Merry vans of mothers band together on the Internet

Women meet after forming bonds through stories of pregnancy and child-rearing

Family Matters

September 01, 2002|By Karen M. Thomas | Karen M. Thomas,Knight Ridder / Tribune

A small army of minivans lines the street outside Delilah Ray's house.

Inside the Dallas home, small clusters of women hug and plaster name tags on themselves, their spouses and their small children.

It doesn't matter that they have known one another for more than three years now, having shared intimate details of their pregnancies, their children's births and even tough times, such as when a husband has been laid off from work. They still might not recognize one another.

They are virtual friends, brought together in cyberspace when each joined Parent Soup's March 2000 Mommies group on iVillage.com.

Most joined long before their babies arrived, pregnant and eager to find a sisterhood where they could share the joy of becoming mothers for the first time or adding children to their families.

Oh, and yes, there are those things that you can say only to another pregnant girlfriend -- those questions and observations about morning sickness, weird dreams and freaked-out husbands.

Those talks cemented friendships. The women began to have virtual baby showers and uplift one another with baskets stocked with goodies when someone had surgery or found herself on bed rest.

They shared their deepest secrets and thoughts, including adjusting to life with a child with Down syndrome and with a husband who seems uninterested in the baby.

The friendships began to spill over from cyberspace and have brought 15 of the 70 women to Ray's home during their second annual gathering.

Not everyone is meeting in person for the first time, though. After Ray had her son, Isaac, she decided she wanted to meet as many of the moms as she could. The mothers are scattered across the country, with a few even sprinkled in other countries.

She strapped her then 4-month-old infant and her 4-year-old daughter, Vanessa, into their car seats and spent more than a month driving 5,000 miles to meet about 25 of the 70 women in the group.

"Why did I do this? I must have been postpartum. I was crazy. I don't know," says Ray, who served as community leader of the message board.

Once the babies were born, members of the group who live near one another arranged play dates for the children.

Then last year, the women decided to hold an official gathering. Twenty-five mothers gathered in Kansas City, Mo., to meet in person.

When they returned and posted messages about how much fun the gathering was, the idea of an annual get-together stuck, and Ray offered to be the host for this year's group.

Two have come from the Seattle area, one from Detroit; there's a member from Philadelphia and another from Missouri.

Over the weekend, some will shop; others will have manicures and pedicures at the hotel. Some will work on scrapbooks, placing pictures of their toddlers on carefully crafted pages, while others brave the heat and take the kids to the zoo. On Saturday night, there's a big banquet dinner, and by Sunday, they will head home.

On this first day of the weekend, the women play catch-up. They gush over new babies and help Ray prepare food, since she is in the first trimester of her third pregnancy and not feeling well. Their March 2000 babies, now busy 2-year-olds, along with older and younger siblings, first warily eye one another and then begin to play together.

It's Ray, the women agree, who set the tone for the group and helped each of them feel welcome.

"When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was tense. I heard all these horror stories: You're going to get fat. You don't sleep.

"Nobody said, 'We are so special and blessed to be able to do this,' " she says. "So I invested a tremendous amount of time because I wanted pregnancy to be viewed as miraculous, exciting, a special God-given event. I got up at 4:30 a.m. to answer posts and send cards. I answered every single post. It was a mission for me."

The women have gathered their suggestions, advice and wisdom as well as recipes in a cookbook called March 2000-Mommies Favorite Recipes. The book, which was published in November 2001, includes posts from members over the last three years on topics ranging from sex during pregnancy to the emotional aspects of mothering.

So far, the women have sold 450 copies, enough to pay for the book's production and help support gifts and other items sent to members when they face hard times or have new babies. If the group sells more copies, members hope to make donations to the March of Dimes and other organizations with the proceeds.

On the Web

Joining in on iVillage message boards requires registering with the site at www.iVillage.com. Click on the "join free" button at the bottom of the home page.

To read the March 2000 Mommies board, visit www.parentsoup.com / boards / and look for the subhead "circles and playgroups." Click on the playgroup labeled March 2000.

To order a copy of the March 2000 Mommies' cookbook, visit pages.ivillage.com / m2kmbook / m2kmbook. The cost is $22.50.

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