Tuesday, April 15, 2003

World Wide Womb

World Wide Womb
by Andria Brown

Back when I got my first cushy full-time job – the kind with a security badge instead of a name tag – I used to sit in my cubicle and wonder how any office worker ever survived nine-to-five life before the Internet. How did they entertain themselves? Were they obliged to drink coffee on their coffee breaks? How did they look for other jobs without anyone noticing?

Now, several years and hundreds of bookmarks later, I find myself asking a similar question: how did anyone survive pregnancy before the Internet?

I was slow to join the cyber party, but now I’m like the last desperate reveler, refusing to go home. The turn came for me when I realized that not only could the Internet provide me with endless hours of pointless short films, but that it also actually contained some useful information, and if you knew where to look, some really amazing people.

The enlightenment began when I discovered message boards. I knew these virtual watering holes existed, and I’d stumbled across a few during various searches, but most seemed to be filled with code-speaking netizens with an unnerving fondness for emoticons and three paragraph signature lines. Then I found cool, grammatically correct, feminist-centric sites like Hissyfit and Chicklit. I got to know some great women, learned clearer ways to express myself, got better at listening to other opinions and, as an added bonus, read about some really cool websites.

One of these sites was SoulCysters.com, a support page for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a reproductive disease that often causes fertility problems. When I was nineteen years old and just diagnosed with PCOS, I was told that having children would be “next to impossible.” Through SoulCysters, however, I learned about the herbal, lifestyle, and drug therapies available to overcome PCOS-related infertility. With this information, I was better prepared when my husband and I made the decision to start a family.

Since I knew conception most likely wouldn’t come easily, I sought out sites like TCOYF.com, the online version of Toni Weschler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and FertilityFriend.com. Both of these sites provided software that facilitated the process of charting ovulation – or, in my case, lack thereof. Because I was more aware of my own body and could determine that “trying for a year” wasn’t going to get us anywhere, I was able to seek out medical interventions at an earlier stage and saved myself months of stress and disappointment.

Of course, knowing the limitations of my body didn’t absolve me of all frustrations. Trying to conceive is a tough process even under the best circumstances, and when infertility is an issue, the stakes (and emotions) run even higher. I was able to vent my fears, excitement, grief, and joy through an online diary that I began the day I went off the pill. Unlike a hand-written journal, an online diary enables and invites feedback from the entire planet. I was constantly astounded by the words of wisdom and encouragement that came in from my readers (after I got over the initial amazement of discovering that I actually had readers).

And when I needed even more immediate support, I went to the “trying to conceive” boards on sites like hipMama, then Mamatron, and You Are Still Here. These forums were filled with other women who were experiencing the same highs and lows that I was, and being able to vent and celebrate with them was a tremendously calming and healing process. I was surprised by how close I felt to these women I’d never met and never would meet.

Although, what’s that they say about never saying never? By haunting websites where progressive, artistic, strong-minded women from all over the world hang out, I’ve been able to get acquainted with progressive, artistic, strong-minded women who live in my own neighborhood (hi, Stacey!). It took posting at a website based in Australia to meet an expectant mama who lives just down the street. Small world. Small world wide web.

I am now eleven weeks along with my first pregnancy. And of course, since the day I saw that second pink line, I’ve been all over the web, swapping stories and tracking down information. When my fertility specialist detected an umbilical cyst during an early ultrasound but failed to tell me what such a result actually indicated, I went to an “Ask An OB” website and had my fears assuaged within a matter of hours.

Through the magic of the Internet, I’ve been able to find the cloth diapers, slings, and other parenting essentials that I’ll never see at Babies R Pricey. Most importantly, I’ve been able to continue communing with women who are or have been where I am now, and who are more than happy to share their experiences and encouragement.

Sometimes, my mother sighs and says that I know too much, that I’m too aware of what’s going on with my pregnancy. I understand her concern, but I have to disagree with her. Having a world of information at my fingertips has gotten me to this thrilling point and will only continue to help me along. The vast, seemingly impersonal expanse of the Internet has helped me succeed in this most personal of endeavors.

Besides, what else am I going to do with my coffee breaks?

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