I was 31 when I gave birth and, even at that ripe old age, I was still one of the first among my friends to have a baby. I guess some of us just like to hang onto our youth for dear life. Nothing puts a damper on good times like something that needs a Pamper. Plus, having a baby means you’re finally responsible and mature, right? Unless you’re a Spears, of course.
When I discovered I was pregnant, there were very few women in my life that I could turn to for advice, wisdom, and commiserating. So who else could I turn to? Pregnant women online that I would never actually meet in real life.
I discovered www.babycenter.com in my first trimester and was able to join an online forum with other pregnant women due the same month as me. I was immediately hooked. I would read posts from other women dealing with the same aches and pains, weird body changes, and anxieties. For the most part, the forum helped normalize so much of what was going on with me. Things that no one else could really understand, especially The Dude. It seemed like the only people who could understand were these pregnant strangers, all going through the same stuff together.
The Good to Bad
After time, the forum became an online sisterhood at best and a hormonally-fueled rant fest at worst. Online (and sometimes offline) friendships and cliques were formed. The line between sharing and over-sharing often got crossed. Relationship issues, fears, and anxieties were exchanged. Helpful opinions and advice were offered as well as insults and ignorant or mean-spirited comments. Feelings got hurt. Some women left the forum. Some remained but became lurkers (me, included). I was especially turned off after threads on circumcision and vaccinations became a playground for hurling insults and attacking people for their beliefs and customs. Pregnancy hormones added with major differences in cultures, education, politics, and religions started to cloud proper Internet decorum (whatever that is). No topic thread was off-limits…until a babycenter administrator/playground referee deleted it.
The Bad to the Scary:
One of the most controversial topics was related to pregnancy weight gain (or loss in some cases). It was somewhat shocking for me to learn that so many pregnant women were as competitive over pregnancy weight gain and loss than non-pregnant women. It was one thing to complain about the new stretch marks or the weight gain that went OVER the recommended amount (raises hand very high), but some of the comments were beyond disturbing. Women would gloat if they had only gained a few pounds by their 9th month or rant about their 20 pound weight gain. Unless the woman is very overweight or obese to begin with, gaining less than 20 pounds is not ideal nor should it be encouraged.
Threads to track weight gain started forming. Some women would ridicule the weight gain of others or praise the women that didn’t gain much weight. Once our birth month came around and women finally started having babies, another thread quickly emerged about tracking weight loss. Some women who commented on the thread weren’t even out of the hospital yet. I remember one woman posting a picture about one week after she delivered, proudly displaying her already flat stomach. Funny, I don’t remember seeing a picture of her new baby…but she sure was proud of her new belly!
It doesn’t take an eating disorder/body dysmorphia specialist to know that there were women in our birth month forum that were dealing with Pregorexia, or some form of the disorder. However, many of the women that became frustrated or upset with the weight gain appeared to just be frustrated over the lack of control with their pregnant body. It was startling to realize that, even in pregnancy, women felt pressure to conform to some ideal (American) body shape. I don’t really know what that is – sad, scary, or both.
And in the end…
Regardless of some of the negative interactions and issues that arose, I actually found the pregnancy forum more useful than anything else. I quickly realized that a pregnancy forum is no different than any other online forum. There will be trolls. There will be ignorance, judgment, and disrespect. There will be personality clashes and major differences in opinions. Yet some of those differences could also make things interesting. Many potentially controversial topics were also debated and discussed in a healthy and useful way. I was there to learn and share in a respectful manner and I appreciated that most of the other women were there for the same reason. No book, class, or discussion with my OB/GYN could quite normalize my experience better than interacting with other women going through the same thing. I liken it to any other support group, but mine just happened to be online with a bunch of hormonal women that I would never meet. And that’s probably a good thing.