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 cliché 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.