Parenting, UR doin’ it rong

We went to see my Dad. It was simultaneously awful and liberating.

Awful, because my Dad is still, fuck-and-alas, a galloping narcissist and if the situation isn’t all about him by heck he will make it all about him. We did have a fight. His heartfelt apology, for which I was at first so very grateful and by which I was at first so deeply moved, rapidly turned into a ‘thing’ about his self-awareness and how therefore we didn’t get to mind when he was a tiresome old arse because he always had been and always would be and because he was aware he was a tiresome old arse, it was an endearing quirk rather than brutally rude and cruel to his children, and the fact we’ve all got Serious Issues from is behaviour over the years is… Not a Thing? I guess? Because reasons?

Liberating, because my heart, which has always lagged miles and years behind my head on this, suddenly realised that there is no magic combination of saying the right thing or doing the right thing, at the right time in the right way, that will unlock Parenting Level ‘Unconditional Love’.

Awful, because there were good bits about having this man as a father – the love of words and books, the stories he used to tell, his wit, his humour, his good days when he was delightful and delighted with us – and as soon as you open yourself up to the good bits, you’ve made yourself vulnerable to the bad bits. And if you shield yourself from the bad bits, you’ve cut yourself off from the good bits. This is not a dance I can do well, or at all gracefully.

Liberating, because this is not my problem. I am not my father. There was enough balance and good example in my life to save me from this ugly inheritance, this inability to see people as people, as equals, this inability to empathise, this raging fear that someone else’s gift (brains, knowledge, money, charm) is a direct threat to him and will somehow annihilate him. And that is not me. And does not have to be me.

And then we came home again, and I went and discussed all the above with my counsellor.

It would seem that a life-time of being shamed for having the wrong sort of body/hair/eyesight/attitude/artistic talent*/height/academic aptitude/pubertal development/sized breasts/menstrual problems can leave a girl feeling profoundly inadequate. Being treated as a flaming nuisance and being repeatedly accused of hypochondria and whining every time I was ill or having a bad time with my periods left rather a tiresome selection of psychological scars. And therefore, when it came time to have a baby of my own, with a body I’d been taught was flawed (and its being flawed an act of perverse rebellion on my part), my inability to make a baby was for me a great source of shame – bitter, bitter shame and guilt. My brain knows this is fucking ridiculous. My brain always knew it was fucking ridiculous. I am quite bright, after all. My poor silly heart, which has the IQ of a golden retriever and a similar desire to love all the grownups even when they kick it, needed more time to realise that I am no more ‘flawed’ than anyone else.

All humans have issues, health problems, non-Barbie-dollness, scars, lumps, wonky bits and hormones, and are nevertheless lovely, loveable, wonderful creatures. I have just had bad luck. Not as bad as some people’s obviously. But definitely worse than other people’s. This was not because I brought it on myself, in any way. Why would I? How could I? It’s not even physiologically possible.

I cannot fathom the guilt, shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing that lead my parents to take a child with obvious health problems and frantically alternate between blaming her and insisting nothing was wrong with her rather than, say, take her to a decent gynaecologist and Get That Seen To, Because Poor Kid, It Sucks. But I know I’m not the only woman who has been shamed for having menstrual problems, fertility issues, and miscarriages. And I don’t know what is wrong with our society that this happened and keeps happening, but it needs to stop. And if you have ever tried to dismiss, down-play, shame, or judge a woman over these issues, I hope you get your pubes caught in your zipper and have to be cut free by a paramedic.

*Writing instead of drawing. Yes, my family went there.

19 responses to “Parenting, UR doin’ it rong

  • Valery Valentina

    Love. Hugs. Tea.
    because I’m completely speechless.

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    When I collate the book anthology of Nuts in May, (because Cometh The Hour, there will be Demand For It, and I will cry if anyone else gets the job) this lovely, insightful, bitter-sweet post will feature near the front.

    You have also made me realise I, too, have a Golden Retriever I didn’t know I owned.

  • NotSoNewtoIVF

    I also have a useless father…I feel your pain xx

  • Lilian

    Sorry your dad has been and is such a [insert rude word here] so often. Reading this makes me grateful for my parents. It is so easy to feel guilty about being unwell even without other people actually saying it’s your fault – it beggars belief, really, that your parents would treat you this way. Appalled. Hope the counselling is helping. L x

    • May

      Counselling is remarkably helpful, which is very nearly baffling, even though I know it’s SUPPOSED to be.

      I hate having to feel appalled by my parents, but, alas, yes, they have occasionally been appalling. Bless them.

  • QoB


    (especially the last paragraph).

    I don’t know if you’ve ever read Hilary Mantel’s memoir, Giving Up the Ghost? (not that I’m necessarily recommending it to you at the moment, because I can imagine how it would make difficult reading for anyone mired in infertility-related things) But she talks brilliantly about how her gynae pain was also dismissed and normalised, her mental state pathologised, and she herself institutionalised because doctors and her family ignored her for so long. It’s heartbreaking. Fuck. That. Shit.

    • May

      I have read Giving Up the Ghost, and wept over it, because oh my God what is WRONG with people that a woman as intelligent and articulate as Hilary Mantel gets treated like that? What hell hope has everyone else if the best and brightest get dismissed as hysterical wingnuts when all they are saying is ‘my abdomen really, really hurts, lots and lots, and I’d like it to stop’?

  • korechronicles

    This is why we are friends, despite the miles, the age gap, the many other differences between us. Being told you are a complete sook and that the menstrual pain that lays you low…as in on the floor…causes you to vomit and scream, is simply all in your head, I just don’t understand the thinking that brought my parents to that point either. Doctors who accuse you of faking it so you can get a fix of morphine. I’ve heard and experienced it all. I’m so sorry that you have too, and that the rotten, lousy, disgusting bad luck of the multiple miscarriages has just added massive insult to enormous injury. Glad that the row with your Dad has paid off with such insight and liberation for you. Such a bonus. I send lots of warm hugs from my Golden Retriever to yours.

    • May

      If I was going to fake something so I could get a shot of morphine for fun, it most certainly wouldn’t be ‘period pain’. Gaaaaad, honestly. Do they think we’re cretins?

      PS we have been hoarding the chocolate and still have one square left, to be consumed in your honour very shortly.

  • Twangy

    Amazing post. *I* want to be evolved like you are. Lord knows I wish it hadn’t been necessary, but I hear the new liberation and leap in emotional understanding in this post and I am so impressed.

    I await the Nuts in May chronicles anxiously. Take that, begrudgers, look how May can write!

  • Bee

    The paragraph starting, “awful” describes my relationship with my father so well. Thank you. Sorry you are going through all this. Please keep using your “wrong talent”.

  • Betty M

    So angry at your father. My fil was exactly the same type and ws vile to his sons. And he wondered why I wanted nothing to do with him. He has now gone and left them with an impossible foreign probate to sort out which will do nothing but cost them hard cash and hassle and for no gain whatsoever. Gahh.

    Anyway enough of me. I just can’t believe there are so many fathers who just fail their children do comprehensively. Hugs to you.

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