— Mariah Carey took celebrating her pregnancy to a new level when she not only appeared nude on the covers of two gossip magazines — but also Tweeted a photo of her bare belly, painted with two butterflies. TMI? Maybe. Though she may be the most famous, she’s not the only mom-to-be broadcasting intimate details of her pregnancy to the world through social media.
The latest trend in maternity oversharing is happening on YouTube. Slate has dubbed the phenomenon “WombTube” — expectant moms, revealing their positive pregnancy tests in public video clips. And it doesn’t stop there. Many of the women who choose to record themselves dipping a stick their own urine and then post it for the world to see continue to vlog their pregnancy in weekly installments. From bump growth to cravings, it’s all out there.
The explanation may lie in the state of pregnancy itself. “What is really unique to pregnancy is that you’re less inhibited about your body,” says Linda Perlman Gordon, a psychotherapist in private practice in Chevy Chase, Md., and co-author of Too Close for Comfort: Questioning the New Intimacy of today’s New Mother-Daughter Relationship (Berkley Books, 2009). “You’re sharing it with another human. Strangers will come up and put your hands on your stomach, and there’s something very uninhibiting about that — when combined with our culture of oversharing, very private things go online.”
Sharing (and baring) all may even help soothe frayed nerves. “New moms are compelled to share because they are anxious,” explains Patricia O'Laughlin MFT, ATR who practices at the Center for the Psychology of Women in Los Angeles. “In my practice I've noticed the human condition of sharing to help release anxiety. People like social media because sharing can be done 24 hours a day, seven days a week — there's always a way to not feel alone.”
For Brittany, a 21-year-old mom-to-be from Oregon, sharing about her pregnancy over YouTube does just that. “It definitely calms my anxiety,” she says. “The first three months are scary if you've never been pregnant — if you are cramping or have spotting, or random questions like that — I’m the first one of my friends to get pregnant and my friends are all in their 20s so I can’t exactly ask them...[YouTube] is a huge support system and great resource.”
Like Brittany, many expectant mothers benefit psychologically from divulging details to the entire Internet-using public.
“Moms can ask the opinions of other moms and oftentimes feel as if the answers they get are more honest than those from loved ones,” says O’Laughlin. “This is because loved ones are often more protective of our feelings than strangers on the Internet, so often times the truth is cloudy or not shared at all.” Another benefit, O’Laughlin adds, is that social media is often an outlet for moms-to-be to “express thoughts and feelings that many people do not verbally share to each other.”
A Facebook group called “Dropping the baby and other scary thoughts,” is an example. “This is important,” O’Laughlin says, “because it helps validate some of the scary aspects of parenting society fails to speak about, and helps to reduce many myths and fantasies associated with being a parent.”
Even those who share a lot online still try to protect their privacy in other ways. Brittany, who wishes to withhold her last name for privacy reasons, posts under the YouTube handle brittanykay22109 and keeps her videos open to the public, but her husband is the only person who knows they exist. Neither her family nor her close friends know that ever since she was trying to conceive, Brittany has been posting videos on YouTube. After her EPT test turned positive, she started to share once a week (one video, “Early pregnancy signs and symptoms,” has over 7,800 views). Today, she’s 28 weeks along.
It wasn’t until her second trimester that she shared the news with her family. “If something were to happen and my friends and family knew during the first trimester it would have been really traumatic,” she says. “I wasn't as reluctant because on YouTube you meet people but you don't get close to them like you do with friends and family — they're YouTube friends, not real-life friends.”
While using social media to share your maternity has its benefits, there are drawbacks as well. A few words of advice from the experts:
SLOW DOWN: “We often use social media to escape our present state of mind,” says O’Laughlin. “This can thrust us into a state of anxiety as we focus on past actions or future worries. Tuning into social media and not into ourselves on a regular basis is dangerous. When talking about posts it's important to note if the social group is made of friends and family (like Facebook) or of strangers (like CafeMom).”
TALK TO YOUR PARTNER: “Sharing about your pregnancy online is a potential source of friction with a partner because you need to think of how much the partner wants to share,” says Gordon. “The same thing that goes into a marriage in terms of communication should be thought of this way. You owe it to your partner to discuss it.”
DON’T COMPETE: “I've noticed that the same competitive spirit that can exist between moms on the playground exists in cyber groups,” says O’Laughlin. “It can even be worse as moms feel more free in expressing their thoughts honestly.”
DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN THE CHATTER: “Moms struggle to do things the ‘right way’ and answers on the Internet can often be one-directional, causing someone to think that their instincts are wrong,” explains O’Laughlin. “Too many opinions are confusing and cause many women to lose faith in themselves.”