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.