It takes a village to raise a child, the African proverb says. When I learned that I was pregnant for the first time, I was clueless. I didn’t know anything about pregnancy symptoms or which foods were off limits. What sunscreens could be used during pregnancy? Was it okay to continue going to the gym? I needed answers. I needed a village.
I sought encouragement and insight from an online message board. What I found was an online forum that had an unreasonable number of mean girls. It was as if the anonymity of a screen name had erased any and all filters and manners that these women had, assuming they had any to begin with. I learned my lesson after the first couple of attempts to step in and speak out against the bullying. They were vicious. It just wasn’t worth it. So, I learned to keep quiet.
A glutton for punishment, I stayed around, and after my first miscarriage, I found a genuinely kind and sympathetic place in another group on the same website for women trying to conceive after a loss. They understood my pain and the longing to be pregnant again. When I finally conceived, they all cheered and encouraged me, even on my fearful days. And so, my virtual village began. These women had been my encouragement through some of the scariest days of motherhood, and motherhood had not yet really begun.
From that website, a Facebook group formed. This time, it was a unique group of women, all linked by our December 2013 due dates. We hovered around 100 members, gaining and losing a member here and there. You would think that an online group of 100 women from the U.S., Canada, and Australia could not possibly be close. I was skeptical at the beginning. I participated, but I did not divulge large amounts of personal information. After all, these women were strangers. I didn’t know if they could be trusted. But, through the remainder of our pregnancies, we bounced a thousand questions around in our group. We talked about which strollers and car seats were the best, discussed pregnancy symptoms and solutions, and laughed (and probably cried a little) as our bodies changed into shapes we didn’t recognize. A couple of mamas left our group after they experienced losses. We grieved with them and prayed. And then, one by one, the rest of us began to give birth. Then the real fun began.
We answered each other’s breastfeeding questions at 3:00 a.m. We participated in gift exchanges to celebrate our new babies. We talked about pediatricians and vaccination schedules. We prayed with the mamas whose babies had health issues from birth. I learned the meaning of medical terms like hypotonia, and read up on tracheoesophageal fistulas. We freaked out together over whether our babies were eating enough or sleeping enough, our paranoia fueled by the sleeplessness of the newborn days. We talked each other down from helicopter mommy ledges when our children started to be mobile. We cheered when the ones who struggled began to thrive. Once we settled in to motherhood, we began to talk about fashion and home decor and jobs. We became real, actual friends.
At this point, we have been together for three years, my December mamas. My virtual village has grown to include other online groups, experts in baby wearing, cloth diapering, and fabric dyeing. There are amazing, helpful groups for all of these. But, the original group is my favorite. They are the most dependable. Many of us have met in person, meeting up for coffee and taking our children to museums. I have parenting questions on a daily basis, and these girls are my go-to. When my dad had an accident that required emergency brain surgery, these girls prayed. They text-messaged me and sent cards. When his subsequent eight month long coma ended in his passing, they were right there to grieve with me. We have been through a long list of hard things. Marriage problems, job losses, cancer diagnoses, heart surgeries, a baby with a brain tumor, a tragic burial of another baby diagnosed with anencephaly. Hard things. But, my village has done what villages do. We have come together, working hard to help each other get through another day of life and motherhood, despite the miles between us.
We are blessed, I think. Each of us has our own local friends and meet-up groups. I have recently joined a Neighbor Group with scheduled play-dates and opportunities for face-to-face encounters with moms that live less than 10 minutes from my house. They have awesome suggestions for local kid-friendly brunch locations and ideas for the best birthday party venues. I am loving this group, and I can’t wait to get to know more of the wonderful mamas involved in it. But when it’s late at night, and I am wondering if it’s safe to give my toddler a pillow to make him more comfortable, I know that there is a group of girls, many in a different time zone that are still awake, ready to give insight and opinions. They are my helpers, my encouragers on hard days, and my friends. They make up my virtual village, and I love them.