Thursday, 23 June 2011

Speaking of Bitterness...

I've written two posts in the past 48 hours on the topic of childlessness. Since then I've had phone calls, a flurry of kind emails and comments, one kindly meant but obscene suggestion and an anonymous accusation of bitterness.

First of all, thanks for the loving concern.

Second, I want to assure you all that I'm fine. Yesterday I wrote my post, did some shopping and then rushed out to babysit the Youngest Member of the Parish so his parents could go to a concert. I invited a the Newest Single Gal of the Parish to join me, and we had a great time.

The YMOTP grinned at us (he has 2 teeth) like he couldn't believe his luck. First I build towers for him to knock down, and then I fed him a bowl of baby stuff. Next the NSGOTP read him story books, and then I changed his yucky diaper and put him in his sleeper. Then, according to instruction, we sang him the Salve Regina and put him down to sleep. He yelled for 10 minutes and then was out like a light.

His babysitters helped themselves to glasses of wine and yakked solidly until the parents came home. Indeed, it was awesome. Baby, girl talk and wine. All good. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: some scientists believe that women (unlike men) outlive their reproductive potential for decades because we are necessary to help other women with their babies. If a saber-toothed tiger chomped a mother-of-three, the other women in the village would rescue the babies and bring them up.

I love babies, so I enjoy caring for babies. I'm glad I sometimes have the opportunity, and I exult that one of my nephews and my niece are still in the baby stage. (Well, my nephew sort of is...)

Third, when I talk about the badness of bitterness, I am not doing this to insult people. I well remember that in high school "She's just bitter" was the most damning insult we could come up with. But that's not my purpose in talking about bitterness.

The problem with bitterness is that it makes you a less attractive and therefore lonelier and unhappier person. It works solidly against your chances of making new healthy friends and attracting healthy potential suitors. When I tell you to look out for bitterness, it's the equivalent of telling you to wrap up warmly on a cold and rainy day. It's not an insult. It's caring common sense.

Bitterness can also hurt a woman's chances of hanging out with babies. No mother in her right mind wants Mrs Bitter to keep an eye on her kids. And although I have failed on at least one occasion to keep my tongue between my teeth when a mum made comments about my oh-so-enviable child-free life, I think I've avoided becoming Mrs Bitter.

To speak up for the feelings of childless-not-by-choice women is not necessarily to give vent to bitterness or to make war on women with children. I have a mum, she has five kids, and I have no interest in beating up on mums. I hope I never have.

To stand up for the childless-not-by-choice is emotionally risky if you're in the same boat, but I deem it worth it if it helps other childless women feel less alone. What I don't like is having my words used against me to point out I'm not all that and a bag of chips, especially by a reader who has temporarily chosen anonymity.

I know I'm not all that and a bag of chips. I'm one gal who drags her sorry butt to confession. But I'm also a gal who lays her heart on her webpage to help other gals feel better. So just as you would think twice before admonishing a woman 20 years your senior in person about her sorrow, please think twice before you click the comment button.

Bottom line: if you're afraid to sign even your internet name, you shouldn't send the comment.

Update: Anonymous, stop having kittens. You wrote something dumb, you hurt my feelings, I flirted with the idea of shutting down the blog, and by tomorrow I'll have forgotten the whole thing. None of the readers know who you are.


Susanne said...

Good post again. I've been following your recent posts on childlessness... and I do sympathise with you about people's oblivious comments ("your carefree childless life") - yet, in all fairness, I do think childless women are quite well heard in the church and in society. I mean, when they're discussing NHS fertility treatments and whether every woman should be entitled (!) to it for free on the NHS, and the government thinks not, have you head the outcry?? - Let's not cut back the fertility treatment, let's cut somewhere else! - like, life saving treatments perhaps?

I'm in a different camp. I'm a happy-ish single who does not want children. The idea of marriage is a nice one to me, and I'd like it, but I don't live for it; if I don't get married, I won't feel like I've lost out. (to clarify: I wouldn't have to break any church guidelines to remain childless in marriage, due to a medical condition that could easily be changed but I choose not to). I most definitely do not want children for the simple reason that I dislike them and do not want to give up my life in exchange for (at least) 18 years of stress, anxiety, bodily discharges, responsibility, and arguments.

In my opinion, it is the childfree who get a worse reaction from people than the childless. To be sure, people can be thoughtless, but the incredulity and interrogations you get subjected to as a child free by choice person is pretty unique....

sciencegirl said...

You are not all that, but I think you are at least a bag of chips.

I didn't think you sounded bitter or mean. I don't want to be rude, but I thought the crude "helpful tip" was kind of gross and overly personal. The only tips I would like to give you and BA (esp. on a public forum) are what restaurants are nice in Washington DC and what American National Parks are really great and when to visit them. Actually, I'm not even all that well versed in DC restaurants or National Parks. I've just been to the Arches National Park and to Yellowstone exactly one time each. My advice sucks. Get a guidebook or use the google to learn stuff about my country. Quit begging me for unsolicited advice, Auntie Seraphic! It is too much work for me.

Andrea said...

This is a great post and uniquely meant for me to read! I've been teetering on the edge of bitterness for about a week. Not pertaining to the motherhood issue, but no matter, the principle is the same. Seraphic, thank you for being bold enough to put your personal feelings and thoughts on this website to encourage others, like me! It is truly encouraging.

Catholic Pen said...

I think most readers understood your comments of bitterness and on childless not by choice. Thank you for talking about them even when it lays you open to comments not very nice of others. It is a consolation to read of others that are in the same struggle and know that it is a help to many women in the same or similar boats. God bless you.

Catholic Pen

MaryT said...

Aunty Seraphic,

I have been reading your blog for about a month, and I appreciate your voice in the blogosphere so much.
Your posts on "not-by-choice" childless women were very much appreciated, at least by me. I am a single 24 year old who adores children, and I will most likely never be able to have them, because of health issues.
It is a heart breaking thing, but it drives home for me that children are not a right, but a gift, and that some of those who do not have children are devastated by that fact. I personally feel that the Church is not quite actively as supportive of the married childless woman as she could be. In my parish, for example, a couple who had been married for five years w/o having children, because of severe fertility problems, felt so "judged" that they had to change parishes. It was a personally hard time for them, and they received absolutely no support.
When I say things like "if I have children, I would like to...yadda yadda" (hoping that by a miracle I might be able to have one, but assuming nothing), I am immediately given a glaring "updown," accompanied by some statement about the fact that of COURSE faithful Catholics have children. Blegh. Anyway, sorry about the rant. In short. Thank you, Seraphic.

Seraphic said...

Thanks, Catholic Pen!

Dear MaryT, go ahead and rant. I recommend short-circuiting the updown by saying "If God sends me children, I would like to... yadda yadda" instead.

People can say such dumb things. To amuse myself, I will think up a list of amusing replies to people who wonder aloud why B.A. and I haven't had children yet. The first time that happened, I was woefully unprepared.

Jim said...

Please forgive me if I'm off-base or off-topic, and I am a bit reluctant to comment, but I would like to remind everyone that there is also the possibility of adopting children.

It turned out my wife and I could not have children of our own (testing showed I was the problem), but over time we adopted two wonderful sons and have never regretted it.

Some people make a point of saying they "chose" their adopted children and that makes those children special, but I don't think that's really accurate. There are two other choices that happened.

In the case of our children, both of the natural mothers could have chosen to have an abortion but chose not to. So with our children, I feel a debt to those mothers and that they are worthy of great honor, because they chose life rather than death. I also feel that our children have had God's protective hand over them from the time they were in the womb, and feel humbled and grateful that God chose us to be the parents to raise them.

sciencegirl said...

When I consider the prevalence of infertility readings that we get AT MASS from THE BIBLE including both Old and New Testaments, I am even more irritated on the behalf of infertile Catholics of good will (whether they want kiddies or not -- infertility obviously makes one a target of rudeness). And it took a miracle for it to happen for: Hannah, Sarah, Elizabeth cousin of Mary, and maybe even some other women I don't remember. Those women were derided too. Their miracles were miracles because they were very, very RARE. I will pray for you, but I know that maybe after a while it will get annoying to be told about how Sarah had kids when she and Abraham were way old. Maybe the lesson people should learn from the Biblical women's miracle babies is not just "God can make it happen!" but also "Hey, don't get on the case of infertile women, because they really, really hate it, and they are probably complaining to God about you."

Maggie said...

In the interest of a bit of humour... This is quite funny. And true. (hat tip to Mark Shea for the link I saw)

theobromophile said...

What I don't like is having my words used against me to point out I'm not all that and a bag of chips, especially by a reader who has temporarily chosen anonymity.

That's because some people who are weak like to beat up on those who face their fears, because it makes them feel less weak and more in control.

As personal as the attacks are, they are not about YOU, Seraphic. Nor are they about childless women, barren women, or women praying for babies who are open about the pain. It's projection, plain and simple.

I got an unmitigated ration of nonsense from a few women after my boyfriend of almost a year broke up with me - things like, I needed counseling because I wasn't cursing him to the skies, I only date commitment-phobes, etc. (The latter came from a woman in her mid-30s, living with her boyfriend for five years, no ring. Hum....) Someone told me that I need to see a therapist to find out what is wrong with me, what I'm "projecting" to the world that has caused me to not find a husband yet. (She's 15 years my senior and never married.) Yep, projection time. It hurts, it's awful, but it has nothing to do with the target.

sciencegirl said...

Re: Theobromophile

Aw, that is really messed up! Sorry you received such cold comfort from those women. I think you're so right that they were projecting.

theobromophile said...

sciencegirl: thank you. :)

A lot of my friends and family members were wonderful - my mum offered a plane ticket to visit her on the beach, lots of hugs, lots of girl time (or guy-girl time, with my male friends). Oh, and chocolate.

But, with some people, there was definitely that feeling of, "Whoa, I didn't even know I was in the water, why did that jellyfish just attack me?". Sounds like Auntie Seraphic was getting that nonsense, too, just with babies and not boyfriends.

Seraphic said...

Nah, she was just trying to be me, 20 years to soon and without the M.Div.

Anonymous said...


If people are rude enough to ask you why you and BA have no children, try the response Anne of Cleves gave when her ladies and Henry VIII's court were trying to figure out the same thing.

One of the things in history I've always wondered about - was she just being disingenuous, or was she a superb politician? She did manage to keep her head.

You'd have to be able to say it with a straight face though. Don't think I could pull it off.

Isabella of the North