Jane Yee: My big fat online coffee group
When I first found out I was pregnant, the tiny little poppy seed in my belly consumed my every thought. Unless my boss is reading this, in which case it consumed my every thought outside of work hours.
Like many expectant couples, we did our best to keep our good news under wraps until the 12-week scan. And man it was hard. We were so excited! From the day I found out I was going to be a mum I began trawling the internet for information about my teensy little baby.
During my online travels I found myself joining a forum for Australian mums whose babies were all due in the same month. I'm sure there are local sites that connect mums-to-be in the same way, but at this stage I was still clueless about online parenting communities and just boarded the first mum-train that pulled into the station. Also, I guess having once-upon-a-time been in the public eye it made sense to join a group where my name wouldn't be recognised and my exciting little secret could stay that way.
In those early days when everything was still hush-hush it was great to be able to talk so openly about my pregnancy with women who were going through the same experience. Before long someone had the bright idea to transfer our activity over to Facebook where we could operate as a secret group, so our interactions would be completely private.
Initially I played the nerdy girl in the corner who just looked on while everyone else chatted away. Every now and then I'd contribute with an embarrassing question that I'd never dare ask anyone in real life, and the responses were always helpful and never judgemental. I soon realised that no topic was off limits and no question considered to be stupid. AThe group became a fantastic support network for me throughout my pregnancy right through to today.
There are just over a hundred mums in the group - a mix of first timers and seasoned pros. Because there are so many of us, for every question that gets asked more often than not there's someone else in the same position, and always plenty of others who have helpful advice to offer. Every now and then a healthy debate will start up, just to keep us on our toes, but for the most part everyone gets on fine. In fact, some very strong friendships have been formed thanks to the group - both in person and online.
We've held baby shower and secret Santa gift exchanges, many of the ladies get together regularly in their various Australian cities, and I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of the girls and her baby while they holidayed in Auckland.
While our babies are the main focus, we talk about everything in our lives - it's basically a massive internet coffee group, and while I never thought I'd be the type to sign up to an online mums group, I'm so glad I did. I've learnt so much from all these wonderful ladies and I've come to value each of them and their little babies so much. I really hope we'll be in each other's lives, at least in the virtual sense, for many years to come.
I feel lucky to have found myself in a group with so many great women who are supportive and open-minded, because I know not everyone has had such a positive experience. So I'm interested to hear your stories - what has your experience been with online parenting communities?
Have you checked out Essential Mums' forum?