by Brigid May
adjective: bitter; comparative adjective: bitterer; superlative adjective: bitterest
- having a sharp, pungent taste or smell; not sweet.
“the raw berries have an intensely bitter flavour”
2. (of people or their feelings or behaviour) angry, hurt, or resentful because of one’s bad experiences or a sense of unjust treatment.
3. (often used for emphasis) painful or unpleasant to accept or contemplate.
“today’s decision has come as a bitter blow”
4. (of wind, cold, or weather) intensely cold.
“a bitter wind blowing from the east”
My name is Brigid Maire. Brigid is an Irish name that means, “strength.” Maire is the Irish form of Mary, which means, “bitter.” I like to think I’m like a good black tea! Strong and bitter! But maybe that’s just how I like my tea…
I sometimes think I’ve been strongly bitter since I was a baby. My mom likes to fondly tell the story of when she was at the grocery store with me as a baby. A woman told my mother, “What a cute baby!” Without missing a beat, my mother says, I slowly turned my head and scowled at her. “Oh, it’s a mean baby,” she laughed.
I was the youngest of five girls, I was constantly bitter about some injustice. My sisters always had something I didn’t. Why did the oldest always get the front seat? That meant I wouldn’t get the front seat until it no longer mattered! I was required to go to every play, game, and graduation for my sisters. By the time I was in plays and games, they were off living their lives. Even when they were nice to me, I was bitter, thinking, “Why are you being nice to me?!”
Bitterness isn’t appreciated. Why would it be? Bitterness is “unpleasant.” It’s uncomfortable, unattractive, un-ladylike.
But bitterness is also a helpful tool. It teaches you to get angry instead of sad. When my college boyfriend broke up with me for another girl, I told him he “would regret the day” he let me go. I was bitter. How dare he!? My sister was shocked. “How are you so confident?” Because for some, if a guy broke up with them, they’d think, “What’s wrong with me?” But my bitterness told me to think, “What the hell is wrong with you!?”
Eventually, I came to terms with my bitterness. It was a part of my personality that for the most part I, and my family and friends, could ignore. If I got started on a rant, I’d eventually take a breath and apologize. People just came to know me for rolling my eyes and getting angry. It was never acknowledged to be an asset, but it didn’t stop people from loving me either.
I was raised to believe that having children was my life purpose. My parents told me that having children “teaches you true selflessness.” My dad said my mom was never more beautiful than “when she was pregnant.” As soon as the talk shifted from who we were marrying, it shifted right onto having children. How many you planned to have, when you planned to have them, what did you plan for the nursery, the names, the schools, etc.
So, I got married (to a wonderful man, by the way, who turns my bitterness into delicious cocktail bitters) and we planned our future. Three kids. Of course, three kids! Two is too few! One is just sad! Four is craziness. Three kids. I’d like all girls. I’ll accept a boy, but I’d really like all girls. We can only agree on girls’ names anyway. We should try at this month in this year so it can coincide with my summers at work and my workload in my graduate program. We’ll buy this house, but maybe we need to upgrade when we pop out all these kids we’re going to have.
My family would laugh! “Just because you planned that, you’re going to have all boys.” “You can’t plan when you get pregnant.” “What if it doesn’t go according to your plan?”
“What if it doesn’t go according to your plan?”
Their comments made me bitter. So, you guys get to plan your futures, and teach me to plan mine, but as soon as I voice my plans you laugh at them!? I’ll show you!
But I couldn’t show them. I couldn’t get pregnant. Ohhhh, and that made me…. Even bitterer.
WHY could I not get pregnant? Everyone else could get pregnant. My period was regular. I was a healthy weight. I had cut back on alcohol. I had even started taking daily prenatals that made me feel constantly nauseous, so then I’d think to myself “I’m pregnant,” but boy, was I not.
My sisters got pregnant, one after another. My dad once joked to me, “Here comes your sister who gave me grandchildren.” He didn’t know at the time it wasn’t going to happen for me. My family never considered it wouldn’t happen for me.
I tried for a year listening to people say, “Just relax,” “Just have a lot of sex,” “My friend used this ovulation app and was pregnant within a month, “You’re going on a fun trip? Oh, you’re definitely gonna get pregnant there.” But I didn’t get pregnant. I would cry bitter, bitter tears asking God, asking anyone, “WHY can’t I get pregnant?” It made me so fucking bitter.
And again, the good thing about bitterness, is it prefers anger to sadness. “Why can’t I get pregnant?” turned into, “Why is it so important that I get pregnant?” “What’s wrong with my body?” turned into, “My body is great! Why is there a pressure for me to make my body do something it’s not doing?”
I leaned very hard into my bitterness. I saw the Childfree community having drinks on their patios in the dappled sunlight and I wanted to join them. I didn’t want to join mothers with their children and the breastfeeding and the labor and the tired, hard nights that don’t look like one iota of fun. Yuck! I wanted to bask in the childfree sun with my amazing husband and our beautiful dogs.
I tried my luck in that club. Babies? Ew! Not for me! Granted… I tried really hard to have a baby, because I do feel pressure from my family to procreate, and I do think having a child would be fun for like 20% of the time, and I do wonder which features in my child would be from my husband and which from me, and I do enjoy working with preschoolers and the joy and frustration that comes from the beauty of childhood. But I also really like not being a parent and the choice wasn’t really up to me and I don’t want a child living in my home! *catching my breath* Please let me in your club!
Of course, they let me in their club. Just like mothers would let me in their club if I had asked. But the childfree by choice didn’t truly understand my grief and the mothers didn’t truly understand my happiness. And that made me… bitter.
So, I sat with it for a long time. I read all the philosophy books I could. I read books on a childfree life, on infertility, on the pressures of motherhood and the female identity. I constantly evaluated where my bitterness was stemming from, whether I was hurting people with my bitterness, or whether they needed a good dose of bitterness to be a little more sensitive. And I’m still working on this.
“What’s my point?” I ask as I near the end of another long rant…
I guess my point is: I’m bitter. I’m bitter about things from my childhood. I’m bitter about things from my teens. I’m definitely bitter about things from my adulthood. And while I identify with the first three definitions of bitterness, I don’t want to become the last. I don’t want to become “intensely cold.”
My friend who’s a new mom and I have been discussing infertility, motherhood, and the idolization of pregnancy. She expressed a viewpoint unique to motherhood that frustrated me, and I told her, “Ugh! I hate when people say that.” But that’s my infertility bitterness shutting someone up. Just because I’m bitter about parts of my experience doesn’t mean I get to invalidate someone else’s experience. I need to use my bitterness to light fires, not become hard and cold. I need to say, “That sounds like it sucks! And let’s light a fire and burn down all the reasons why that sucked,” instead of shutting her up. I want the world to see my bitterness as an asset, to speak up when they feel bitter too!
And I hope ultimately that people can see my bitterness, see the fires I’ve started, and say, “Wow. She must really hate how hard society is on women, on women’s bodies, on women’s purpose, that she is fighting to change it,” and not, “What a bitter barren bitch. Why doesn’t she just adopt?”
Although, they’re right. I am bitter, I am barren, and I’m definitely a bitch. And I’ll keep you warm with the fires I light.
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