honor I can think of for someone who loves children but doesn’t want her own.

For me, the idea of having children wasn’t always off the table; it just was never completely on it, either. When I was in my first serious relationship, I entertained the idea of starting a family when we graduated college. We broke up, and the dream fizzled. My next relationship was years later, when I was broke, severely depressed and barely able to keep myself alive. I held no illusions about my ability to take care of a child. 

By the time I met my now-husband, I knew myself well enough to be confident that having children wasn’t part of my plan. The dreams I have for myself and my career don’t support a child; neither does my mental illness, the severity of which I have always been hesitant to pass on.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t love kids. Although I was petrified of babysitting as a teen, I discovered a passion for working with kids later in my life. In college, I performed in theatrical productions for young adults. My junior year, I spent a summer as a teacher and bunk counselor at an arts camp. I spent a semester working in a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, leading an after-school literacy program. Some of my proudest memories, my happiest memories, my most laugh-out-loud memories, are because of time spent with truly amazing young people. 

Sometimes, I’m seized by an unexpected grief, a pang of longing, a what if that can’t be answered. Will I regret not having children? Who will take care of my husband and I when we’re old? Am I missing out on something? However, I combat this uncertainty with a promise: however I can, I will be there for the parents and kids in my life. 

I may not want kids, but I will be there for friends who are pregnant. 

I will ask what they need and how I can help. I will find out their hopes and dreams and fears for the future, for their child’s future, for the future of their relationship. I will buy them cute baby clothes I find on sale at Target. 

I may not want kids, but I will be there for friends with babies. 

I will offer my babysitting services, now that I’m older and over the anxiety it used to bring me. I will hug those babies, hold them tight, kiss their downy heads. And then, when they start to cry, I will hand them back to their parents, and ask if said parents want anything from the bar.

I may not want kids, but I will be there for friends with older kids. 

I will buy them the books I loved at their age: sweeping fantasies, star-crossed romances, series about outcasts and weirdos and kids who don’t fit in. I will take them out for ice cream, introduce them to our cats, and teach them the intricacies of Dungeons and Dragons. I will be determined to help shape them into feminists and nerds. 

Someday, Baby JoJo won’t be a baby anymore, or even a toddler, but a person in her own right, capable of making her own decisions and mistakes and miracles. 

Someday, the babies I loved might even have babies of their own. I will love them all the same. 

I won’t love them the same way their own parents do; I will never wrap my head around that depth, not exactly. But I will love them with the unshakable ferocity understood by aunts, by babysitters, by nannies and teachers and friends. I will love them for being extensions of the friends and cousins and sisters-in-law I loved first. 

Despite my decision to not have children, I know my life will never be lonely, sad, or lacking in love. My husband and I will grow our family by adopting more pets, making more friends, and engaging in our communities. I will continue to be delighted by the kids in my life and inspired by their parents. And if my sisters-in-law tell me they’re pregnant, I will run with joy, every time.