I picked up my phone recently and had a great chat in my 'November 2014 Babies' WhatsApp group, and for about the billionth time thought how grateful I was that I had met these amazing women online.
It's a place I can go to vent, chat, discuss, ponder, laugh and have general craic in, with women who just completely understand eachother. We're lucky because we all consider ourselves and one another completely normal - there isn't the usual 'one' that ruins it for the rest of us!
I can honestly say I'd have had a much harder time figuring out motherhood if it wasn't for these girls, who I now call genuine friends. Some of us are on our second babies together, others on their third, and it's great because some of us get to regularly meet in real life too while we share another maternity leave together. Of course, we don't just chat solely about the glory of wiping snot and puke all day, these girls are genuine friends. We have shared personal stories, personal challenges, celebrated with and supported each other through plenty of life changes over the last three years.
I think though, my favourite thing about this group is that there is absolutely NO judgement. No pressure, no feeling of ' I think you're doing this wrong' that I have come across in other online groups. And it got me thinking.
I am raising my children in an era of Internet Parenting. Sure, there are great benefits. I have an infinite pool of experience and knowledge all with a few taps through the screen of my phone. Obviously, I was raised (relatively recently given my amazing youthful looks) in a pre Internet time. Who did my Mam have to ask 'what do I do' type questions to? A much smaller circle of people and even then it was most likely at the end of a landline phone or worse, hand written letters! No instant answers for her.
But there are also downsides to this, something I'm realising more and more. The more we congregate online to discuss and figure out the hurdles of raising mini humans, the more pressure and comparison comes with it. You see endless groups for any aspect of parenting from groups based on how you feed your baby, how you wean your six-month-old onto solids, to the safest way to transport these little people in your car. You see babies achieving milestones at different times to your own and immediately compare. You become informed of 'best practise' and 'healthiest ways' and 'you should ONLY do this' and you find you haven't, couldn't, or can't do things that way and instantly feel like you're doing it wrong - like you are failing.
I don't mean to suggest that for the most part, it is people telling you you're doing it wrong. Most of the time people are simply telling their own experience. But for me, I find I can sometimes question myself based on that person's advice or experience.
'Comparison is the thief of joy' - I can't remember who said that - ( Google informs me it was Theodore Roosevelt) and it's true. It made me realise that I sometimes don't have enough confidence in myself or sometimes in my decisions and I doubt myself. I see how other women seem to manage the various hurdles and if I'm not doing it the same way, I sometimes assume I'm doing it wrong.
Although, as I type this I realise that was much more the case at the very start when both boys were born. Everything is so confusing then. I thought I'd escape it this time after I had Alex, that I would know what I was doing but he was such a different baby that I still felt new to it all. When you have a baby not only are you learning as you go, but you're getting to know your new little bundle - what they like and what they don't like. Learning their different cries is sort of like learning a language. And you can pick your own child's cry out of 20 babies crying at once. So why this self-doubt? Surely I'm not the only one who feels like this?
And so I wonder, to what extent is it natural as a new mother to doubt and question yourself, or how much of that is influenced by Internet Parenting? Everywhere you look there are blogs about parenting. Why do we feel the need to write it down, unlike our parents before us? To help other people if it's a topic you're particularly good at? Are you a baby genius who knows the best way to do all things baby? But even if you are, this in itself doesn't make any sense because I could preach til the cows come home about the latest parenting skill I've acquired but unless you ARE me with MY child, chances are it wouldn't work the same way for you anyway.
Is it harder now than it was for my mother for example? I think it must be a bit of both. The endless knowledge I have instant access to would be sorely missed if I didn't have it (so long as it is researched properly and you don't take it as gospel from just anyone!) - but I really do think a big downside is the negative impact it could have on your mental health. Constantly seeing how everyone else is doing it differently, or how they seem to do it so easily or perfectly. I for one certainly put myself through a lot of guilt and feeling of failure around the time both boys were born based on expectations I had placed on myself from reading other people's opinions and experiences on certain aspects of parenting.
But maybe that's just me. So why do I blog about it? I think it's like a form of therapy - I find it so therapeutic just writing things down, especially about the challenging aspects of IVF and parenting. Sometimes it's for posterity - the experiences are so precious it's a nice way for me to keep a sort of memory collection. And mainly I just really enjoy doing it.
Maybe I do have it harder than my mother and her mother did - although I think not - but then again I guess we'll never know. The age of Internet Parenting is here, maybe it's just one more storm we need to try and navigate! In the meantime, I'll be doing my best trying not to put myself down and making comparisons, and start believing that maybe I'm doing just fine on my own after all.