by Robert Hamilton
I remember when my children were about to be born and after they were born, in those early months and years, my partner discovered the natural parenting sites. Sites like naturalparenting.com.au and kindredcommunity.com and joyousbirth.info.
These sites and in particular their forums were an incredible boon to my partner and eventually to me also. When you are faced with the desire to do things differently, and not go gently into the night of the hospital system – to be disempowered in your choice of birth and instilled with all the fears of everything that could possibly go wrong – you need friends and support. And when the majority of mothers follow what their mothers were forced and coerced into doing, then that support is not all around in the offline community – and the Internet was fantastic in uniting all these natural mothers. The online forums on these sites were a seething, intense experience of the exchange of information, opinion, didactic viewpoints and sometimes spite. They were ultimately exhausting but quite addictive, for many of the women and a few of the men, who were able to share the frenzy that impending birth can be. Talk of doulas and midwives; homebirths and water births; birthing centres and labour wards; hypno-birthing and lotus births(which is waiting for the umbilical cord to just rot off) filled cyberspace with as much panting and pushing as an actual birth.
As a man (consigned as a mere bystander by my gender) it was initially a fantastic online resource, which truth be told freed me from many conversations I was unqualified and at times unmotivated to partake in. However, having a deeply intelligent and loquacious partner, these forums took on a life of their own, and I would come home from work and be invited to comment on a particularly savage ‘dust up’, which had occurred online about breast feeding or home schooling. The 24/7 nature of the Internet took these multiple exchanges of contentious threads into unheralded community territory – “don’t these women ever sleep?” I heard myself utter at times.
The powerful in these communities were the Earth Mother sages, the well worn wombs, who had cast out multiple offspring without recourse to epidurals or pain killers of any kind – these online community members had status and a post from one of these could silence an online stoush, unless it involved two of these heavy weights on opposing sides.
These communities were starting to be recognised by the corporations making nappies and sponsorship dollars were beginning to trickle down. Ethics in this realm however were fiercely guarded, just how bloody natural you could be had cache here and you could not easily sell out for a life time’s supply of Kimbies. The passion to be completely natural when performing one of the body’s most primary natural acts, rectifying the betrayal committed upon your mother’s generation by those men in white coats in the service of the great God Science, is a powerful almost pioneering impulse.
The main difference, between the ‘virtual’ natural parenting community and the ‘real life’ one, in my experience is again to do with the anonymous or limited identity of members when online. Quite simply you will communicate with more people online because you have less to judge them with – you cannot see the type of clothes they are wearing or hear quite so clearly how they speak. When however you congregate at an organised picnic, as we did one year, your five senses immediately inform you of a lot more detail about these people and one is inclined to then limit contact within the group, to those you are more drawn to and less repelled by.
I always think of the movies about virtual worlds from the 1990’s when I think about the meaning of virtual. Virtual sex gets bandied about a bit. Virtual games and you are supposed to wear a glove and a helmet aren’t you? Well the dictionary still defines virtual as being there in essence but not in fact, form or name (www.thefreedictionary.com/virtual).
Real life to me involves the full five senses and a physicality to the experience.