Make Parenting Message Boards Work for You

Dollars & Sense on 04.27.11
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Photo: tillwe/Creative Commons

 

When I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with placenta previa. The first thing I did — besides freak the hell out — was go home and open all my pregnancy books to the back. (I'd made a rule to only read the first half of each book. The bad stuff is all in the back.) The second thing I did was go online.

Big mistake.

I was greeted by hundreds of the most alarming stories of bed rest, hemorrhaging, excruciating pain and premature childbirth. So the third thing I did was freak the hell out again.

Saved by The Stroller Brigade
My husband, who was shaken by the complication, sent a fact-finding e-mail to our neighborhood listserv, and the responses changed everything. See, I live in an area in Brooklyn called Park Slope. Park Slope can be tough to characterize because it's both lauded and derided: lauded for its beautiful brownstones, excellent schools, delicious restaurants and lush parks; derided because there are lots of families, so the hipster set calls its residents The Stroller Brigade. I love where I live.

The listserv was created by a local mom. Here are just some of the things people use it for:

* Buying and selling baby gear and furniture, including breast pumps and armoires
* Finding businesses that do stroller tune-ups and quality tailoring
* Asking how to cook with challenging ingredients, including but not limited to kale
* Solving warm-weather ant problems (have you ever heard of diatomaceous earth?)
* Navigating the competitive preschool registration
* Seeking real estate recommendations and sublets for grandparent visits (Park Slope has many things, but we are not falling over hotels)
* Recommending nannies, housekeepers, and guys who draw up wills
* Debating circumcision, homeschooling, VBAC, and disruptive low-flying airplane traffic
* Pleading for advice on how to sleep-train early-rising toddlers
* Unloading a gazillion stuffed animals

I get hundreds of e-mails a day, most of which I delete. But I've bought two high chairs using the listserv that cost me $60 total. It's a great resource.

So my husband turned to the listserv to ask if anyone had an experience with placenta previa that wasn't a complete disaster. And the moms came out en force — all giving us hope that my condition wasn't worth our fear. They were right: After about nine weeks, the placenta moved away from my cervix and I had a completely normal pregnancy. I found the relief they provided nowhere else online.

Weeding Through the Crazy
The internet, for all its usefulness, can be a dangerous thing. A colleague told me that in a medical emergency, you can always find exactly what you're looking for — i.e., the worst-case scenario, the thing you're looking for because you're hoping desperately not to find it. There will always be a poster on a message board sharing their nightmare — your nightmare. Your heart goes out to her. And then the angry mob will respond to that poor poster, accusing her of various wrongdoings such as: lying, being a bad mother, being ugly, being fat, being stupid, being late, being early, being fat again. (Side note: Who are these people?) And there you are, innocently searching for advice, examples, answers to your questions, and instead of coming out informed, you have been spat out, shivering and afraid, your clothes tattered and soaked through with your own tears.

But there are ways to actually enjoy filtering through message boards, should you use them — because if you really think about it, they are kind of funny in how totally out of control they are. Herewith, a list of how to approach the insanity:

Know that there will always be somebody worse off than you. When I was in my second trimester, I was concerned I was drinking too much orange juice. I found a comment thread on a message board in which pregnant women were listing what they'd eaten that day. One woman, by 3 p.m. had eaten: one bowl of oatmeal, a glass of chocolate milk, a "breakfast pizza," one cupcake, one cookie, two bowls of chili, chips and salsa, two bowls of chicken Alfredo, and four Twix. Now, I don't have the greatest eating habits in the world, but even I was all, "You maybe didn't need that extra bowl of chili." 

You lost your free time, but at least you value what little you do have enough to not act totally out of your gourd. While doing a just-curious search for the recommended number of ounces of whole milk to feed my 13-month-old, I landed on a thread that began with a poster saying she is God and was taking questions. Somebody asked why she didn't heal amputees. What followed was a metaphysical debate about why God does not have the power to regrow limbs. Truth be told, part of me was jealous: I'd love to have the energy to waste on an "I'm bored" conversation like that. (I wouldn't, but I'd like to have the time is all I'm saying.)

Posting minutiae yourself — habitually — provides perspective. If you find yourself asking for people to vote for your unborn baby's name, and then what their least favorite household task is, and then where they went on their babymoons, it may be time to turn off the computer and go for a walk. Or start a blog.

Much like dating, the painful search is worth it. Wading through all the random e-mails and comments that make you feel angry, annoyed or mystified will usually unearth exactly what you need: a rational response that provides helpful information. And within that response, you may find an entry into a community, online or otherwise, that can offer you catharsis.

You're not alone. You may be in the same club as some wackadoos, but you can guarantee that the club is really, really big. There's room for everybody.

 

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