In 2006 I read a news brief in the Wall Street Journal about women chronicling their infertility experiences online. I was aghast and intrigued. I tore the item out of the newspaper and washed the newsprint from my hand.
A few months later in February 2007, I sat down in front of my computer with the news brief next to the mouse and searched online for "infertility blogs." What I found were voices that sounded just like the one I never allowed myself to speak. My first post, written under a pseudonym had me so anxiety riddled — I was telling the world my deepest, darkest secret — I almost got physically ill. In the middle of the night the fretting continued. I debated deleting it. What if anyone found out it was me? What good can come from this? But it feels so weirdly liberating. This may actually allow me a place where I can say what I can't say offline.
The blog lived on and the posts poured out of my head. Each day I grew a little braver in what I was willing to disclose about myself, dropping bread crumbs leading from my online to offline self. There was even the day I decided to bring both personas together in real life at a Blogher meetup. Since I used an avatar as my online photo it would be the first time I'd ever connected in public with fellow bloggers as anything other than a cartoon. It was a pretty big move for me. I was decloaking, however briefly, after 10 months of blogging.
I'm actually a bit shy in public and generally avoid get-togethers where I don't know a soul. Compounding matters, I felt the weight of attending an evening networking event not in a comfortable work persona but as a real live infertility blogger -- perhaps the first infertility blogger ever to go public who hadn't succeeded with fertility treatment. I tried to imagine how the conversations would go.
Me: Hi, I'm Pamela
Stranger: Hi, I'm XXX. So what do you blog about?
Me: Uh, infertility
Stranger: Huh? or Well, um, that's too bad. See ya.
I was also interested in meeting some of the avid mommy bloggers (it being a large category in the blogging world). I was curious to see how they'd respond to the infertility topic. I popped a few antacids and gave myself a pep talk. "Okay, champ, you can do this!"
The lounge where the event was held was just starting to fill up when I arrived. I spied two women at the bar, one younger and the other older than me. I plunged ahead. It went something like this:
Me: Hello, I'm Pamela
Young Woman: Hi, I'm Marie
Older Woman: Hi, I'm Wendy. Is this your first time at a BlogHer event?
Me: Yes, and you?
Older Woman, Younger Women: (Simultaneously) Yes.
Older Woman: What do you blog about?
Me: (here I go...): Infertility. What about you?
Older Woman: Menopause
Younger Woman: Excuse me, I'll let you two talk...
The irony was not lost on me. Here I was looking to engage with "fertile" bloggers and the first person I met was someone who couldn't have children for different reasons. We had a lovely chat. I explained that infertility bloggers and women blogging about menopause share one very big thing in common: plumbing that makes us insane at times.
More than 15 months later I nervously directed my mouse to the home page of the New York Times and saw not my avatar, but my own face staring back at me. My 15 minutes of fame led to some of the most vitriolic comments I could have ever imagined and then some. Nothing like tackling a taboo topic to bring out the crazies. There was no Jeff Probst managing the audience feedback -- but boy there were a few days in the aftermath when I really could have used him.
Fortunately, I survived. The work of raising and working through a bunch of issues online helped my offline self develop a very thick skin. In the end I connected with women around the world who continue today, nearly four years later, to let me know that the act of bringing my online/offline personas together helped them to discover a new sense of self.
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Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos is the author of the award-winning book Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found.