Letter in green biro

I read something earlier this week that made me quite cross at the time. I decided the mature thing to do would be to sneer coldly at it, and then put it out of my mind and waltz onwards. So I did. And tripped over it several more times, and found myself writing angry blog-posts and/or Letters in Green Biro about it in my head, at three in the morning. Hmm.

It could simply be that my entire personality has been taken over by that of Bitter McTwisted this week. I have my reasons – I’m not pregnant; I learnt the hard way that a girl must stick to her drug schedule like an atomic clock, dammit, or she’ll spend an afternoon writhing on the bed and then be heartily sick shortly after her husband comes home, just to show him how much she loves him; it’s coming up to the anniversary of my first pregnancy, and yes, I do still fucking mind about that, three years on be damned; that sort of thing.

Anyway, I shall get it off my chest, because that is what Blogs Are For.

The Sunday newspaper The Observer has an advice column written by Mariella Frostrup. I usually quite like reading it – I don’t always agree with Frostrup’s advice, mind you. I think she can be a tad narrow-minded and smug sometimes, in the way only a right-on middle-class woolly-liberal can be (and I should know, I am one myself), but usually the column’s a good read.

Last Sunday’s request for advice came from an infertile woman who was afraid that her inability to have children would make it harder for her to find a partner. Hmm, I thought, approaching this with trepidation, as people who have not had any kind of fight with their fertility can be cack-handed to the point of smugly obnoxious, with their platitudes and their not-getting-it.

And Ms Frostrup did not disappoint, in this regard. Every clichΓ© you can think of. Adoption is easy and multicultural and wonderful! (No it isn’t, no it isn’t (not in Britain, at any rate), and yes, obviously it is, but it’s HAAAARD). Families come in all shapes and sizes nowadays (yes, but WTF has this to do with the problem?) Kids are not the only way of having a fulfilled life! (oh, for fuck’s sake, Mariella, you patronising, smug, obnoxious cow, do you think we barrennesses are all stupid? Mentally defective? Lacking in any kind of insight at all?). Her advice, in the end, amounted to ‘just relax, and the right chap will turn up, and meanwhile get on with your fabulous life!’ which may well be the only advice one can give under the circumstances, but there must have been ways to put it that seemed less dismissive. Some sympathy with her predicament wouldn’t’ve gone amiss. Some understanding of how devastating and crappy wanting kids and not being able to have them is would’ve been welcome. Some, oh, what’s the word, unusual trait in an agony aunt, what is it? Oh, yes, compassion. Compassion would’ve been good. I mean, the poor woman is childless, likely to remain so, and her degenerate berk of a boyfriend dumped her because of it. Me? I felt compassion. But according to Frostrup, I should’ve been telling her to pull her socks up because her life was so full of options and wonderfulness.

But the killer, the sentence that sent me over the edge, was this:

Those I know who have remained childless are frequently the focus of mine and others’ envy, travelling as and when they feel the urge, free to tackle careers and challenges that once you become a parent are unthinkable until your chicks have flown the nest.

Oh, Mariella. Envy us, do you? All that travelling and career-tackling I’ve been up to! Well, yes, I’m sure you must envy me my annual holiday in a B&B somewhere rainy in Britain and my wildly exciting career as a librarian hugely. Golly, but the amazing things I’ve been able to do while struggling with infertility. Wow, how my career has benefitted from my having to take days off every month for sick leave, and a couple of weeks off every few months while I miscarry. No wonder I’m so well known and respected in my field.

Envy indeed, career envy at that, from a well-known journalist and writer with a weekly contract with The Observer, for fuck’s sake. What an ungracious, twat-weaselly thing to say, Mariella. What a shamefully ungracious thing to say. What could you possibly envy me?

Tell you what, I’ll swap. I’ll take the fame, and the writing career, and the two kids. Anyone who wants them is welcome to my childlessness. To the miscarriages. To the pain, the blood, the endless hospital and clinic visits. How’s that for a challenge? Oh, and holidays abroad, well, last time I went abroad I spent the first two days almost hysterical with pain as my uterus tried to tear itself in half yet again. Perhaps someone as talented as Frostrup would be able to make something of all that.

But in exchange, you with children who ‘envy us our freedom’, give up your kids. Give up every trace and hint of their existance. Give up even the memory of their existance. Be like us. Have the alleged fucking holidays in Bali and Acapulco (I’ve never been to either). Have the apparantly amazing career opportunities (I get paid less than a bus-driver). Take them. In exchange, I want the memory of the night your child was born. I want his or her first cry, the first time you held your baby in your arms, the first nappy, the first smile, the first burp, the comical look of astonishment on a newborn’s face when they fart for the first time. I want the sitting up in the middle of the night with a suckling child held to my breast. I want the first laugh. I want the first time your baby held up her arms to you to be picked up. I want all the times she holds up her arms to be picked up. I want the baths, and the cuddles, and the tickles, and the tantrums and the exhausted sleep after colic, and the high-chair and watching my baby eat her peas one by one and crawling and pulling herself up on furniture and sharing her food with me, generous and loving before she can even speak. I want the memory of reading ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ to my child for the first, eighth, ninety-seventh time. I want the sitting-room covered in lego and chewed rusks.

Do you envy me now?

You can’t keep any of it – you want my opportunities for a challenging career so much, take them, but take what else I have: No memory of the first steps, or the times you and only you were the only person in the world who could comfort her, or the times she fell asleep in your arms. No memories of first tricycles and swimming lessons and first teeth and first words, and first day at school when you had a little weep in the carpark after dropping her off, and the school play, when she wandered off-stage dressed as a shepherd because she got bored. When she puts her arms about your neck and says ‘love you, mummy’, no, you can’t keep that. You envy me my freedom, remember? Take my fucking freedom. Just take it.

I am disappointed in you, Mariella Frostrup. You’re supposed to be an intelligent woman. But this? This was smug, sanctimonius, and utterly lacking in any grace and compassion at all. This, to a childless woman, and by extension to all childless women, this mocking us with talk of envying our choices and possibilities and wonderful career opportunites, from you, a highly successful journalist (I mean, bloody hell, you’re on telly every other week, and you have your own radio show as well), with two, two children, which don’t seem to have screwed up your career at all, and if you think they have, by God you must be on crack.

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65 responses to “Letter in green biro

  • Anonymous

    You rock!!

    • May

      *Triumphant air-punch*

      • Anonymous

        πŸ™‚ Indeed!

        I have tried to Email you a couple of times. I don’t know if my random messages to you went to someone else, or if you just have so many. But I would love to chat. You are a breath of fresh air and I love your blog.

        • May

          Have you been? I am so sorry. I can only apologize for my junk filter, which does have fits of extreme zealotry and tosses everything from someone ‘new’ away for no reason and has to be retrained with a stick. If you can bear to try again, I will CHECK my junk folder three times a day until firther notice.

  • Amy P

    Exactly.

    I read it, and it even pissed me off, and I think it would’ve a few years ago, even. (For those that don’t know, about the only things May and I have in common are that we’re both brown haired females of about the same age, and we were pregnant at the same time. The result of my pregnancy is now trying to close my laptop while I type…)

    • May

      I did wonder if it’d piss off Fertiles too – and lo and behold, it does! So it’s not just me channelling Bitter McTwisted at high concentrations. Hurrah!

      Don’t forget, Amy – we also both own a lap-top and wear glasses.

      • Amy P

        My glasses are probably thicker, though πŸ˜‰

        And it’s not like I’m easily made angry, either, which you know.

  • Laurel

    Good Lord! (and I’ll say it on Good Friday too so as to be extra-heretical πŸ˜‰ I don’t read her since I live Over Here, but your reaction is utterly deserved. What a cow.

    Look, even if you didn’t have to deal with the pain and the blood and miscarrying, if somehow you just never got pregnant but felt absolutely fine; even if you went to Bali and Australia every other week;–living a great life totally without children is not a great life if you want children. The end.

    I worry a lot. About whether I am doing well, giving them enough attention, providing the right social opportunities, whether I will be able to help enough with college, whether I’ll ever be able to take them traveling like my parents did with us. I feel like I am almost always working and like I am Stressy Mom too much. Shaving my legs is a luxury. And it is completely valid to feel stressy, sad, or scared about parenting things. None of that makes the infertile lucky.

    I think you should send the Agony Ass this post, either the link or just as a letter.

    xo hugs to you.

    • May

      I think it’s like when I got into Prestigious University to do an MA, several years back. Of course, doing an MA is small potatoes indeed to parenting, and the analogy goes splunk if you poke it, but bear with me.

      It was HARD. Hard hard hard. Yes, post-graduate work at one of the best universities in the world is HARD. Who knew? And some of the time it was SO hard I was miserable. I screwed up a couple of deadlines, I messed up one essay badly, I didn’t do so well on a couple of the exams, studying full-time while working was the most colossal drain on my time and energy and social-life, it was hard for H, we had much less time together, I stopped caring about hanging out with friends and larking about in the evenings because I was STUDYING, damnit, I wept over many of the assignments, I sweated blood over that FUCKING dissertation, and I had temper-tantrums, and by the Grabthar’s Hammer I deserved sympathy and a cup of tea. All the time I was terrified I’d screw it up and Fail with a capital Fuck You, Moron.

      But! And it’s a vitally important but! Prestigious University is indeed one of the top five universities in the world, and getting into it was OMFGWTF amazing. Most of the course was interesting and fascinating, and oh, the validation I got – my brain still works! I’m good at this! I deserve this! Did I tell you I got a first for my dissertation? – and so on. Even when I was knackered, I loved it. I miss studying now. I miss the lectures, I miss the excitement when I could see a piece of work come together and make sense, I miss the achievement, hell, I even miss being allowed to talk non-stop about classification systems for over an hour with like-minded souls. I miss learning. I miss Prestigious’s library, which is magnificent compared to the one I work in now. I miss the challenge. Hell, I miss my dissertation, even though it made me cry and drove my husband nuts.

      So like parenting. It’s HAAAAAARD. And stressful, and screws up your social life and finances, and you panic that you’re doing it wrong and it’ll all blow up in your face. But really, would anyone willingly give it up? Would anyone NOT miss it? Isn’t it, despite, no, BECAUSE, it’s hard and challenging and important and stressful, one of the most wonderful, almighty, beautiful thing a human can do? Up there with writing symphonies, scientific research, novels, bridges, revolutions etc? Stretches are awful. Sometimes it blows up in your face (don’t ask me about the Great PhD Fuck-Up, please. But I Know Of Which I Speak). Failure and loss burn for ever, like suns. Success and triumph also burn forever, like suns.

      So, I can envy and crave what parents have without denying that it’s hard and a parent needs a lot of support and sympathy and I can acknowledge that a parent has to give up a great deal. But what they have is still above and beyond the mere ‘worth it’.

      • May

        Crikey, that was practically a blog-post. Sorry. Is anyone reading this?

        • korechronicles

          Definitely. And you are spot on!

          • Solnushka

            That is an excellent description of why the whole ‘oh children ruin your life’ argument from fertiles to infertiles is such a stupid one. Well, in addition to your original post, which is also spot on. Dear lord, what was the woman thinking?

        • Laurel

          Me too!

          My higher-level academic experiences (college and M.S.) were more like your Ph.D. experiences, I guess, although I did make it through eventually; I never had quite that feeling of academic glory or joy. But nonetheless I think I grok your point. Like most things worth doing, the difficulties of parenting and academia can correspond to the rewards.

          In the end parenting is about love, taking care of someone who needs your care, and it is the most deeply human of endeavors. If it were not as rewarding as it is difficult, we wouldn’t do it.

          You have so much to give to a child, it is clear. I hope so much that soon you will be able to do so.

  • Womb For Improvement

    I didn’t read that last week. Although I had a similar comment on my blog a few weeks ago and was similarly incensed.

    Had the writer not had second thoughts and deleted the comment within about half an hour I would have written a similar tirade. Especially as my commenter’s blog is full of wonderful tales of her children and grandchildren but I was told by her “Also, if it makes you feel any better, having kids is way over-rated. If any parent says otherwise, their kids are either older or they’re lying.” (I kept the email with the comment in it hence I can quote it verbatim).

    Likewise Mariella might say this but I have also read her when she delights in her children and the delights of motherhood.

    • wombattwo

      How horrible! I’m glad she deleted it, although I have a urge to ask you who it was so I can go over to her blog and leave equally condescending and rude comments… But that’s probably not the mature thing to do…

    • May

      Well, quite. Mariella clearly adores her kids. Hence, sanctimonious hypocrite.

      As for your commentator, well, I can only hope she deleted because she was THOROUGHLY ashamed of herself, also drunk when she posted in the first place.

  • Illanare

    I read that too, and was hopping around the living room in fury. Your post is superb; I wish that there was some way Ms Frostrup could see it.

  • wombattwo

    Damnit May, you’ve made me cry big snotty tears… What a reminder of how much I want children, how much I want all of that, all those precious moments. How much all of us want that. How much I want you to be able to have that too.

    I’m glad I don’t really read newspapers, and I didn’t see this article, as I would have been furious. But your reply is beautiful and expressive, and I beg you to please send it to her.

    Am so sorry that you don’t have a little two year-old Pikaia running around, generally causing mayhem and asking you “Why?” every three seconds. Am so sorry that she isn’t, right at this moment, climbing onto your lap for a cuddle. I’m sorry about the other babies you’ve lost, and I’m sorry that this hasn’t been as easy as it should have been for you.

    Am also sorry about the vomiting and the pain, especially when the weather has the cheek to be this glorious when you’re not feeling well. I hope you manage to get outside to enjoy the sunshine and the flowers.

    Hugs, Kahlua, gin, tea and chocolate (now there’s a combination!) x

  • Valery

    thanks for writing it all out again, it must have hurt to write it…. I have another “suggestion”: find a man who has children already! she can be a stepmum! Loose only half the freedom, get half the memories and one can pretend it doesn’t hurt. Because you still get to step on the Lego…

    Sorry for your physical pain too, I’ll make you a cup of springtime tea blend.

    • May

      Oh, Valery, I do so feel for you. I love my stepmothers (yes, I have several, long story) very much, and they are wonderful additions to my life, but to even suggest our relationship was full-on mother-and-child one would surprise and hurt both sides very much. It isn’t so, and to suggest it is unkind. Many hugs and best wishes.

  • Anonymous

    I read this late last night. I was also the first to comment “You rock!” and you do!

    I remembered it this morning and read it again – to my husband.

    She reminds me of so many people who have also boiled my piss by saying (after I’ve suffered my 1st, 5th, 10th, 14th miscarriage) “But you have 3 children!”

    If a friend’s mother died, would I say “But you have a father?!” Or if someone lost their grandmother. You wouldn’t say “But you have three more grand-parents!”

    People are so dismissive. My piss boileth over.

    Love & strength to you.

    • May

      ‘My piss boileth over’ – that’s magnificent. I might steal it.

      Someone said ‘but you have 3 children!’ to you after SO MANY miscarriages? I am horrified. Surely the only appropriate response is ‘I am so, so sorry’, and then help out with your living children while you grieve your lost ones. Surely. Gah.

      • Anonymous

        Yep. I could write a book on people’s word vomit Re my babies. I don’t get too upset. I actually enjoy making voodoo dolls πŸ˜‰

        Take ‘piss boiling’. I used ‘twatweasel’ last week. Hehe

  • Shannon

    I swore off Frostrup years ago over a similar article she had written for inferetile women. It was twee, patronising, and similar to the one you described. Please, for the love of all green biro women who cannot expostulate as you can, please write in to the editor. Frostrup needs gentle reprimand.

    • May

      You know, normally you can comment on the Observer website on Ms Frostrup’s columns. Can you comment on this one that boiled my piss (thanks, Anonymous!). Can you buggery. I smell Cowardly Shenanigans.

  • bionicbrooklynite

    please, please, please send this in for real. or nail it to the observer’s door. or to frostup herself, should the spirit strike you.

    ❀

    • May

      Oh, and I found myself scornfully turning from Frostrup’s radio show this week. It’s about books, and I normally listen avidly. This week, I say bah! Bah, I say! BAH!

  • jill

    This post broke my heart with how true everything you said is. I feel the same way. I too think you should send it to her.

  • a

    I am a huge fan of Letters to the Editor, and if ever anything deserved one, that column does. You should send this in. And email that woman directly too. Wonderfully eloquent…

    (Forgive my ignorance, but what is the significance of green biro?)

    • May

      Green biro – there’s a running joke/meme/THING in British journalism and publishing that The Crazies always write in in green ink. I can assure you, from my days in publishing, that this is true. If it wasn’t green ink, it’d be pencil, or purple ink. So. Alas, in the days of email, a grand traditional warning beacon is lost.

  • Megan

    please send this in, May. this needs to be widely, widely distributed and read.
    I’ve been such a shitty, non-existent blogpal. I’m sorry.

    • May

      I go non-existant on other people’s blogs too, and it’s never out of lack of concern or affection, so FRET NOT ABOUT IT FOR ONE SECOND. It’s just nice to see you back.

  • korechronicles

    Go for it May, that level of patronisation and stupidity deserves the biggest smack on the back of the head. With the biggest green biro you can find. I’m sorry that the shitload of pain you have already endured is magnified and re-visited by the stupidity of others like Ms Furstrop.

    Where do people leave their minds and hearts when they spout this kind of poorly thought out and intellectually vacuous rubbish? All in the name of someone else. I want to fly over there, grab her by the throat and shake those rocks in her head into a new, more compassionate formation.

    Always remember that stupid people don’t know they are stupid. Even if they appear to be right-on, middle-class, woolly liberals. The narrow mindedness always gives them away.

    • May

      Oh, oh, oh! Today’s agony aunt column by Ms Frostrup! ALSO CLUELESS AND SMUG! She’s on a roll, people!

      Though I notice they’re allowing public comment on this one. Harrumph.

      • Amy P

        Please tell me she’s not normally such an idiot? I mean, in NEITHER example you’ve shown us has she actually managed to stay on topic, which would hurt her score quite badly even with the lack of mechanical errors.

        :-/

        Can you tell i just finished training for this year’s first batch of test scoring?

  • Betty M

    That article could only have been written by a woman who was lucky enough to meet a bloke and have 2 kids in her 40s sans problems thereby becoming oblivious to any other state of affairs. She should know much better given that I’m pretty sure she will know a stack of people who haven’t been as fortunate.

  • katie

    Rah! Rah! Go May! You tell the smug ones (currently having ranty argument on interweb for daring to wonder why children over age of reason are allowed to tap tap tap on computer game during most extremely solemn service of entire church year)

    • May

      Really? During Easter Sunday service? I mean, I’m as faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand, but I believe in MANNERS. Child is bored or noisy, adult TAKES CHILD OUTSIDE UNTIL CHILD IS CAPABLE OF APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR. End of.

      • katie

        Good Friday – Easter Sunday is neither solemn nor, at our place, quiet!

        • May

          Solemn silence EVEN MORE of an important thing then. I remember my aunt taking me outside and giving me the telling off of my life for WHISPERING during the Good Friday service when I was nine or ten.

  • katie

    Ps how’s this for a dilemma: I know an agony aunt who makes her readers feel worse than when they wrote in. What should I do?

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    I officially love you. That is all.

  • Mali

    Clearly, the job requirements of being an Agony Aunt do not include experience, wisdom or sensitivity. Argh.

  • chon

    That post was brilliant I wish that somehow Ms Bloody Observor Piss Boiling Trollop Mariella read it. Yes I enjoyed all the comments too. We don’t get that post over here in Australia but the comments are eerily familiar and annoying. All the best to you.

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  • Claire

    That is a wonderful post! I just read some more of Mariella and it seems that her ‘solutions’ to the dilemmas have two basic themes: ” look at me! Aren’t I self deprecating and fabulous.” And ” buck up, it could be much worse, now back to me.”
    Ugh!!!!! Why don’t they just give her a regular column so at least she doesn’t have to thinly disguise her pitiful wanking as helpful to lost souls. Because, after all, it’s all about her! Yuck!

  • Jessica

    You go girl! Some people just don’t get it!

  • Detour

    Wow. I can’t believe Mariella has an advice column. She seems to be completely lacking in empathy. I love your post!

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