Photo: Jessica Scott-Reid
Expectant first-time moms are constantly told how important it is to find other mom friends for support. I never expected that my mom tribe would be perfect strangers scattered around the globe who I’d probably never actually meet.
Soon after announcing my pregnancy, congratulations were quickly followed by concerns about where I would give birth. My friends and family weren’t worried about which hospital but which country. I’ve been living a back-and-forth life between Canada and various European countries for the past 10 years due to my husband’s career as a professional hockey player and now coach. This time, the answer was Denmark. I was seven months pregnant when we left for our new home in the small Nordic city of Aalborg, where we had never been before and knew no one.
Upon arrival to the North Jutland region, I had to quickly familiarize myself with the national health care system, which takes a different approach to pre- and postnatal care, such as using midwives rather than doctors as the standard for caring for and delivering babies. I also had to immediately make a nursery in our new team-appointed flat, including stocking up on all necessary baby items by navigating Danish baby stores. If that wasn’t overwhelming enough, I also had to try to imagine how on earth we were going to do this whole parenting thing alone in a strange country.
I had no answer then, but now, a year later, I have one, with huge help from an online social-media group of hundreds of women from all over the English-speaking world who were brought together by a single commonality: Our babies were due in September 2016.
I discovered the group on a whim via a community board associated with a popular pregnancy app. A post asked if anyone wanted to join a Facebook group of women who were due around the same time. I replied with interest and was instructed to “friend” the group administrator, who would then invite me to join the private page. At that moment, dozens of strangers—from Texas and Toronto to the Netherlands and New Zealand—knew I was pregnant before my family did. They also soon learned that I had had two previous losses and was terrified it was going to happen again. It was this level of trust and confidentiality that set the stage for how our group would operate. No one knew anyone in person, so there could be no preconceived judgments or worries about gossip. We all leaned on one another instantly as if we were long-time friends.
After group rules were established, which required that differences be respected and debates be kept civil, we spent the next nine months sharing intimate details (and photos—oh the photos!) about our pregnancies. We calmed fears about spotting and cramps, took polls on preferred car seats and baby names and discussed issues like genetic testing, circumcision and epidurals with surprising regard for all sides. Some women left the group due to pregnancy loss or—as is inevitable—difference of opinion. But by the time the babies started arriving, our core crew of more than 200 women from different cultures, sexual orientations and faiths was set, and we were officially closed to new members.
My water broke a week before my due date. When labour failed to start on its own, I was induced 24 hours later. Feeling equal parts prepared and panicked, I began my 16-hour labour adventure at Sygehus Nord Hospital in downtown Aalborg with my husband by my side, my mother on FaceTime from Canada and my online supporters jumping into action on Facebook. In real time, my “September Sisters”—as we would later call ourselves—immediately began sharing their own experiences with Pitocin so that I’d know what to expect. Then, below a posted photo of me crushing my 33-year-old teddy bear through a contraction, they continued to offer luck, prayers and positive energy across time zones, throughout the day and night.
In addition to this extraordinary support, our group offers a unique and exclusive platform for crowd sourcing—much like a professional parenting panel right at our fingertips. Whether it’s seeking opinions about birthing options, trying to figure out baby’s ideal bedtimes or wondering about different feeding methods, rather than skimming through 10 years’ worth of message boards or drowning in conflicting expert articles, we just put it to the group. Answers come in quickly, from veteran moms and newbies alike. Some are educated in health care, early childhood education and psychology, some are simply obsessed with researching the latest scientific findings (that would be me), and some—most—just have helpful life experiences to share. Responses are personalized, multi-faceted and compassionate.
Since the birth of my daughter, Clover, the group has evolved to become that village all new mothers need, especially in those dizzying first months. However, my village is a virtual one, made up of mothers who are all doing this parenting thing differently yet doing it all together. And that is perhaps the very best feature of our gang: sharing across cultures, providing diverse perspectives on different parenting methods and beliefs beyond our own families and communities.
For instance, when I first moved to Denmark, I was shocked to see how parents routinely leave their babies and toddlers for naps in large prams outside homes, cafés and shops. I posted about it in the group and many other North American moms shared my reaction. But the European moms offered informative and reassuring responses, making many of us see the practice in a new way. So when Clover, along with many babies in the group, hit the dreaded four-month sleep regression, I decided to give it a shot. I put her right outside the back door (which I kept wide open, even though it’s made entirely of glass) and stared at her for the full hour. It was nerve-racking (and cold), but it worked. It really worked! After several blissfully longer and longer naps, I proudly posted a photo to the group of my baby sleeping snuggly outdoors in northern Denmark, in January. (The photo received many comments and even inspired other North Americans to give it a try. To this day, I am still having great sleep success with outdoor naps.)
Of course, a virtual village has its limitations. No one is able to physically come over and hold Clover when my husband and I are in serious need of a break. There is no one available to take me out for coffee or a cocktail when I need a reminder that there is still a whole wide world out there. But rest assured, Mom, I’m working on making those kinds of friends, too. Danes are considered to be the best English speakers of all non-English-speaking countries and are also, as I’ve found, a very gracious and friendly people. That has certainly helped.
Interacting with my September Sisters online has become an integral part of my daily life. Learning about Baby Led Weaning from Icy in Seattle, commiserating about babies who won’t sleep with Coleen from the U.K., being inspired to make time for the gym by Mallory from Virginia and learning to laugh at myself from Sally in New Brunswick have truly shaped the way I parent, more than I could have ever imagined from a group of women I’ve never actually met. While concerns from family and friends back home about having and raising a baby in a foreign country are valid, now when they ask “But do you have any mom friends over there?” I simply explain, “I have mom friends everywhere!”