Virtually Postpartum

I met Jess for the first time in an online parenting group when our girls were toddlers. We seemed to mirror one another, with our experiences and outlook. Slowly but surely, we carved a friendship out of words, carefully typed out from different corners of the earth.

I met Jess for the second time at her home in Canada, 4500 miles away from my quaint English village.  My daughter was six at the time, while my son was just 8 months old and we took the trip in spite of my ever-present haze of postpartum sleep deprivation.

Jess had watched from afar as I wobbled my way through the early postpartum period. Anxiety and I have always been close friends, but the vulnerability and exhaustion of new motherhood had breathed a new lease of life into my lifelong companion.

Sink or swim; I decided I needed to shake up my reality and to leave my comfort zone.  My friend’s words echoed in my ears, "choose love over fear,” as I booked the tickets, packed the bags (there were a lot of bags) and showed up at the airport with a belly full of butterflies.

I know what you’re likely thinking: I am insane.  Who spends thousands of dollars and takes a baby on a transatlantic flight to go and visit a family they’ve never met?!

I do.

Because Jess and I have been a part of one another’s worlds for years.  She has walked this path of motherhood with me, albeit from a different time zone.

It was almost surreal when we first saw one another.  I felt as though I'd known her my whole life, though we'd never actually met in person before.

We spent a week together; two families sharing days and meals and stories and hopes.  We watched our children play together and we sat back, at ease in one another’s company.  This solidarity, this sisterhood, was at last tangible and real.

When my first baby was born, I didn’t have a ready-made circle of local mothers to find solidarity in.  I attended baby groups in the hopes of meeting like-minded friends and sure enough, some beautiful friendships were born between the hours of 10am and 12am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  Because we live in a world of isolation.  We spend our time mostly within our own homes, scheduling our social lives with dates on a calendar as if these connections might disappear into thin air if we don’t mark them down in ink.

This works perfectly well for cups of tea and slices of cake, as these are activities that can indeed be scheduled.  Yet in the dark of night, when baby is refusing to latch and sleep deprivation is making you question every single choice you've made as a mother so far, it would be totally inappropriate to call up Sandra from Monday's playgroup and cry down the phone to her.

So instead, we quite often turn to the bright lights of our phone screens in search of answers and comfort and reassurance.

Social media carries a pretty awful reputation.  So often, we see shaming or bragging or outright lying...we see the shiny glossy exterior of our friends' worlds as opposed to the realities of their divorces, health issues and little Joey who won't eat his greens.  We see postpartum bodies through filters, only the blissful days of new motherhood and only the happiest of babies.

Very rarely do we see behind the filter...except in group chats.  Because these virtual chats can ironically offer a space to be real and a place where solidarity reigns, from every corner of the globe.

Last month, I chatted (virtually) with two friends about this changing landscape of the postpartum experience.  Jen, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for Ardo USA, was the one to point out that this virtual concept of sisterhood is gaining momentum and while there are obviously many aspects of support during new motherhood that need a physical presence (taking care of the new mom's house, feeding her, passing her a cup of tea...) there is still a surprising amount of support readily available online.

Jen, for instance, offers breastfeeding support via question and answer sessions hosted through Facebook (the next one is scheduled to take place on December 21st, if you're in need of free breastfeeding support with an IBCLC.)

Because let's face it, the postpartum experience is one of vulnerability.  Ideally, we would be surrounded by kind friends and family who would simultaneously build our confidence, whilst making cups of tea.  Yet culturally, we are nowhere close to this ideal.  So many moms are back at work just weeks after they give birth and even well-meaning family members are often ill-equipped to help a woman navigate those first days of lactation. This is where professional support is so valuable and thankfully, accessible, thanks to these virtual support networks.

And for those times in which we're wobbling in the depths of night, I am so thankful to the moms we can find online.  Perhaps if you're really lucky, like me, you'll build the type of friendship that Jess and I have carved; from virtual reality to reality itself, with nothing more than an ocean between us.

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