Baby talk: Is mommy blogging a vital support system or a virtual overshare?

What she said
I find some Mommy Blogs entirely bizarre and off-putting because of the level of intimacy they initiate in a public space. In researching this story, I encountered a world where moms blissfully recalled their child’s moment of conception or write in an upbeat tone about breast milk leakage and tearing “down there.” Then there were the big, beautiful pictures of babies with rosy cheeks nestled in their bassinets, their mothers cooing to them over their mobiles.

Mommy blogs have introduced me to totally mysterious facts of parenthood—breast pads, colostrum, doulas, placenta dehydration and consumption. And, I have to admit, I was repeatedly sucked into the Mommy Blog vortex.

After hours in front of the screen, I would come up for air, shocked and blushing, desperately afraid to bear children. There were moments when I felt horribly embarrassed for the bloggers’ husbands, worried about their kids’ privacy and safety, and more often than not, I remained confused about how much of what I was reading was actually real life.

When I was the editor of Breathe Magazine, a women’s lifestyle magazine based in town, I promised myself that I wouldn’t cover parenting content. From Disney’s website Babble.com to syndicated parenting columns, I felt like mommy and baby topics were addressed ad nauseum, usually in a trite manner. I didn’t want to be a part of it. The demand for the content was hard to avoid, though, and after finding honest and funny mommy and daddy bloggers to write for the magazine’s website, I decided that parenting blogs were O.K. as long as the writers were honest.

In Janice D’Arcy’s Washington Post On Parenting column, “Mommy Blogs: What are they, and how much do they matter?”, she posed a question about the term Mommy Blogger: “Is it endearing or demeaning? Is it patronizing or cute? Should I get my back up or just relax? How do I respond when I’m called a Mommy Blogger?”

I asked Morrill a similar question recently over cups of coffee at Starbucks, and she shook her head. “I don’t want to rail against the term Mommy Blogger, but that term is kind of derisive, and it has a patronizing tone to it like, ‘Oh, you are writing about your little cupcakes that you are making.’ There isn’t anything wrong with cupcakes,” Morrill said.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s an oversimplification of what is happening in the lives of these bloggers,” she continued. “What it means to be a mother—because it’s so important. How well we care for our children and ourselves affects not only families, but how society functions as a whole. It’s an indisputable fact. ‘Mommy Blogger’ sounds derisive. It minimizes what it is to be a mother and makes it sounds quaint.”

When Morrill talks about blogging, she gets at the basic tension of being a mother: As a woman, it can be the most important thing you do, yet no one is there to appreciate how difficult it can be.

“Blogging at its essence is a really wonderful, immediate way for people to express creativity and process what they are going through. If you are a blogger, that may mean putting up your photos and writing about the muffins you made, or the dinner you made. Whatever it is, it’s helping that person and giving her a sense of accomplishment, a sense of connectivity,” Morrill said. “That person is expressing herself and that is a success. There are just as many readers out there as writers and so different types of blogs are going to resonate with different types of people. Hopefully they find one another.”

Taylor Harris’s blog sweetmilks.com led to an award-winning column in McSweeney’s, which details the challenges of raising children in a dorm room at UVA, where her husband is an assistant professor at the Curry School of Education. Photo: John Robinson

Harris—who has been published in the Washington Post, NPR, CNN, Huffington Post, and C-VILLE, in addition to having a regular column with McSweeney’s that was a 2012 Grand Prize Column Contest Winner—started her blog when her firstborn was only 3 months old. Off to the side of her blog roll it says: “Before the advent of Mom Blogging, there was crocheting. And a little bit of needlepoint. Today, a new mom begins blogging about her baby as soon as his head crowns. Moms everywhere are registering domain names before their epidurals wear off. Well, you can count me in.”

Harris and her husband are raising their two kids in a dorm on Grounds where her husband is an assistant professor at the Curry School of Education. She writes about being a new mom, moving back to Charlottesville (she and her husband were UVA students), and usually weaves in themes of race since she and her husband are African American.

A recent post: “The other day, a psychologist on NPR said that when a child is going through a ‘no’ period, the parent should just reflect the child’s feelings. The parent should say to little Johnny, ‘Oh, I see that you really didn’t want to do that.’

“SPOILER ALERT: Black people don’t talk to their kids like that.”

“Anyone can start a blog,” Harris said. “I’m another Mom Blogger. I think it’s worth telling people.”

Harris’ forward nature is part of her blogging philosophy. She is frank and writes in a self-deprecating tone. Her goal with the blog is to write her stories as she sees life, rather than writing about the happy, bright side of motherhood. You’ll find hysterical accounts of her dog chewing apart her breast pump, awkward dining room encounters with UVA students, and her attempts at losing baby weight, vying to squeeze back into her skinny jeans.

She is aware of how Mommy Bloggers are perceived and works to make sure she isn’t falling into the stereotype of over-sharing information, showcasing a perfect lifestyle and coming off as presumptuous or, even worse, pretentious.

“My pet peeve is people who blog and post about their kids and it’s like, ‘Isn’t she amazing?’ I make my posts self-deprecating. ‘You were 2 and had some tantrums,’ I’ll tell my daughter if she asks, ‘Why did you post this about me?’ in the future,” Harris said. “You make those decisions in the way you raise your kids. It is not like ‘John and Kate Plus 8.’ We are definitely into pulling back. And Paul [her husband] usually reads my stuff. He usually reads it and if something raises cautionary flags, he tells me.”

Harris also doesn’t write about her kids’ milestones, which is another huge topic Mommy Bloggers cover compulsively—first poop, first crawl, first steps, first “da da,” etc. “I don’t like gloating about what they are able to do. I like to write about things that aren’t as quantifiable, cool things that they did,” she said.

In a Web genre characterized by over-sharing, Harris is a careful editor who wants to craft a message and a record that has intrinsic meaning for her own family first and foremost. When I asked her if living publicly through blogging ever felt invasive and if people’s judgment and criticism ever worries her, she was candid.

“I’m getting more aware of that. Honestly, I was probably really naïve.”

She posts pictures of her family that are small, so you can get an idea of what they look like, but no details. She won’t post any pictures of kids in diapers or nude.

“It’s not as innocent as it once was,” she said.

Blog star
Kath Younger is in a different category. Her online following has made her both a celebrity and a target. The secret to her success is an exhaustive record of day-by-day activity that offers a rosy version of the good life, complete with teachable moments and unexpected (but predictable) challenges.

Younger has been blogging about what she eats and taking pictures of her food every day since 2007 for her food blog, katheats.com. Her foray into mommy blogging began with her pregnancy. On both sites, Younger invites her readers into the life of her family and provides a level of detail that borders on banality, all punctuated by exclamation points.

“M has really started to use his hands. He reaches for toys and my favorite—my face! He’ll study it with his little fingers (it’s nicer if they are not coated in saliva!) He also seems to recognize my voice—he has turned his head when someone else is holding him if I start talking. I think I need to start using his name more so he can learn that,” she wrote recently.

To some of her readers, the invitation is well received and they come back daily to check in on what she has been up to.

From Jen Curran of follow-my-bliss.com: “The moment I happened upon Kath’s site, I was hooked. Her blog is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a health-conscious woman who strives to eat natural, organic, ‘real’ food, and who enjoys exercise, nutrition, cooking and married life with a partner who’s very talented in the kitchen himself. It’s also inspiring to see a fit woman who occasionally allows herself pizza, beer, wine, sweet treats and plenty of other mindful, wisely chosen indulgences along the way.”

To other readers, Younger’s blog voice is seen as pretentious, even surreal, and her food blog, katheats.com, has even inspired a standalone parody website, smugnom.com, where host bloggers respond to each of her posts with an equally obsessive attention to detail.

From smugnom.com: “Kathy pretended to be all kinds of hostessy and cooked French toast for everyone at her parents’ house. Except what she actually did was take leftover free fakery bread she brought up from Cville and made some other teeny tiny portions of standard breakfast fare and then smeared nut butter on it all. Which would be fine if she didn’t call it French toast. The country of France and the International Toast Council called to complain.”

According to Younger, she started baby kerf.com to keep her food and mommy content completely separate. Younger declined an invitation to be interviewed for this story, citing a desire to preserve her family’s privacy, but she did respond to some of my questions in an e-mail.

“I wanted BERF to be a fun journal of my pregnancy. I love being able to look back at the belly shots and my thoughts during each state. And now that Mazen [her son] is here, I hope to be able to do the same with each of his milestones,” Younger wrote.

Women like Younger, who have hugely popular lifestyle blogs incur many forms of judgment, often experiencing personal attacks in their blog’s comment sections or sent to their e-mail inboxes. The rise of mediated public forums like getoffmyinternets.com (GOMI) have raised the stakes dramatically, amplifying critique into a performance art of its own.

According to the website, “GOMI Network participants are educated women ages 18-44 who enjoy intelligent snark about the blogs and bloggers of the day. Over 13,000 registered users across 4 sites interact in the comments and in the GOMI Forums, creating a fun community where people are free to engage in honest discussion about a wide range of topics.”

GOMI’s Mommy Blogger forums range in sub-topic from criticism of Mormon Mom Bloggers to Aussie Mum Bloggers, even one that eventually led to the creation of smugnom.com.

GOMI’s “advertise” page includes reviews and endorsements from mainstream publications like Forbes and Cosmopolitan, which wrote: “Get Off My Internets…is as much a critique of narcissism, bad self-Photoshop and blatant grabs for free products as it is of dubious fashion choices and (supposedly) dimpled thighs.”

Noted fashion blogger Paris Rouzatis summed up the site’s appeal in a sentence, “…it’s every blogger’s worst nightmare, but it’s also hilarious.”

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