It started with conception, and although we¡¯d never met, three years on I considered this group of amazing, inspiring and beautiful women to be some of my best friends.
In April 2010 I found out I was pregnant. It was a wonderful new adventure most of my friends had never experienced, so, in a new home town and with a background in media, the internet was the natural place for me to turn for support. I joined the forum at essentialbaby.com.au and found the ¡®What month are you due¡¯ subforums. There, you can join a group of women who are all expecting around the same time as you; you form a mini community, just made up of women who are experiencing the same things you are.
It was in those ¡®What month are you due?¡¯ subforums that I found the group ¡°Due December 1-15¡±. That group became a source of celebration and laughter, grief and tears as a group of around 20 women came together under the shared auspice of a common due date. Even when one of the girls¡¯ due date was changed to November she asked to be permitted to remain in the group, as we'd already become such good friends. This friendship group wouldn¡¯t have come together under any other circumstances: transcending distance, social and economic conventions, had we met as a group of strangers in real life we would never have hit it off. But freed of the usual expectations of friendship, we didn't have to worry about forgotten birthdays or trying to arrange catch-ups in packed social calendars. Instead, on the internet, we were free to just be, well ¡ us.
From nipples to nappies, pimples to perineums, we shared everything; these women now know me better than many of my ¡°off-line¡± friends. Just as social media allows young people to share too much of themselves, it allowed us to openly share all of ourselves and our experiences with our new-found friends.
First-timers utilised the wisdom of the old hands who were on their third or fourth child for advice on all things pregnancy-related. Questions about niggling pains and how best to deal with stretch marks were met with sage advice, as were questions about recommended support for our expanding bust lines and concealing baby bumps.
From nipples to nappies, pimples to perineums, we shared everything. These women now know me better than many of my 'off-line' friends
And we weren¡¯t only there for the light stuff, either; changing relationships with partners, threats of job loss and budget worries were all shared. When one of the women in the group tragically lost her child at the end of the first trimester we were all there for her, offering support, sympathetic words, and, in my case, crying silently in my office. Our only method of physical support was to buy bears in the baby¡¯s name from the Teddy Love Club.
Following that life-changing event, our relationships really intensified. These ¡°girls online¡± were my go-to people for all of life¡¯s highs and lows: a bad day at work, an argument with a partner, birthday celebrations. Children¡¯s milestones were celebrated with a flurry of online activity.
I was one of the first to ¡°pop¡±. We¡¯d set up a phone tree so our online friends would be duly informed of our news, so they¡¯d know that our internet silence was due to the heady first days with our new loves and that we were safe and well.
As more babies arrived the online activity slowed, and as December 15 drew near ¨C when we wouldn¡¯t have a formal area just for us on the forums anymore ¨C I felt that my days with these women were numbered. I knew I would mourn their company. What about that person whose child was starting school? What about so-and-so¡¯s husband¡¯s new job? I¡¯d formed a deep bond with these women and wasn¡¯t about to just give that up. Even though I¡¯d never met them, I couldn¡¯t do it without them.
But of course we decided to stay in touch, still using the internet to stay in each other¡¯s lives. There¡¯s now 14 of us, and we share online just as you would share with your ¡°off-line¡± girlfriends; recipes, fashion advice, photos and a vent over a wine or two. First kicks became first steps, there were another four babies born, and another two babies on the way ¨C all without even having met in real life.
Finally we decided we needed to meet, and five of us managed to spend a two days together in July 2012. A logistical nightmare, we had ladies and babies flying in from Sydney and Queensland, trekking with car seats in tow from Adelaide and Gippsland, all to congregate in Melbourne.
It was wonderful, with a lot of wine and a lot of laughs. All of us mums had clearly built up such intimate relationships online that we naturally fell into close girlfriend relationships offline, and it was fantastic to meet all the babies and see their gorgeous personalities in real life. We all helped each other get the overexcited toddlers to sleep, calming them when they cried, helping them share their meals and stop stealing each others' dummies, showering them all together. It was what I imagined village life would have been like, back before we all lived in individual family units.
Our meet-up is definitely something we'd like to do annually. I know the girls who live in Newcastle, Perth and the UK who weren¡¯t able to make it were there with us in spirit, but next time we¡¯d love to include everyone.
Until then, it won¡¯t be goodbye forever ¡ ?just until we post the photos online.