Group Warfare.

I’ve started and erased this post 4 times so far, and I have no more witty hooks to reel you in. I wanted to be funny, say something sarcastic with a virtual toss of my hair and intimate to you all that nothing bothers me and I laugh it all off because by this time I’ve seen it all.

And make no mistake about it, I’ve seen it all. I’ve been in hundreds of mom groups on the internet. When people find out I’m the sanctimommy they add me to everything. “Can you believe these weirdos?!” Raw foods, vegan cooking, doll making, dress sewing, stay at home mom crafts, babywearing, formula feeding, antivax, provax, natural cures, Ferber mamas, AP, silky… if there’s a group for it, I’ve been there. In fact, in one of my groups someone recently posted the question “how many groups are you in?” and then the additional challenge of screenshotting your groups list, and after the 5th or 6th screenshot it occurred to me that people might be weirded out that I’m in so many groups. So I never answered the question.

I remember the very first group I joined, it was a babycenter group called Actively Trying to Get Pregnant and so of course the very first thing I did was make a post describing my vague pms symptoms and asking them if it meant I was pregnant. They handed me my ass, and for good reason. It taught me to read the group info before posting in any group,  and hey, that’s valuable information I use again and again that might not have stuck with me if those bitches hadn’t been so ruthless.

Today I got banned from a group. I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t fight anyone or put anyone on blast on the Sanctimommy facebook page; I got banned because I wanted to stay friends with everyone and be in all the groups, which is the highest form of treason in the mommy world. The admins made a post demanding that everyone in all the spinoff groups leave them, and choose a side, or be banned. I wasn’t online and didn’t see the notice, so that was that, the choice was made for me.

I wanted to write a blog post about the formulaic downfall of mom groups, because they all seem to follow a similar trajectory. Quiet and easy at first, then more busy and chatty, then everyone gets comfortable and you do a gift exchange or raise money for a sick member, and then when everyone is nice and comfortable,  things start unraveling. People start speaking freely, because we all know each other and can be “real” without censoring ourselves. And then tiny little schisms start happening. No one calls each other out, but you can bet they’re PMing about that picture of your kid in his carseat. We’re all just speaking freely, but by doing so we’re also choosing sides. Something happens when we lose that initial politeness. We stop giving people the benefit of the doubt.

It never ends the way you think it will. There’s never a big huge issue or blowup that coalesces into a mess. Someone posts something innocuous like “I don’t like these before and after weight loss posts. We’re all moms and we should be positive about our bodies.” And that’s it. That’s the opinion that is so controversial it splits the group. People take sides, create spinoff groups, there are so many PMs flying around that people forget what they talked about before this issue. Lots of people in the group have no idea what’s going on because they’re only in there every few days and aren’t avid facebookers. Those people are shuffled around from group to new group like currency desperately trying to figure out what happened and where their friends went…

You know, I remember when I was a new mom, and my son would be up for hours in the night, and I’d nurse him in the crook of my left arm and talk to other moms on message boards on my phone in my right hand. I remember just marveling at the wonder of technology. What did moms do in the middle of the night before the internet? They must have been so lonely. But I was wrong,  the internet didn’t cure our loneliness.

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I asked my friends in the Sanctimommy group, where we work on blog posts and page posts together,  what was the worst thing someone has done to you in a mom group? The answers were horrifying. Forget name calling and bad gossip, people are routinely reported to Child Protection Services as revenge for some internet transgression. Memes are made and spread calling people fat and ugly and mocking their children. The desire is not to distance ones self from the people we don’t like, but to “punish” them. For what? Disagreeing with you on the internet?

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I always think that next time, I’m going to be immune to the mom group fallout, but you know what? It hurts every time. I think about my friend from 4 or 5 groups ago whose adopted childrens’ birth mother was trying to regain custody of them. What ended up happened with that? I have a friend from babycenter that I met in a loss group who made the decision after 3 miscarriages to not attempt pregnancy any longer. What did she do after our chat group fell apart? One of my friends from a group a few years ago sent me an enormous box of maternity clothes and a bag of red jolly ranchers for my morning sickness. Did she know I was grateful even after the group fell apart and we blocked each other? I ordered bonnets for my daughter from the etsy shop she recommended two years after we stopped speaking.

You can’t just cut people and never think of them again after years of talking almost daily. But you also can’t send them a baby gift when you find out they’re pregnant again months after you stop speaking, because they’ll probably mock it and even if they don’t,  it’s probably weird to still care after all the screenshots and blocking.

How do we raise money for someone’s sick dog’s surgery one day and then decided that because they’re pro-body positive posts and you’re anti-censorship that now you have to hate each other? Is it because it gives us something to do? Something to talk about? Because it makes us feel powerful when motherhood constantly renders us powerless?

After I got banned,  I got the full story. I asked in one of the spinoff groups “what happened?” and mentioned writing a blog post about it and I immediately had a dozen messages in my inbox. People I had never spoken to before wanted to share their passionate opinions about the split and make me see that they were right. I regretted asking almost instantly. What difference does it make? An admin in one group called CPS for a wellness check on a baby in the uncensored group, and there were lots of hurt feelings about lack of transparency and violations of privacy. Was the call justified? I don’t know. When I asked the admin what happened, she and a dozen of her friends cussed me out and questioned my “loyalty” to the group. “Grow the fuck up” “I wish I could be on the sidelines” “stop asking what happened” “are you fucking stupid? Sit down and shut up”

On the one hand they ask for sensitivity and understanding,  but on the other they refuse to share even the barest details. And that’s the part that alienates the most members. Because everyone wants to be one of the “cool” commenters and know the inside scoop. Information becomes currency and those who have it get a say in what happens next.

I have to say, when I started writing the sanctimommy page, I was worried people would make fun of my kids or steal my pictures,  but now, I find myself totally paranoid every time I post anything that someone is going to try and ruin my real life. In the past, people have talked in groups about contacting my employers and sending screenshots to my real life friends, it never even occurred to me that someone would waste the time of Child Protective Services because of an internet vendetta. So thanks for giving me that new worry.

Is this behavior baffling to anyone else? When I don’t like someone online, I stop speaking to them. Maybe I vent about the perceived wrong to my other friends. But never, have I ever, stolen someone’s pictures or made tribute art or threatened their kids. This new tendency to default into “real life” is frightening to me. Can we stop it now?

I don’t know how to end this one, because I usually try to close on a high note, a little humor, a little solidarity,  but I’m not feeling like I can find anything funny about mom groups anymore. I will say, that there are always caveats to the shitty virtual world. A big one is the admin team. If a group has a good sensible admin team steering the ship they can and do weather dozens of blowups without imploding. One of my favorite groups has seen more upsets than you can imagine, (scammers, deaths, births, lies, coup attempts) and always bounces back from them because the admins limit the drama and keep everyone moving forward. Another big indication that a group will be successful is that it’s local or many of the members have met in real life. We tend to be less likely to pick fights and more likely to give people the benefit of the doubt if there’s a possibility that we’ll run into them at the grocery store. There’s something about knowing someone in the flesh that gives you insight into their personality and that creates common ground, even when you disagree online.

One of my friends created a very small group of 20 or so moms that she met online and made every single one a group admin and limited the group size. Knock on wood, they’ve lasted a year.

12829175_518602410299_8151438037445951793_oIs the benefit of talking to other moms any time day or night worth the risk of feeling genuinely hurt if it all goes south? What ways do you protect yourself and your kids from people you feel close to, but don’t know, online? Do you feel as free and open talking to your in-person friends as you do when you talk to your virtual friends?

I don’t know any of the answers, but I do want to try something radical in the comments here. I want to open the door for forgiveness and absolution. I want to start a conversation about keeping our humanity first and foremost; we aren’t just names on a screen, we’re parents, we’re people. If you’ve ever wronged anyone else in a group, this is your opportunity to come clean. You can be as vague or as specific as you like. You can ask forgiveness or simply attempt to clear up the misinformation. This is your chance to be a real friend, a real group member, and clean up so you can move on. Good luck!11535843_10206890499525614_1922599062457826269_n

That time I tried to make a thing

I won’t craft, don’t ask me.

There are very few things I am so overwhelmingly bad at that I refuse to keep trying them in hopes I’ll get better. Cooking? 11 crockpot disasters this season and I’m still going to try that sweet and sour pork Ramen thing that everyone is sharing. Dancing? I have a move my best friend Arliss affectionately calls “that embarrassing pointy thing you do when you’ve been drinking.” And I’m still doing it unapologetically. I’ve failed massively at cloth diapering, painting my bedroom, making those mason jar salads… so maybe you can understand why I draw the line at crafts and won’t subject my children to my incompetence.1340082263434_8235640

Sometimes my husband will laugh and bring up some epic fail, like the time I tried to do those homemade salt dough ornaments and they burnt to a crisp in the oven and our cat ate all the leftover dough and almost died from a potassium overdose. I bristle a little at these memories,  because to me they aren’t funny. I can’t help but feel like in some way, my inability to pin weird handprint ladybug prints reflects on my capabilities as a mother.

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I’ve often felt like there’s some nesting gene called into question when you refuse to sit down and do some torturous activities that end in tears for all involved. I know I’m not the only control freak who can’t even play playdoh without insisting the colors be kept separate.

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I feel, not just awe, but genuine amazement when other moms tell me they love doing crafts with their kids. I always rationalize it by internally insisting that they must have gotten one of those quiet contemplative kids, while I got one of the normal smashy bashy ones.2016-03-14 20.42.12-12016-03-14 20.42.12-22016-03-14 20.38.51-1

I asked some moms in my facebook group about how often they do crafts with their kids and found a little bit of solidarity.

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I started thinking about how weird it was, how moms will fixate on the one aspect of parting they do poorly and use it to lash themselves with. “I taught my 3 year old to read, but gaaaah! We don’t know how to make thumb print bug paintings! Failure!”

This might be one of those situations where if we gave up control and just acknowledged that it doesn’t have to be perfect, we’d have less of this:

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And more of this:

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While I certainly won’t be searching pinterest for ideas any time soon, I can admire my kids’ teachers and my crafty friends a lot more. It takes a village, right? So I’ll teach your kids my pointy finger dance and you can teach mine how to make tissue paper butterflies. It all evens out in the end.

For no real reason, since I wasn’t able to work them in this blog really (and I have a glass of wine calling my name in the other room) here are some hilarious crafts people shared with me, that I couldn’t resist sharing with you. If nothing else, we can have close this one with a good laugh!

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Happy crafting!

Welcome to motherhood… here’s your postpartum depression.

Long before my husband and I even thought about having a baby, I had big plans for how motherhood would go for me. I just knew that the second my little precious bundle of perfection was conceived, life would be complete and all the pieces would fall into place. I would effortlessly sail through a yoga-filled healthy pregnancy, gaining no more than a respectable 15 lbs. (which would melt off almost instantly, of course). And once my sweet baby was born, I would just instantly–poof!– morph into the most perfect version of myself. Oh, I wouldn’t be one of those moms who walked around in the same yoga pants for four days straight, bleary eyed and wandering the aisles of Target with spit up in my hair. No, that was for other moms. I would make sure my hair was always washed and pulled back into a stylishly casual ponytail and I’d waltz around my spotless, all white kitchen (in my fantasies, I have an all white kitchen reminiscent of a Clorox commercial) whipping up Pinterest-worthy snacks and vibrant kale salads for the whole family. That was going to be MY motherhood journey. And, I really believed it, bless my heart.

I don’t want to give away any surprise endings here, but it didn’t exactly go that way. After a particularly rough pregnancy that included 3 hospitalizations for preterm labor, my beautiful daughter was born at 33 weeks. She was absolutely perfect and the minute I laid eyes on her, I was in love. Despite being so early, she had a relatively short stay in the NICU with zero complications and somewhere in the back of my head, I really believed my love and commitment somehow were responsible for her astonishing  outcome. She was a week old and I had already nailed this motherhood thing! The rest was going to be a breeze too!

Oh sure, the first few weeks, I experienced periodic bouts of the “baby blues”. I’d suddenly start weeping– I thought– because I was overwhelmed by my love for this perfect little person. But, that would pass, wouldn’t it? Surely these “baby blues” weren’t going to last for more than a few weeks? I’d go to her weekly checkups and fill out the questionnaire at the pediatrician’s office confidently. “Do you feel overwhelmed?” YEAH, OVERWHELMED BY JOY! “Do you feel worried or anxious for no good reason?” NO, I MEAN, I HAVE A GOOD REASON! I JUST MADE A PERSON! ”Do you think you may be depressed?” WHO ME? NOT A CHANCE! Where’s my gold star, Doc? Did I get an A?

You know what? I really wasn’t in denial… as someone who’d grappled with bouts of depression in my teens and 20’s, I wasn’t experiencing depression in the way I had in the past. I was managing the feedings and sleeplessness well enough. I felt connected to my daughter. I was, in fact, happy. But this overwhelming anxiety and fear were always bubbling under the surface. I’d lay my child down to sleep and suddenly I’d be gripped by panic and terrible scenarios would begin to play out in my head. “What if she stops breathing while I nap and I’m asleep and don’t know it? What if I walk downstairs to grab a snack while she’s in her bassinet, and I fall down the stairs and break my neck, and I can’t reach the phone and no one finds me for 12 hours? She’ll starve to death!” The storylines that played out in my imagination were gruesome and terrifying and always centered around the fear that something out of my control would lead to her harm. And this made me panic even more. So I started to think, “What if this isn’t baby blues or PPD? What if I lose my mind and have a psychotic episode, like Andrea Yates? What if I wake up 20 years from now in an institution and realize I’ve done something horrific and didn’t even realize it? What if I am losing my mind? IS THIS REAL LIFE?”

My support system was limited. I only had my mom and my husband to talk to really, and neither of them could comprehend what I was going through, possibly because I had no idea how to talk about it. My mom was still very much grieving the loss of my dad two years earlier… how could I burden her with this? So, I’d allude to feeling “not myself” and my mom would impart her mom-like wisdom and tell me to get some fresh air, go get my hair cut, and nap when the baby napped. My husband, who was adjusting to fatherhood while working 70 hours a week, would listen dutifully but still manage to get annoyed when he’d walk in the door and I’d hand him a colicky baby so I could go in the bathroom and cry.

One of the reasons many of us have a hard time talking about these overwhelming feelings is because we are often met with blank stares and unhelpful advice that ranges from trite to downright judgmental:

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Even when we’ve experienced trauma related to the birth of a child, we are still encouraged to suck it up:

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Like so many others, I decided the best thing to do was deny, deny, deny. Surely, this was like a cold that would eventually just run its course. “Mind over matter! You can do this!”, I told myself. I refused to think that I needed treatment or medication. I felt like admitting that I was suffering would be admitting that I had been defeated. Like many, I felt that allowing myself to focus on my own mental health was indulgent and selfish when I had this tiny little person who needed me. You’re a mom now, BE HAPPY, like ALL THE OTHER MOMS.

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I returned to work 5 weeks postpartum barely able to function. As luck would have it, I worked remotely most of the time and my bosses, who I’d never actually met face-to-face, had no clue how much of a struggle my job was for me. Somehow I managed to eke out a barely satisfactory performance. Others, however haven’t been as lucky.

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It wasn’t until my daughter was 7 months old that I sought help.  After a particularly terrifying and panic-filled evening, I called my husband at work and begged him to hurry home.  If nothing else, I needed validation.  I needed to know I was ok… I needed confirmation that I was there, safe at home and that I hadn’t completely lost my mind. What I really needed was a hug.

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I called my PCP the next morning and tearfully begged them to see me that same day.  The moment my doctor walked in the room, I started crying and I begged him to write me a script for Zoloft and that day, I started working my way out of that deep dark hole I’d dug myself into.

No one ever told me what PPD was really like. I mean, I knew other moms suffered from PPD, but I didn’t know what that actually meant.  If I’d ever known that intrusive thoughts were not uncommon, maybe I would have sought help sooner.  If women knew that feeling “disconnected” from their child was a telltale sign of PPD, and not proof of being a “bad mother”, many of us might feel more comfortable seeking support.  The fact is, we don’t know how to talk about it, so we don’t talk about it… and sometimes these problems persist for weeks, months… even years. Even if we do “get better”, or seek help in the form of therapy or medication, the shame and fear linger and many– myself included– fear having subsequent pregnancies.

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I wish I could end this post with a triumphant tale of redemption and victory over PPD.  I wish I could tell you that Zoloft was a magical cure for me.  It wasn’t.  It helped me cope.  It helped me function.  It helped me remain employed.  It somewhat quieted the rush of anxious thoughts that were constantly making my daily life unlivable. And, that was my journey.  Some women find success in meditation, or yoga.  Many find success with talk therapy (or, the cheaper version, joining online Mommy Groups where they can vent somewhat anonymously with other moms).  Some have found essential oils or dietary changes to be helpful.  We all do what we have to do to to keep one foot moving in front of the other.

If you’re struggling with postpartum depression/anxiety or intrusive thoughts, please don’t suffer silently.  You are not alone.  You are not weak. You might feel like nothing will ever be ok again, but I promise you… it will.  You may never master those pesky Pinterest crafts or get your kids to eat that kale salad you can’t seem to get quite right (bbbbut… the recipe said that KIDS LOVE IT!?) and the chances you’ll ever have that sparkling all white kitchen are pretty slim… but there will come a day that you will stop and take a look at yourself,– as is, with all your perfect imperfections–and realize you’re kinda already nailing this motherhood thing… four day old yoga pants notwithstanding.

Facebook introduction, the birth of a sanctimommy

Sept 2014

Glib underlings,

This weekend my 6th profile was shut down and I have been unable to participate in the private group or answer messages. For some of you, this will be great news, met with cheers, you’ve done it! You’ve taken down Sanctimommy! Way to go you badass! But for the more than 20,000 of you who enjoy cracking wise with me, and venting about our kids, this is frustrating. And disappointing. For those people I’d like to talk about how and why I created this page and what my goal here is.

Being a new mom is disorienting. No matter how you planned to parent or what your life was like pre-baby, everything will turn out differently than you imagined. My partner and I struggled with infertility for several years, we lost 3 pregnancies in that time and I became obsessed with the idea of myself as a mother. What would I be like? Well, for starters I wouldn’t be like those lazy moms with dirty kids and messy hair. Of course I’d have one of those orgasmic natural births, right? And breastfeed exclusively. Oh, and we’d have lots of time for crafts and cloth diapering. Maybe I’d start one of those work at home mom businesses and even sell cloth diapers! And wooden rattles!

I imagined I’d have one of those fierce hilarious mom posses you see in the movies. We’d drink decaf tea at the all-organic waldorf playroom and talk about our feelings. I’d feel comfortable calling these women in the middle of the night if the baby had a fever or a weird rash and we’d collectively decide which essential oils would be most effective. If one of us got sick we’d all bring them a meal. We’d take turns babysitting each other’s kids and of course all the kids would love us and never fuss when left in our care.

This was the motherhood I spent years building in my grief.

I was very hard on moms I saw struggling in grocery stores, at parks. I judged them and their formula bottles. I would do better.

When I had my first baby everything changed in an almost comically formulaic way. I know most of you will be familiar with this because it’s why you found my page, why you liked it. Your story is probably somewhat similar. Post dates, long exhausting induction that didn’t work, milk that didn’t come in for several days because you were so goddamn tired and stressed and shell-shocked. Forget that adorable little nursing nightie you packed, just buy the fucking Depends and give up a little more of your pride. In a few weeks when you have to talk to a lactation specialist about your bloody nipples the word “pride” won’t even register anymore. Baby’s not gaining weight and cries ALL.THE.TIME and you have to supplement with formula. You call friends you used to have and they’re completely bewildered about why you’re so panicky over this and can’t you hire a babysitter and come take a night out?

Forget the mom posse. You post in your breastfeeding group and get torn a new one about supplementing. You post about your kid’s reaction to the DTAP and get blamed for poisoning him. Why don’t you just let him cry it out? Why don’t you try this expensive homeopathic? Why don’t you put a little cereal in his bottle? Why are you destroying his virgin gut?! It feels like everyone knows how to do this but you. You are failing at the life you imagined for yourself.

Maybe you go back to work (and abandon your children?!) or maybe you settle into a routine and find a few friends (lazy stay at home moms like you). Maybe you start to feel like you can do this. Or maybe you struggle. When your doctor gently mentions postpartum depression you have finally hit the bottom. Where are the mom friends who can bring over dinner and talk you through this? They’re judging you for medicating yourself when there are so many omega 3s and essential oils that can help!

Every mom has a story like yours, no matter what they say. I feel so guilty for every mom I judged when she talked about cry-it-out or snapped at her toddler in Target. I had no idea who she was or what she’d gone through that day, that week. I don’t know her kid as well as she does. Her decisions are her own and weren’t reached lightly. I know that now.

In a lot of ways I started writing Sanctimommy as penance. I was lonely and I couldn’t figure out how to forgive myself for not being the mom I thought I would be, for not having the life I thought I would have. In the beginning a lot of the statuses hit close to home for me too, but it was like therapy mocking all the things I blamed myself for! It was liberating!

Eventually I found my mom friends, women who laughed with me as much as they cried with me. Who detested the judgement and the meanness just as much as I did. Some of us had homebirths and made placenta smoothies, some of us opted for a Csection, some of us breastfed and some didn’t, some vaxed and some didn’t. And for some reason we never even talked about these things. We complained about our partners and swapped crock pot recipes like normal people and not activists. I am not an activist.

I never wanted to be an internet “celebrity” or gain a following. I have no plans to “cash in” on this endeavor. I don’t care how you raise your kids. My goal, from the very beginning, was to joke with my friends and learn to not take ourselves so seriously. When you report me or talk about how I destroyed your private group you’re assuming that I have some substantial internet power that I just don’t have. There are 15,000 in the private group (which by the way, I have very little involvement in) and 20,000 on the page. I get hundreds of submissions, some provide context, some don’t, some are funny, some aren’t. How do we decide what to put on the main page? There’s no formula; if it makes us laugh, if it strikes a nerve, if it’s something we’ve been told by the sanctimommies in our own lives, we generally want to poke fun at it.

I don’t operate under an alternate profile because I’m afraid of being “outed” or ashamed of what we do here. I use an alt for two reasons: my real personal account has gotten a facebook time out and been in danger of deactivation because hundreds of moms report me for “bullying” when they didn’t understand the page, and because from the very beginning I have gotten real threats from people. I remember the first time someone threatened to find me and circumcise me, I remember the first time someone said they wanted to “light my face on fire and stab it out with a fork”.

And maybe they’re kidding! but… maybe they’re not.

If you spend any time chatting with me here or in the private group you find out pretty quickly who I am because I’m not very interested in hiding. It’s sort of an open secret. And in spite of claims that I’m “hiding” among my “crunchy” friends in real life, everyone who knows me personally knows I write this page. I talk about it all the time. Several of my car seat tech friends and doula friends and IBCLC friends even suggest status updates for the wall. After all, no matter what parenting methodology you follow, you’re going to be the subject of some mean spirited advice dashed with a bit of haunty judgement. That’s modern motherhood.

This is a long note, thank you for bearing with me. I’m happy to answer questions in the comments, but inflammatory and offensive commentary will simply be removed. I’ll be the villain you want to blame the mom wars on, sure, but I don’t have time to field your personal dramatics.

To the hundreds of you who have been with me, who’ve scrolled through in the middle of the night to laugh so you don’t cry: Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my fierce hilarious mom posse. I don’t take your participation here for granted.