Shortly after I found out I was pregnant, I joined a website designed to educate and accompany me through the pregnancy process. Like many of these sites, it sends me a weekly e-mail about my baby’s latest developmental milestones, as well as the ways my body is probably changing. The site also supplies women with informative articles about exercise, diet, complications, etc., and it has a “community” section in which women are grouped by birth month and given their own message board.
This site has been a wonderful resource to me for a number of different reasons. Through this site, and others like it, I have learned a lot about my body and my baby. However, the main resource that has consistently intrigued and surprised me has been my Birth Month group.
At first I tuned into the conversations (or “threads”) to see if other women were dealing with the same bodily changes and fears that I was. Many were, but what I didn’t anticipate was the candidness of the discussions. While some women struggle with the same issues as me, others voice problems that are not only far more difficult, but also stunningly personal. Each week, without fail, a different mother-to-be has described the infidelity of her boyfriend, or the decision to divorce her child’s father, or the discovery of her husband’s addiction to pornography.
Perhaps what has shocked me most about my birth month community, more than anything else, is how open the women have been. If, during this pregnancy, something catastrophic had occurred between me and Ike or in some other area of my life, my online birth group is about the last place I would think to turn. And yet, each week (sometimes each DAY) women log on and write about the most intimate details of their lives to a bunch of strangers. Strangers who all happen to be women, and all happen to be pregnant.
I am sure there is something about the anonymity that encourages this openness. If you need a place to vent without repercussions in your own social world, then the message board is a place to do it. But I also wonder if the openness and vulnerability of these message boards is evidence that women are CRAVING authentic community. Are women in such desperate need of a safe place to talk with other women that they’re willing to spill their guts and share the most personal details of their lives with a bunch of strangers?
I think so, especially because, in my experience, the anonymity isn’t necessarily the reason women open up. Take my birthing class.
For the last 8 weeks Ike and I have been attending a birthing class with about a dozen other pregnant couples. As I like to say, it gets pretty real in that class, so there is often a lot of awkwardness as we sit among our co-ed classmates. Many couples just keep their heads down and keep to themselves.
That is, until we divide up by gender. Occasionally our teacher gives us in-class activities in which the women all work together, and the men all work together. During these sessions it is remarkable how the atmosphere of the classroom shifts. Both groups talk more, there is a lot more relaxing and laughing, and many personal stories.
I can’t speak for the guy’s group, but in the women’s group there is an increase in openness. I have been amazed at how candid the women become when it’s “just us girls.” The nature of the sharing is not always negative–many of the stories are simply comical anecdotes about the craziness of pregnancy–but they are personal nonetheless. Clearly, the women in that class feel safe enough to open up and share with our group, even though none of us really knows one another at all.
These experiences from my pregnancy have all pointed to the reality that women in my community need fellowship. They need friends in whom they can safely confide when life totally falls apart. They also need friends who simply understand life’s twists and turns, whether they are hard or hilarious. And if women don’t have that community in the flesh, they will find it elsewhere.
I point this out for two reasons. First is to say that wherever you live and wherever you work, there are women around you who need a friend. As an introvert, this is a reality that I like to play down because it is hard for me to reach out to people. It is easy to make excuses (ie. “My neighbor, classmate, co-worker, fill-in-the-blank, is probably fine. She doesn’t seem like she needs a friend. She probably has LOTS of wonderful friends who support her,” etc.). But I think these online communities are evidence that many women out there don’t have the kind of love and support they need.
As we fulfill the Christian call to love our neighbors, this need among women is one worth taking very seriously.
The second reason I bring this up is to argue for the value and worth of church ministries that facilitate female fellowship. Some churches have moved away from gender specific ministries based on principle, but I think this denies a basic reality about female behavior. Even if you yourself do not love spending time with women, there are a lot of women out there who need it desperately. There is something in many women that craves togetherness, and that isn’t changing. It is the reason women’s ministry events attract women with almost little to no marketing at all. Women are looking for it.
Each week my heart goes out to many of the women in my birth month message board. Although they are generally met with encouragement by the other women in my group, many of them need a flesh-and-blood friend there to love them through their pain. I can’t be that for all of them because many of them are thousands of miles away, but YOU might be their next door neighbor. Your kids might be in school together. And perhaps one of those women does, in fact, live next door to me, but I don’t know it yet. For those reasons and many more, we need to be the hands and feet of Christ to the women around us.