My Online Stranger Friends

Before my first pregnancy, I was a message-board virgin. Once pregnant, a friend directed me to Baby Center. There I found Birth Clubs. I was due in July, and by becoming a member of July’s Birth Club, I could chat with hundreds of other moms also due in July. I found the questions, advice, links to other sites and debates addicting.

Then, I had a miscarriage. I posted a message to my Birth Club saying goodbye. The message was quickly pushed down the list by women worried about caffeine, venting about morning sickness and debating circumcision. Ready to log off, I noticed another message directing women due in July who had a miscarriage to the TTC (Trying to Conceive) After a Loss Bulletin Board. I was sad. I was curious. So I searched for the board.

Within this message board were threads. The women from my Birth Club had formed the December ’06 Angels thread. I paused after reading the word “angels.” In my mind, my child wasn’t a winged supernatural being waiting for me in heaven. Rather my child was a sesame-seed-sized embryo, something that resembled a tadpole more than a small human. But my image wasn’t purely biological. Intertwined with it was the painful knowledge that this embryo would never grow into a human being and experience the thrill of new love, the wonder of a shooting star or the simple pleasure of passing mashed potatoes around the dinner table. It was that sense of loss, the “what could have been,” that saddened me the most.

Still, no matter how often Andy and I talked, no matter how many cards I received, no matter how many “I went through that” stories I was told, the idea of being able to talk to women going through the same thing at the same time I was going through it intrigued me.

Clicking on the thread I saw that posters used the word “angel” a lot. Tickers and graphics cluttered the signatures of each post. Emoticons expressed moods. Acronyms were so commonplace at times I thought I was reading a foreign language. Glitter fonts were common.

To join, I needed to fill out a form with the following information: My first name, my logon name, my birthday and age, where I was from, the date I miscarried and any information I wanted to include about it, my TTC history, how many children I had, my angel’s EDD (Estimated Due Date) and where I was in my menstrual cycle.

I hesitantly filled out my form and with one click told complete strangers more information about my body than most of my closest girlfriends knew.

Women immediately posted condolences and welcomed me to the thread. And then they offered me something Andy couldn’t. These women, brazen with anonymity, actually talked about, in vivid detail, the horrific amount of blood that is lost and the intense cramping that’s common. After telling them I had decided to get a D&C, they questioned why I had to wait a week. They shared secrets on how to get through the day, the next hour, the moment. They posted things no one else I knew wanted to talk about or, perhaps more accurately, knew how to talk about.

I bonded with these women, these strangers.

Passionate about the board, I quickly learned the 91 acronyms. DH=Dear Husband. BFP=Big Fat Positive. DPO=Days Past Ovulation. HPT=Home Pregnancy Test. 2WW=Two Week Wait. BFN=Big Fat Negative. OPK=Ovulation Predicator Kit. CD=Cycle Day. US=Ultrasound. CF=Cervical Fluid.

Almost daily I posted updates about myself and personal messages to individual women. I wished testers good luck, scorned the unwanted AF (period) and congratulated the BFPs. Kathy, who took charge of our thread, constantly updating our information, created a folder for us to place pictures on an online photo-sharing site. There I looked at images of homes, children, vacations and faint lines on HPTs. Our losses—and hopes for the future—instantly brought us together.

Several months later, after what felt like a forever 2WW, I took a HPT. DH looked at it and smiled. I had a BFP.

Of course we couldn’t wait to tell our parents, siblings and friends. But I also couldn’t wait to tell the women on my board. Notes of congratulations in 24-point glitter fonts filled my screen as well as comments telling me to try not to worry. Many posters sent me virtual “sticky baby dust” and hoped my “little bean” would hold tight. I hoped so, too.

My first appointment at six weeks went well. My obstetrician confirmed the pregnancy and, after a physical exam, said everything felt fine. We schedule an ultrasound five days later.

This time, Andy held my hand and lowered his head as the technician moved the wand around, unable to find a gestational sac.

Thinking maybe my dates were wrong I had blood drawn and tested. I then had to wait a miserable 48 hours to have blood redrawn and tested. My Hcg levels had to double for the pregnancy to be viable. I started bleeding before I even got the results.

And so my sad story repeated itself, all over again: Crying in my Honda Civic in the medical office building’s parking lot after the ultrasound, the phone calls, the sick days from work. It may have been a different type of miscarriage, because it was so much earlier than my last, but it was a miscarriage all the same.

I shared my story with my online friends. Messages of condolences and virtual {{{{HUGS}}}} filled the thread. But I needed more this time. Or maybe I needed less. I needed a break.

Andy and I booked a trip to San Jose del Cabo on a Wednesday and left the following Saturday. It was, perhaps, the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done. For four nights and five days we drank rum and Diet Coke, watched pelicans skim the ocean and played Scrabble, the Spanish version.

It was exactly what I—we—needed.

But on the plane ride home, I realized I also—still—needed my friends—and my online, have-never-met-before women.

I wasn’t sure how they would take my three-week absence. Surely, I thought, they had forgotten me. It took two nights to skim through the many, many posts that had appeared during my break. I caught up on the new BFPs, the unwanted AFs and another poster who was going through a second miscarriage just like me.

“What’s wrong?” Andy asked on the second night, plopping down on the couch next to me, wondering why I was—again—crying. “They didn’t forget about me,” I said, reading the kind notes wishing me well and urging me back.

Fast forward seven years. Most of us are still in each other’s lives. We’ve left Baby Center and formed a private page on Facebook. I’m, at times, terribly neglectful with it as life pushes it aside but still, I try to skim at least a couple times a week. As a group we’ve had children, lost children, moved, found new jobs, divorced, found new loves, succeeded and failed. And it is crazy to me—crazy—that I know so much about a group of women I have never personally met.

And yet, it works.

Like today. Today was a blah day—I had no motivation to do anything. And while I respond to posts every once in awhile, I haven’t posted with this group in months. But today, I did. And today, like every other time I’ve infrequently posted, I received many kind replies, replies of “you’re not alone,” solid advice and encouragement.

The Internet can be a terrible place (just read comments to the essay I wrote here). But it also can be quite wonderful. Thanks to social media I found a gently used winter coat and snow bibs for Sophie today—a friend of a friend, responding to something I posted on Facebook.

Some say technology has made it impossible for us to truly interact with each other. Perhaps. But, perhaps not. Because of technology I’m friends with women from many different places and backgrounds, who are experiencing many different things—the only thing we have in common is a miscarriage around the holidays in 2006. And I imagine I will be part of these women’s lives as they are a part of mine for many, many years. Maybe someday we’ll meet. Maybe we never will. But they have impacted my life in ways, 10 years ago, I would have never imagined.

They say it takes a village. And it does. It’s just that my village, which consists of family, friends and now, online strangers, is so different from the villages a century ago. And yet, I’m so grateful for it—grateful for all its strangeness and grateful for all its beauty.

“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” —Bill Gates