My favorite way to fall deep into the internet is through message boards. I went through a phase of hardcore Wikipedaling (noosphere, synergy, concept albums, mysterious illnesses). I spent some time reading about people who are (too?) closely connected with their pets (“furbabies”), and a “what does it all mean” period where I read everything I could about other people’s suicides. I looked at IMDB Pro. I looked at Tiny Mixtapes. Now it’s message boards, exclusively. I don’t post to any message boards (OR DO I?), but I troll in the bad-posture intense-reading position reserved for people who care about every single misspelled account of whatever topic it is I’m lurking over. Which, right now, is the intricate and colorful world of miscarriages. I’m not being flip. It is interesting and colorful, sad and weird and foreign. It’s an experience I haven’t had, and one I hope you never have, but there’s something secretive about it that opens up a world of thinky-thinks regarding what it means to be a human being.
I’m not pregnant: I write a pot column, so put that from your head for a little bit. This all started because when you get married, people start haranguing you about whether or not you plan to have children. It’s strange, very weird, no doubt. More often than not, these encounters begin when a stranger (I’m looking at you, grocery store deli counter woman), mid-small-talk, asks you if you have children. You respond that you do not, and then she leans in and somberly advises you: don’t. Wait. Please wait. Please. Please?! Where did this come from? Outer space? I guess our reproductive rights are kind of in the legal balance here, so maybe some people believe that your decision to have children is theirs to share and influence. But how insensitive to offer up your thoughts on other people’s fertility, because you know literally nothing about that person’s situation unless they are visibly pregnant, and even then you just know that they’re pregnant, not if all is well. I don’t like to censor myself when I shoot the shit — I guess I never really consider the things that go on in your adult life that you can’t talk about with strangers. I mean, there’s the obvious: parents get sick, couples fight, you have panic attacks or pick your skin, you say you have a gluten allergy but you really just hate eating with other people…everyone has secrets. But something about pregnancy, people seem to feel, is public and open for discussion. Your fetus has its own rights and its own life, from the moment it begins according to a big part of our mixed-up society, and therefore is other people’s business.
But there is so much about pregnancy (termination, miscarriages, still births, infertility) that we don’t have the lexicon to talk about in public. Partially, I think, because we’re afraid of what people would think or say, and partially because we feel guilty. Guilty like peeing in your pants in a public place: it’s not your fault, it’s your body trumping your mind or your circumstances trumping other people’s disapproval, but it feels horrible to be reminded that these things can happen. It certainly makes any kind of complication or loss much harder, the fact that you can’t respond to the woman at the deli counter with the truth. You perform a bland vanilla conversation and, assuming there are other things going on with your fallopia, go home and feel traumatized and cry. What’s the point? The point is that the message boards for women who have had traumatic experiences with pregnancy are probably the most interesting k-holes in all the land.
I don’t mean interesting like gawk-and-stare interesting. I mean that there will be things that you will probably face in your life if you ever want to have children, and these are things you have possibly never considered, until you go k-hole diving. You will read about these things in detail, and never stop being able to consider them (you were warned). A big portion of the women (and sometimes men) who post about miscarriages or still births are deeply religious (and you wonder if that’s part of it, if to them this experience was made even more traumatic by feeling as though they lost a child instead of a blastocyst), but some are just folk, pagans and atheists and shaken up. There’s an almost ritualistic chant after someone shares their account of last night in the ER: I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m so sorry for your loss. It feels almost ancient, and that makes sense, because in a lot of ways there’s something surreal and archaic about the fact that medically there’s sometimes nothing to be done. There is a really complicated shorthand/slang operation: rainbow babies are the ones you have after a miscarriage or still birth, angel babies are the ones who are (always, of course) up in heaven, AF refers to Aunt Flo, who nobody ever wants to show up. Some of the members have badges at the bottoms of their signature with little icons for each miscarriage: names, birthdays, how long they lived.
People take pictures of their stillborns. Those are difficult to look at, so I don’t, but you can see why parents would share these with the other members: there is no one else to share them with, to validate the realness of the situation. Something about graphic sadness is not cool with the general population. I remember watching The Next Food Network Star and hearing one of the judges castigate a contestant for being overly emotive: “The audience doesn’t want to feel responsible for those feelings.” And so it is. But part of the audience really does want to see it, just like part of the audience needs to know what goes on in the life of the caged chicken they just ate. Because it’s important, but unpleasant, and those two modifiers are a fascinating marriage.
Parenthood is as saturated with expectations and whimsy and twee as a used Pamper’s. We talk about how hard it is to relate to our teenage kids and how to get your toddler to stop taking a piss out the window, but reading in detail about what a miscarriage can entail is not something people do until they’re in the same shitty boat. We take away funding for Planned Parenthood without ever understanding Trisomy 18 or what it’s like to search an ultrasound for a heart or kidneys and never find them, because thinking about that experience involves tissue and blood and gore instead of a stack of plastic cubes or a mobile with sheep. The reason that fertility and pregnancy are private business is simple: we can’t even discuss the reality of the situation, though for the person experiencing it, there is no other reality. We can only talk about the idea behind a life, and just like when we shush grandpa as he grumbles about his catheter, talking about the idea only is a good reason to shut up. Maybe one day we’ll wrap our heads around the reality of it — and it’s not an easy reality to wrap our heads around. Meanwhile, I’m again pouring one out (coffee, symbolic but it’s early still) for the fact that the internet, for all its snarking, is still the best place we’ve come up with to put the feelings that we can’t store in the actual world. The value of an internet k-hole is to occupy someone else’s reality, in real time if you want, and to snap back to life in the middle of the night knowing that you are now a more understanding person than the woman at the deli counter because you read 500 pages of other peoples’ secret experiences. It can be powerful. But so can Snood. I guess it just depends on your mood.