Guest blog: Bitter

by Brigid May

June 2020

 

Bitter

/ˈbidər/

adjective

adjective: bitter; comparative adjective: bitterer; superlative adjective: bitterest

  1. 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.

 

 

To find out ore about Brigid’s story you can check out her interview with Anotherhood here, or checkout her Instagram.

If you would like to do a guest blog or find out. ore information then please send an

e-mail to Kadi and Laura anotherhood.info@gmail.com

Illustration created by Laura

One Wild & Precious Life

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – From the poem ‘The Summer Day,’ by Mary Oliver

This beautiful Mary Oliver quote gets a lot of airtime on the Insta poetry meme circuit. And it should, it’s a big, brilliant, beautiful quandary summed up into 15 little words. 

But it overwhelms me. 

I’ve had many lives, so far, and I’m still not sure what I did with any of them. 

The Single Life – Filled with long nights, and restless days. A life brimming with self doubt and insecurity, but also a freedom that could not be ignored. Anything possible at any moment, although many moments wasted – or rather, spent – in youthful ennui. 

The Early Menopause Life –This one involved A LOT more reading. I learned about all the weirdness that happens inside of a young body when it decides that it’s time to shut down the whole baby-making apparatus. I tried hormone replacements, and experienced insane side effects. I tried no hormones and worried myself to death that I maybe I should be on hormones. This life involved a lot of body examination, and really coming to terms with all the quirks. Not for the faint of heart. 

And finally, The Living-With-It Life – And what is there to say, really? That’s just what you do. Live with it. I watch my friends and family tick the time away by crushing life’s milestones. 

Married: CHECK! 

House: CHECK! 

Babies: CHEK! 

First steps, first birthdays. 

School and summer vacations. 

Every moment of the year, season, future, accounted for. Although, I know that their lives are unpredictable, there is a  framework for them – the familied, the parentals. It’s a frame that doesn’t fit around my amorphous childless/free life. 

There’s no roadmap for un-married, childless/free women. Just a long stretch of highway. 

I’ve wasted a lot of energy fretting over my poor usage of all the free time. Afraid that I’m letting the moments slip away, unnoticed. Lots of TV watched. So much social media scrolled. Long, aimless walks. Naps. (A lot of naps.)

But at the end of all of it, there is a relentless freedom. One that pulls me toward my passions, and creates space for my loved ones. I can be counted on to be present. Because where else am I gonna be? 

So what do I want to do with my ONE wild and precious life? I dunno.

There’s another quote from that beautiful poem that resonates so much deeper for me:

“I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

 

IMG_0246

Xx

Kadi 

Illustration by: Lizzie – www.lizzyartworkshop.com

 

How We Met

I met Laura five years after my diagnosis. At least that’s how I began to measure
time after my whole world flipped upside down. Everything in relation to the date of
diagnosis.

I was in a relationship that ended one year prior to diagnosis; my two closest
friends had babies one year after diagnosis; I was mid career change and broke as a
joke at the time of diagnosis. Five years later, I met Laura.

First I was diagnosed as pre-menopausal, and then a year after that, just plain old
menopausal. It takes one year of missed periods to fall into the latter category, and
by the time I was diagnosed I was well beyond the expiration date.

I didn’t have visions of a white picket fence in my future, so concerns of surrogacy
and IVF (using someone else’s eggs) didn’t make much sense. Other than my
missing periods, my health was fine. I didn’t feel any different, but I knew that the
absence of such an integral part of my reproductive health could cause problems
down the line.

I dabbled with acupuncture, but it got pricey so I stopped. I tried synthetic
hormones, but they did terrible things to my mood, so I stopped. None of the
specialists were able to conclude the cause of this catastrophic hormonal event. So
instead of asking more questions, I just stopped.

Eventually, I tuned it out completely. I attended friends’ weddings, and baby-
showers. The world kept turning, and I stopped searching.

Most of my closest friends knew about my “situation,” but frankly, there wasn’t
much to say. I couldn’t have children, and they had precious toddlers demanding
their attention at every waking moment. Our once parallel lives began to intersect
less and less.

I knew several women who had chosen not to have children, though their joie de
vivre didn’t quite fit the vision I had for my life either. What was my vision for my
life? I couldn’t see it anymore.

Five years after diagnosis, I received an invitation to the lavish baby shower of a
satellite friend. The wife of a friend of a friend. I’m still not even sure how I made the
invite list. I was getting ready to paint “Congratulations!” across my face and start
pounding mimosas, when I saw an add for a women’s health conference being held
in Downtown Los Angeles on the same day.

“Cycles + Sex: We educate people about their bodies. And highlight
the interconnectedness of our sexual, hormonal, reproductive and menstrual
health.”

Interconnectedness? That had not even crossed my mind. I had been avoiding
the deeper aspects of my reproductive health, and focusing on the social
implications of being a thirty-something woman without kids. Although the Cycles
+ Sex flyer was a paid add on my social media, it stuck with me. Two days before
the conference I made the conscious decision to tune back in. I cancelled my
RSVP to the baby shower, and committed to attending the conference.

The event was lovely; keynote speakers, panel discussions, and information
sessions about issues relating to women’s health. Topics of sexuality and desire,
menstrual health and justice, fertility health and support were sprinkled
throughout the small warehouse space where the event was being held. Also,
there were lattes and lots of free snacks!

I felt a buzz run through me, but once again, I wasn’t hearing my story being
represented by the people on stage. “If I were up there, this is what I would
say…” echoed in my brain. I wanted to start a conversation about being infertile
and NOT trying to have kids; About being single in your 30’s and not being a
parent, and not sure where you land on the whole parent thing at all.

I wanted to talk about why I needed hormones if I’m not trying to get pregnant.
Are there alternative treatments to prevent osteoporosis? And what are you
supposed to do without your friends now that they have kids?!

I had questions, and I assumed I had some answers too. I approached several of
the speakers as they were milling around the booths in the marketplace near the
stage, but couldn’t find my “in.” The day was coming to a close and I was doing a
final lap around the merchant tables when one booth caught my eye. It was a
fertility clinic called PRELUDE, with a little card on the desk that read something
along the lines of, “We meet you where you are.” Interesting, I thought. Where
am I?

The woman (wo)manning the booth, Carly, saw me staring at the card with a
confounded look on my face, and asked if I needed help. I said, “Yes,” then
barfed up the most incoherent nonsensical rhetoric about being young, and
single, and infertile. She looked at me deeply as I stammered and said, “I get it.”
And I think that she did. She told me to keep in touch, and that she didn’t know
where this could go, but she knew tons of women also dying to have this
conversation. That sentiment alone was worth the price of admission, and all the
lattes.

I emailed her within the week, but didn’t hear back. I didn’t hear back the next
week, or the next, or the next. In fact, I forgot all about our interaction. And then
just before Christmas, I received an email from Carly at Prelude. It was short with
one other person was CC’d. She said she was sorry she wasn’t able to get back
to me sooner, and that my issue had to take the back burner for her, but she knew someone in Edinburgh, Scotland who was looking for a similar
conversation. That was Laura.

I let the email sit for a minute, unsure of what I had to say, or who this person
was. Laura emailed me directly within a day. The words she wrote may as well
have come from my brain.

This is what she said: “I am personally interested in the lack of support for women who
are childfree, either through choice, not ready yet, or medical reasons. The only groups
available over here that focus on being childfree, focus only on the ‘not through choice’,
so all group members are wishing to have a child. Focusing solely on this excludes a
community of women who have chosen not to have children, or women who know they
are unable due to medical reasons, and are at peace with this.”

Childfree. Support. Peace. Those words coursed through my veins.
She described living in a space where there are loads of resources for parents
and retired couples, but practically nothing for women in their 30’s who do not
have children, either by choice or circumstance. So we began to write. I had a
pen pal for the first time in 30 years! We shared long, complicated discussions of
topics I wouldn’t think to bring up with anyone else. We discussed the nuisance
between Childfree and Childless. We touched on the topic of femininity, and what
that means when you don’t have children. We scratched the surface of the
inevitable “You can always adopt,” argument that so many people like to dig in
on. (Don’t even get us started!)

We had never met, had never spoken, but had a common language and treasure chest of shared experience. It felt electric.

Now, almost 7 years after my diagnosis, I wake up most mornings and check my
WhatsApp app immediately. Nine times out of 10, there’s a message from Laura.
We video chat every few weeks. We’ve even met in person once!

I’ll listen to her messages on my way to work, and afterwards I’ll leave her one in
return. We talk about the normal things; partners, family, work, the basics. But
more than that we talk about the fundamental difference that binds us.
Grief. That which comes after being told that you’ll never have children. Or that
which settles once you realize your closest friendships – the ones that you’ve
shaped your life around – will never be the same. The grief of telling your
relatives, and partners, and future partners that this is it. This is all you get.

We talk about how the holidays are hard because there are so many questions from
so many people who just don’t understand – or maybe don’t even know. We
mourn the shifts in group dynamics to each other, because we know we can’t
bring them up with the group.

We share very graphic (maybe too graphic?) medical details, knowing that the
other will nod with empathy, and understand that decisions around reproductive
health go so much deeper than the biological.
We talk about our careers. We talk about our pets.

But also, and maybe more than all that stuff, we talk about the joy of feeling so
completely free. And sometimes we even feel a little guilty. . . 😉
I adore my friends. And I’m obsessed with all of their kids. We do our best to
make time and space for each other, although it isn’t always easy.

In my more self indulgent moments, I feel invisible to them, worried that their lives as parents are inherently more important than mine. But every morning when I see that little red tick next to the green WhatsApp app, I know that half way around the world, I
am seen.

Somewhere out there is a woman in rural Scotland who will leave me a
15 minute message that boils down to one sentiment: “I get it.”
And I think she does.

Is it possible to grieve something you can never have?

I am sitting at the table with rice and veg in front of me, the dog is asleep, the radio is humming away in the background and the light is shifting from day to dusk.

As I sit and eat, the hum of the radio starts to filter in. I start to listen to a beautiful and heart-breaking narrative. The segment shares songs that have been a part of a significant moment in someone’s life, tonight’s story spoke of a mother who gave birth to a little girl and she said she couldn’t believe how lucky she was. As the story unravelled I found I was struggling to eat, a lump was rising in my throat, my chest felt tight and my eyes were brimming with tears. The song brought about comfort to the Mum who sadly lost her baby at 7 months old. The mother’s story spoke to her courage by embracing every moment with her little girl, as she knew that she would not be with her for long.

As I sat and felt the sadness rise through me, I wondered can I ever relate to the loss of a child, to something I can never have.  Is the sadness I feel the same, is it different, is it another part of me that will be separated from motherhood, or is there a shared emotion?

This I can not answer as I will never birth a child, so I will never feel the loss of a child, it is only one that I can imagine is inexplicable pain, and sadness that must engulf every sense of a mothers being.

How can I sit here and type a comparison, simply I can not, but I can wonder if it’s possible to grieve for something I can never have.

Grief to me, is a darkness, an unknown that holds a sense of beauty deep within. I have experienced many losses in my life and those losses travel with me. Through the losses I have experienced beauty in memories, noting the small things that matter, having things around me that bring me joy and remind me of those I have lost.  These bring me comfort and a light that fills up the darkness shifting it to a state of beauty.

I experience these as known losses, but what about the unknown losses, the indescribable, unfathomable and intangible side to the grief I feel, as I do feel it.

The loss I feel comes in waves, and sits deep within me, it is not a grief that has a big voice, it has low shallow whisper, but its there and its real and runs through my body and soul, making me ache through my very being.

How do I write this, how do I put words to something that feels invisible.

I can’t touch it, see it, or name it but its real.  Does this grief speak of not being able to give birth, to carry a child, or is it speaking to the feeling of displacement as I witness friends experience the birth of their families.

I feel it is a culmination of both and more that I cannot name.

It feels empty in the pit of my stomach, the lump is rising through my chest as I type, the sense of subtle shift of muscles from relaxed to taught, my fists lifting of the keyboard to clench, before returning to hit the keys with more ferocity, jaw aching as my teeth push down on each other and as I close my eyes to see if I can breath through the feelings surging through my body. Then it passes, and there is stillness, another wave has passed, but like the sea there will be another. Some days are calm, others the waters are choppy, turbulent and the waves come in full force, crashing and colliding with my thoughts and body, a halt in motion as I stop and listen to that quiet whisper aching to scream from the pit of my stomach, to let it out and speak to the truth of not being able to have children. The truth in the darkness, the light and the hidden depths of beauty found within. I am not grieving for what may have been, for the child I can not bear I am grieving for the loss of placement I feel, the sense of aloneness, the loss of voice, the loss of my feeling of femininity and the loss of celebrating a life that is full without having a child.

I wish to embrace this feeling as it rises through me, give it a voice, speak my truth, share my truth and bring light and shine it on the beauty of the women who cannot or choose not to have a child.

I am grieving for what I can not have, but I am celebrating the loss, shining a light on the darkness and bringing light to the beauty of my life as a woman who can not have children.

Written by Laura Cave-Magowan

Illustration: Laura Cave-Magowan