Online Birth Groups – Where Are All the Rational People?

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I get it. People want to believe that the experiences that they undergo are special and meaningful. Newsflash though – pregnancy and birth aren’t one of those things. There are a finite number of ways that someone becomes pregnant and an even lesser number of methods for that little one to arrive. That’s not to say that your little miracle isn’t special to you and your family and friends, but even if you struggled to achieve this milestone, chances are, others have gone through similar, if not exactly the same, experiences.

So you find out that you are pregnant and you are of course using Google to its maximum capacity to find out everything that you didn’t know. In Canada, there is a particular site that you are likely to come across quite quickly in your search. Wow, all of the resources in one place – it doesn’t get much better, right??!! You are bound to find your due date calculator and when you discover when your little bundle of joy will make an appearance, you notice this little prompt that suggests that you might want to connect with other parents who are due at the same time. What a great idea! A whole bunch of hormonal women all in the same place? What could possibly go wrong? ***Warning – this is a long one!

I’ll tell you what can go wrong. A lot. In the beginning, it is all nice. People introduce themselves as they join, tell you where they live, how many kids they have, and what they have been going through, basically starting the process of getting to know each other as best as can be done in a group of 150-200 people in an online environment. It is super awesome at times to have this many people at your fingertips from all walks of life, from first time moms to those with multiple children. Someone is likely to have been through whatever your question is about and can either put your mind at ease, or advise you of upcoming steps. This is especially comforting around the times of ultrasounds, where invariably, someone will hear that their baby has an abnormality that needs to be monitored. The countless reassurances that have been received from other women who have been through the same thing with positive outcomes really does help the mom who is going through it.

What a great idea! A whole bunch of hormonal women all in the same place? What could possibly go wrong?

Eventually, as we do not all parent the same though, contentious issues arise and heated discussions that even turn into arguments can be found in almost all groups. Some examples might be breastfeeding versus formula feeding, home versus hospital birth, circumcision, vaccination, etc. You get the picture. I’m kind of okay with these discussions as I think that it provides an arena for all viewpoints to be shared. There is bound to be someone in the group who reads something that is evidence based that they were previously unaware of and it alters the way in which they proceed with raising children. This is a good thing.

The issues that I am not so okay with are the discussions that come up towards the end of the pregnancy – particularly, the one that suggests that those who don’t participate through commenting, posting, or liking on a routine basis should be removed from the group and the one that says that the group should be closed at a certain time.

First, the participation one. I would say that the vast majority of all of my group experience have more than 80% participation amongst the group members. Does this mean that the other people aren’t reading? Nope. It just means that for whatever reason, they choose not to comment or post. Are they still finding resources and answers to their questions? I think so; otherwise, the group wouldn’t be beneficial for them either. I don’t think that anyone hangs out to read about annoying husbands, Braxton hicks contractions, pregnancy insomnia, or hemmorhoids for fun, but perhaps I am wrong in this. Inevitably though, you will find members of the group that describe the non-participants as ‘lurkers’ who don’t deserve to be in the group because they haven’t ‘made an effort to get to know people’. This is ludicrous to me. People – this is an online environment with women who happen to be going through a major life event at the same time as you are. That is the single bond that initially connects you and while you may find other things in common, essentially this is the big one. These are acquaintances, not friends. Is it impossible to make friends in these environments? Absolutely. But to even consider that the 100 people that do actively participate are your friends is insane. Ummm, right. I post a lot, but I certainly don’t think that you know me or that I know you. I just happen to know what the poster is asking about in the question. It is delusional to think that even in a ‘secret’ group, that your posts are ‘secret’, or even confidential for that matter. This is the internet – you shouldn’t be posting anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable with if it came out. In my honest opinion, these groups are created so that you don’t drive your own family and friends crazy with your constant need to post about your pregnancy; at least this group understands what you are going through and it may save your ‘real-life’ relationships.

Secondly, the one about closing the group. Again, the common sense here seems to evade many admins/members of these groups. The sole criteria for being a member is that you are due to have one or more little humans exit your body in the same calendar month. Period. That’s it. So to close the group is weird because there are no criteria for admission aside from this one. Again, the discussion comes up about who wants to share personal details about their ‘birth experiences’ with strangers. Get a grip. I love to read birth stories; there are tons available in books, online, articles, wherever you might think to look. There are even thousands of births available for viewing on the internet, from home to hospital and everything in between. Your experience is special – to you. And really, if you get down to the honest nitty gritty, that’s about it. There is close to nothing that anyone in a birth group can share that isn’t going to be experienced by another in the group. So, to think that you are sharing personal details is irrational, especially as 98% of all of the other births in the group are going to be similar to yours. After all, there are essentially only two ways for a baby to exit its mother. I’m not saying that there are not alterations here – things happen – terrible, scary, and sometimes heart-wrenching things. Unfortunately, even those experiences do not occur in isolation; somewhere, sometime before, someone else has gone through exactly the same thing.