Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Baby-desperate moms share every detail online

Gillian Wood has been trying to get pregnant for three years. She's used fertility drugs, tried intrauterine insemination and has even been tested for in-vitro fertilization.

She considers none of this private information. Instead, Ms. Wood, who hopes to embark on in-vitro sessions soon, is sharing every last detail of her experience, fears and all, via her blog, the Hardest Quest.

"I am so afraid to take that next step," she writes of her infertility journey. "You cannot imagine. (Okay, maybe some of you can. But right now, it seems overwhelming and immense to me.)"

This is the world of the infertility blog.

Here, women (and a few men) relay every medical moment, every disappointment and every shred of hope they find in their attempts to have babies.

They share tips on injecting fertility drugs and freezing embryos. They commiserate about insensitive queries from friends and family members, and seek out "cycle buddies" whose ovulation and fertility treatments align.

Infertility blogging has won more adherents, and sites have proliferated over the past 18 months, some say. One of the infertility world's most famous bloggers, Melissa, a.k.a. the Stirrup Queen, says that during her first hard-won pregnancy three years ago (which resulted in twins), bulletin boards and chat rooms were all she could find.

Now, her highly visible blog competes with dozens of others and, like its competitors, has a growing core of loyal readers. "I see myself as a blogger, but also as a pollinator, bringing together bloggers who may have missed each other otherwise," the 33-year-old says by e-mail from the Washington area. (She declines to share her surname.)

May Friedman, a women's studies PhD student at Toronto's York University who studies infertility and mothering blogs, says such forums bring together two of the Web's major hallmarks: anonymity and confession.

Tell-all blogs are safe places for the infertile to overcome the shame and isolation they may feel about infertility. They can "come out," if you will.

Ms. Wood, 37, says she started the blog as an outlet for all the emotions she and her husband were facing - not to mention as a practical spot to record all her drug doses and ovulation schedules. "I thought, 'I'll do it for me; if I get readers, cool,' " says Ms. Wood, a technical writer and editor in Ottawa. "You tell it like it is - you can be as emotional as you want."

Julie, of the blog A Little Pregnant, was also searching for an outlet. She has written about her ectopic pregnancy, a miscarriage and, finally, her high-risk pregnancy and 10-weeks-early delivery of a son. Now she and her husband are trying again.

The 36-year-old Vermont native was uncomfortable opening up with family members, but "my blog allowed me to do that, to be frank about what I was going through," she says in an e-mail. When well-meaning friends didn't understand, "I had friends inside the computer who could."

For many, blogs allow for some black humour. Julie defends using salty language on her blog: "You try having your uterus filled with glow-in-the-dark dye, and then we'll discuss what kind of language seems appropriate."

Along the way, readers and writers alike share any expertise they have gained. "My doctor taught me how to give myself an injection," Melissa says. But online, "another infertile woman was the one who taught me how to make an injection less painful."

Community members quickly adopt an insider lexicon - much of it built on medical acronyms: RE is the reproductive endocrinologist; OPK is an ovulation predictor kit.

As South African infertility blogger Tertia writes: "The infertility world is a subculture on its own. It has its own set of rules of interaction, its own language, class system, social hierarchy. ... It is not a culture you willingly belong to, but it becomes perversely comforting once you are in it."

It can also be a complicated place to be when you finally get pregnant. While a positive pregnancy test is the Holy Grail, it also poses a problem.

The editors of Redbook magazine recently found this out when they introduced a new blogger, Lili, to their Infertility Diaries this July. Her first post mentioned she was just back from maternity leave with twins, which threw many readers for a loop.

One, called SarahKt, wrote: "Lili's wonderful announcement of returning from maternity leave ... made my insides ball up into a big barren knot. ... Maybe this isn't the space for me at this time. ... It might be nice to have an expanded reach into voices in the infertile world? To hear from others whose stories are still quite ... barren?"

Julie of A Little Pregnant joined Lili as a Redbook blogger in August. So far, she has not found herself in the middle of controversy, despite having a child. This may be because she is already known as a successful infertility blogger.

Nonetheless, she's keenly aware of the fraught relationship infertility bloggers and their audience have with pregnancy.

She says discord can also arise when someone expresses disappointment about the gender of her baby-to-be or wishes fleetingly that she wasn't having twins - or even complains about how uncomfortable she is in the last few weeks before birth, she says. "It's sometimes hard to be happy for someone else when we're so unhappy for ourselves."

It's too early for Ms. Wood to worry about the politics of getting pregnant. For now, she and her husband eagerly look forward to another round of in-vitro fertilization. She may have a successful blog, but she desperately hopes to move beyond infertility. "I never envisioned a life without children."

Full article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20071127.wlblog27

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