Originally posted January 21, 2013.
Today’s moms have access to a large online network of social media and blogging friendships and support. But are the online relationships fulfilling and real?
I interviewed several women who use social media extensively, including Facebook, Twitter and who are bloggers, who say their online friendships are very real and often become IRL relationships; the women wind up meeting each other at different events across the country.
Two natural human behaviors seem to underlie the explosion of the many supportive online communities: the tend and befriend response and the awesome healing power of expression using the written word.
Tend and Befriend
Research supports the idea that social support for women in the childbearing years improves mom’s mental health. And researchers Shelley Taylor, PhD, and her colleagues in California, say that females under stress will “tend and befriend,” in order to reduce stress, isolation and fear.
Taylor says the tend and befriend response is an additional natural neurohormonal reaction to stress is as primal as the ancient fight or flight response.
The tend and befriend response enacts social and bonding behaviors, thus making fight or flight less likely to occur. Tend and befriend is a protective, inward response where females with young quietly draw together and perform such tasks as care-taking of the young, communicating with other females and gathering into a tight community, as a way to manage threatening or potentially harmful situations.
The Healing Power of Expression and Blogging
The healing power of written and artistic expression has been well documented for many decades. James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D. (1990) dedicated his life to studying how journaling and writing in depth about trauma and emotion reduced people’s stress and correlated to better health.His book Opening Up chronicles his seminal research of how many types of people, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, benefit from the the healing power of expressing emotions.
Current research about blogging shows bloggers say that sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings enhances their inner feelings of belonging (social bonding and integration) and positively affects their mood. And the bloggers add, the more emotional information they reveal, the more tightly knit their online relationships are (Ko and Huo, 2009).
I interviewed a few of the well-known bloggers to get their take on their online world.
Jen Singer, author, media personality, and blogger since 2003 at mommasaid.net, says:
“I wanted to create a community of like-minded moms so that I could…find other moms who agreed that motherhood is nothing like the baby lotion commercials make it out to be…I’m not sure I think online support is better than face-to-face support. There are benefits to both. But what you can get online more easily is tailor-made communities. For instance, you can find groups of moms who have endured pre-term labor. I know, because I did. You can also find people who have survived your specific type of cancer…etc . You aren’t limited to who lives nearby, and that’s the power of the Internet.”
Jen says the power of the Internet is in the relationships she has formed:
“Some of my closest IRL friendships started online. It’s important not only to publicize your own work, but to build relationships with other bloggers, moms, cancer survivors, etc.”
Dagmar Bleasdale at Dagmar’s Home (formerly Dagmar’s momsense) has been blogging since 2009 and boasts over 30,000 unique visitors and 20,000 Twitter followers!
She says her blog is a wonderful creative outlet and that she loves to help and befriend people online.
About her online friendships, Dagmar says:
“I’ve made wonderful connections through the Internet, mostly through my blog and Twitter and I have made a few friends that I consider close friends even though we don’t see each other often. You can definitely establish a close connection with online friends, especially bloggers because they give us a glimpse into their life every time they blog.”
Dagmar loves to feel as if she has helped women online. She says:
“Once in a while I get heart-felt comments on my blog or on Twitter about how I have made a difference in a woman’s life – because I’ve blogged about something she is experiencing or needs help with. When I hear that a mom tries to breastfeed because she has read my blog or breastfeeds longer because she has felt encouraged or learned about all the health benefits for her child and herself, that is so touching and rewarding.”
Twitter’s #PPDCHAT was founded by Lauren Hale in 2009. Lauren formed this chat as a result of her experiences with perinatal mood disorders as a new mom, including antenatal depression, OCD and birth trauma. She helps lots of new moms who are suffering with mood disorders.
#PPDCHAT is such a strong support base that Lauren and her community’s work sometimes trends on Twitter.
I caught up with Charity, one of the moms who is part of the #PPDCHAT community. She says her experience with #PPDCHAT has been life-saving. She suffered so much with postpartum mental illness, she needed to be hospitalized. She was stabilized with medication by her local doctor, but needed easily accessible emotional support. And #PPDCHAT provided her with information about perinatal mental illness, taught her about triggers and coping techniques, and helped her through changes in her local healthcare.
Charity says she logs on several a times a day and the great thing about #PPDCHAT is:
“The beauty of the community is when someone is in need, another person is doing well and can step in and help. We are an army of strength and love."
Desirre Andrews, an experienced birth professional who wears many hats (Intern Midwife, CLD, CCCE, LCCE, CLE), is the founder of #doulaparty on Twitter. She’s had an online presence for over nine years, with a blog, website, facebook page and twitter chat to her name.
“…#doulaparty is a safe place for doulas by doulas to give and receive peer support, share experiences, share knowledge, be encouraged, network and grow in confidence….We have created a tribe..”
Desirre feels online relationships are very important in today’s mobile world. She says what used to happen over quilting bees now happens also online. Like Jen and Charity, Desirre treasures her online friends. She says:
“Indeed I have gained some incredible professional and personal relationships through social media. I feel blessed and privileged every day. I have had many phone conversations and in person meetings. The relationships are real.”
Ivy is a blogger, a mental health advocate and the author of One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood. Read a review here.
Other women say they blog to express deeply held emotions, more to help themselves and others. Ivy Shih Leung of Ivy’s PPD Blog says:
“At the time I was suffering from PPD, I wasn’t aware of any blogs, forums, chat groups, etc., so I wasn’t able to derive any of the benefits of an online community. Postpartum insomnia and similar phrases is one of the topics that lead to the most visitors to my site. Helping moms determine that insomnia is a common symptom of PPD and help them feel less alone and bewildered is rewarding to me. I have helped a number of moms through the comments we exchange on my blog.”
“and blogging is a great release….which is why I still do it today. Feeling part of the blogosphere is not one of the reasons why I blog. It’s to get my thoughts out and share them with others…to reach out to moms and help them feel less alone in their experiences and to raise awareness….”
For myself, as a mom, a professional mental health blogger, and survivor of postpartum depression, I’ve found a wide-reaching community of supportive women and men online. I’ve met many supportive and nice women online, and made some good friends and colleagues. I do some serious mental health blogging and also take part in playful stuff, too, like blog hops!
And then I had the honor of meeting some of them in person or on the phone. The feeling that I can always log on and find someone who is supportive to listen or to share with is strengthening and stabilizing. I also love the feeling of being able to help someone else in their life struggle, as I’ve been through depression and and came out the other side ok.
There are many Facebook, Twitter and blogging communities, such as BlogHer, BlogFrog, and Circle of Moms, where women can express themselves and feel befriended online.
So, interviews with real online women and research shows that the Internet has provided us with good connections, if used in a healthy and safe way.
Azar, B. (2000). A new stress paradigm for women. Retrieved June 4, 2012 from http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug00/stress.aspx
Collins, N.L. Dunkell-Schetter, C., Lobel, M., Scrishaw, S.M. (2009). Social support in pregnancy: Psychosocial correlates of birth outcomes and postpartum depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(6), 1243-1258.
Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of human relationships. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Ko, H. and Kuo, F. (2009). Can blogging enhance subjective well-being through self-disclosure? Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 12(1), 75-79.
Pennebaker, J.W. (1990). Opening up: The healing power of expressing emotions. New York: The Guilford Press.