The end of an era

Thirteen years ago, aged 22, when I found myself pregnant for the first time, I knew very few people with children. All of my friends were still very much enjoying their youth, the majority still single, travelling the world or focusing on their studies and climbing the career ladder. I had never really been around babies and children before, let alone held one!

My midwife recommended that we sign up for antenatal classes at the local hospital and yet knowing that these would only take place in my third trimester, I found myself on the internet searching for information. Thanks to the power of Google, I stumbled across a baby and parenting web site, Babyworld, where true to its name, I found I had access to a whole world of information at the touch of my fingertips.

Within an hour I had found a week by week pregnancy guide, discovered all sorts of information (some of which excited and terrified me in equal measures!), but I had also managed to set up an on-line pregnancy diary and join a virtual antenatal club with a group of ladies who were all due in the same month as myself. It seemed like finally I had somewhere to talk bumps, babies and share my worries and concerns.

When I lost my first baby I realised that sadly, this was far more common than I had ever known. I left the antenatal club, finding the scan photos and growing bumps too painful to bear, and found myself over on the “Losing a baby” forum, a place where far too many ladies like myself were grieving the loss of a baby. I was welcomed in with open arms and later, when I announced my second pregnancy, I had the support of so many ladies who in time became some of my closest friends.

My new antenatal club started off with very formal introductions, “Where are we all from?” and “When are you due?”. As the weeks went by we would ask, “Is this normal?” or “How big is your bump?”. We chatted about our excitement, shared pictures of our scans, our bumps, our latest purchases for the baby, photos of the nursery just waiting for our arrivals. We began to build a bond, create friendships, share intimate secrets and most importantly, we supported eachother through a rollercoaster nine months. And come April, when we all sat impatiently, willing our waters to pop, we cheered eachother on, celebrated eachothers births, shared in eachothers happiness and began a whole new adventure with our little ones ahead. And sharing something like that created a bond that twelve years later, time has never broken.

When I fell pregnant with Joseph, despite the fact that by then I had several new friends with babies, I had no doubt that I would join a new on-line antenatal club and share my journey just as I had with Lewis. And I often say that despite the devastation of losing Joseph, if ever I can find a positive in what happened, it would be that he led me to some of the best friends I have ever known. When I broke the news on our antenatal club, all too aware that the majority of those ladies were heavily pregnant and still awaiting their healthy babies, I could never have imagined just how much love and support I would receive. My post box was flooded with cards, with gifts, flowers, phone calls, messages that told me we were in their thoughts, their prayers, their hearts.

Moving back over to the Losing a Baby forum was a bitter pill to swallow. When I should have been enjoying my new born baby I was sharing my pain, my anger, my devastation with other mums whose arms were just as empty as my own. We shared every moment of that pain together, cried for eachothers losses, gave eachother strength, hope, comfort. Those ladies had something that nobody else could possibly have, real understanding. They were the only people who knew just how awful it felt because sadly, they felt it too.

I often say that my Babyworld ladies saved my life back in those darkest days. They were the ones who kept me going when I sank lower than I ever thought possible, who helped me through my subsequent losses, my divorce, my illnesses. They were the ones who remembered Josephs birthdays, who wrote to me whilst I was away in hospital, who willed me to get better, reminded me that there was so much more to look forward to. They were the ones who picked me back up time and time again and told me that it would all be okay, that they were right here for me any time day or night. And they were.

They still are.

Over time I posted in all of those forums. Trying for a baby, Infertility, Pregnancy After Loss and Single Parents. I was grateful for all of the advice I received from some of the most genuine and helpful ladies I have ever know and I was overwhelmed at the kindness of strangers, at how far some people would go to help another despite having never met in person. I continued to post in my pregnancy diaries, sharing my story in what these days would be classed as a ‘blog’ and I enjoyed reading the diaries of others, sharing the ups and downs of being a parent. I made friends from all walks of life, from all corners of the world and eventually began working for the website as moderator of the Losing a Baby forum.

I won’t lie to you, there were times when Babyworld was a crazy place to be. It was hardly surprising, given that the majority of women were pregnant or post-natal, that there was a hell of a lot of hormones flying around! We had our fair share of dramas to contend with, crazy hormone-fuelled arguments, the occasional “troll” and the subsequent fall-outs or the on-going war between the ‘regular folk’ and the moderators. At times it was hilarious, logging on to the debating forum (whose idea was it to allow crazy pregnant people to debate?!) and reading another argument over Fruit Shoots, Greggs sausage rolls or the old favourite – breast v bottle!! Babyworld seemed to bring out all of the weirdos, the characters who to this day I won’t ever forget (even if I did end up blocking them on Facebook!!) and as easily as friendships were made, at times they were irreversibly broken.

But there was always that sense of belonging, the idea that between us we could solve any problem, get through any drama and achieve anything we wanted. It was very much a community, admittedly a rather insane community, but we were united by our babies, by the fact that no matter how different we all were, we were all of us wanting the same thing – to be parents.

And Babyworld gave me friendships that I never imagined I would find. Real friendships, friends who I then went on to meet up with, who I shared weekends away, trips out with our children, snatched moments of coffee and cake. Friends who stayed with me the night before my wedding, who watched me walk down the aisle and cried tears of joy as I married the man of my dreams. Friends who I told I was pregnant the very minute I found out, who I turned to through my difficult pregnancies, gave a running commentary to during my labours and who were there at my house to meet my children just as soon as they possibly could be. Friends who went from being strangers on a screen to being the best friends that I could ever have hoped for.

When Babyworld changed its lay-out and it became practically impossible to access from your mobile phone, it simply began to fizzle out. I half heartedly attempted to use it during my pregnancy with Eva, joined an antenatal club with a handful of ladies  and shared my worries each week in my pregnancy diary. But eventually we gave up and moved over to Facebook, starting up our spin-off antenatal clubs, closed groups where we would still chat, private messaging so that we could stay in touch.

So it was no big surprise that this weekend Babyworld announced that the website was to permanently close at the end of the year. And it seemed fitting that when that news broke I was actually up in Scotland staying at the home of one of my best friends who I had met on Babyworld when I was pregnant with Joseph. And although it feels very much like the end of an era, I also know that the friendships I made on there are the friendships that I will continue to cherish for the rest of my life. We had the most fun together, shared so many highs and lows, births and deaths, marriages, divorce, more than some people will ever experience in their whole lifetimes, and ultimately we were always there for eachother through the best and the worst times of our lives.

So this is for you, my Babyworld ladies, you know exactly who you are.

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21 Comments

  1. November 23, 2015 / 8:47 pm

    I can’t believe you managed to forge such strong friendships this way – it’s absolutely fantastic and long may they last! My experience of baby centre forums was in no way similar – so huge and flooded with comments that it was impossible to get to know anyone. Thankfully I have quite a lot of friends that live close by for all the baby chat / dilemmas! I#MarvMondays

    • November 23, 2015 / 8:52 pm

      I think when babyworld first started it was relatively small compared to things like mumsnet, etc. Plus in the antenatal clubs there would be around 30 of us who posted regularly and formed these close friendships. I feel very lucky to have had that experience, made some amazing friends and shared in all of their pregnancies that way! These days most of my local friends have babies but I still remain close with my babyworld girls and see them whenever possible. There’s always someone to turn to with one of my baby related dilemmas!! Thanks for reading! Xx

  2. Jane Watson
    November 23, 2015 / 9:46 pm

    I’m not sure if you were before, during or after my time, I had the great privilege of moderating pregnancy after loss forum on BW and naming and moderating DDD, we were bonkers allowing all those hormones loose, but I loved it! This is a great blog post that made me well up and smile in equal measure, thank you.
    Janus 😄

    • November 23, 2015 / 9:48 pm

      Ahh fellow LAB mod! I moderated around 2007 to 2009 ish? Maybe longer, I lose track. Babyworld in its day was a fab place to be, such a shame it went downhill!! 😢xx

      • Jane Watson
        November 23, 2015 / 10:17 pm

        I was 2001-2007 😄

        • November 23, 2015 / 10:25 pm

          Ah so you would have been moderator when I joined again after losing Joseph in 2006. 💙

  3. November 25, 2015 / 6:53 am

    This is so lovely to read, I was editor of babyworld from 1999 to 2001 and pushed hard to keep those antenatal groups so it’s good to hear how much they helped you.

    Sad it’s ending, even though I left 14 years ago!

    • November 25, 2015 / 7:40 am

      Oh wow that must have been fun!! I honestly don’t know where I would have been without it. I’ve always been lucky to have lots of good family and friends but there is something about those antenatal clubs that makes you share things you might not ordinarily share face to face!! Xx

      • November 25, 2015 / 7:45 am

        I loved it! I was full of enthusiasm, my daughter, now just turned 17 turned 1 the week I started working there and I was so engaged in it all because I’d either just gone through it or was going through it! I only left because they relocated the office to London and I didn’t want to go, but I always retained affection for it. I went part time when I left there which ultimately meant a better work life balance so it all worked out for the best.

        • November 25, 2015 / 10:26 am

          Ahh how lovely!! It was a fab website and it holds a special place in so many people’s hearts. Such a shame it is closing but it was never the same after they changed it all over and it was just impossible to navigate from a mobile phone which is what most busy mums use to log on between feeds and nappies! I’m so grateful for the support it gave me and the friendships I made. ❤️

  4. November 26, 2015 / 6:29 pm

    Lovely post, and I’m ever so sorry for your losses. I don’t use the Babyworld forums but didn’t know it was closing! I have had a similar experience in that I was once a member of You and Your Wedding when Mr Lighty and I were engaged. We too moved to closed Facebook groups and we now have a ‘marrieds’ group and a baby group. Have made some lovely friends through it, who’ve given me no end of advice. Your post reminds me very much of my ‘Social Media Mummy’ post, I’m so glad you found the friendships and support that you did 🙂 xxx

  5. November 27, 2015 / 10:21 pm

    Wow, I’ve never heard of Babyworld but it’s so lovely to hear of communities like this helping grieving parents. I’m sorry for your loss and that so many have to go through it. But how wonderful, that you met these wonderful people who you’re still in touch with. Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays! Kaye xo

    • November 27, 2015 / 10:22 pm

      Thanks for the link up! I never imagined that a web site would bring me life long friendships, it was a real life line to me back in my darkest of days. Xx

  6. November 28, 2015 / 4:17 pm

    Hi Laura, what a lovely post. Its so unique to find and make such strong and amazing friendships like these through something like Babyworld these days. Althought its the end of an era, it sounds like you have made some lovely friendships that will continue to go from strength to strength :-). Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays, always lovely to have you. Emily

    • November 28, 2015 / 4:20 pm

      Thanks for having me!! I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet some amazing, inspirational women who will genuinely be life long friends of mine. 😘xxx

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