Loose Ties, Close Knit

Last night, I outed myself on Facebook. Six months into my pregnancy, I decided I had shared the big news in person with as many people as possible, and that it was starting to feel awkward not posting about it online.

When I walk down the street, it’s immediately apparent to most that I’m expecting a baby. Yet I was reluctant to share the news on social networks until I was well past the “safe to share” stage, and well past the point where I’ve told even my out-of-town clients, most of whom I communicate with by phone and email.

My reasons for waiting were several, and personal. (Everyone has their own comfort levels with sharing personal stuff online. These are just mine.)

One: I wanted my close friends and family to know that they’re special to me – that they merited a phone call (if they were out of town) or a face-to-face conversation, and a chance to react to the news in private.

Two: I have many friends who have had difficulties getting pregnant, and/or miscarriages or stillborn children. I know that when you’re struggling to get pregnant – or carry a child to term – the world can feel full to bursting with bouncing babies and pregnant women. Hearing pregnancy-related news on social networks can knock you sideways the same way a diaper commercial can. I was reluctant to contribute to the stream of “all baby, all the time” news that seems to dominate Facebook – or at least, it can feel that way pretty often, when you’re a thirtysomething woman.

Three: Some stuff just feels private, and you’ve got to respect your gut. This was one of those things.

Literally seconds after posting, I saw my first notification appear on-screen – a friend had “liked” my post. Less than a minute later, there were three more likes and several congratulatory comments – some from close friends who have known about my impending motherhood for months, and others from childhood and high school friends emerging out of the woodwork to share their joy.

The current “like” count is 81. And I am overwhelmed by the power of having 81 friends, acquaintances, and work contacts simply indicating they care the littlest bit about my family life. It is truly astonishing. I feel supported and surrounded by my community – truly.

This is the power of the social web in action. Some people reached out in the comments to offer tangible support & connection – invitations for play dates, offers to talk about balancing motherhood and work – others expressed relief, comically, that they could finally talk about it on Facebook too. There is real emotion and real connection in their words, and even in the mouse-click act of “liking.” I feel it.

I’ve seen this power in action at critical times in people’s lives. When a blogger’s parent dies, or a musician’s gear is stolen from his car; when a writer’s genius blog is picked up by a major publisher and she’s offered a book deal – people rally around them to demonstrate that they are every bit as “real” a community as exists anywhere, even if they’ve only ever known that person through their words, their Flickr photo stream, or their podcast.

We’ve known this a long time. It’s not new, and it’s not unique to the internet. As a teenager, I loved listening to old radio plays – the intimacy of the medium was totally different from watching television or reading a book. The actors’ voices lodged deep in my body, drawing me into the world they were weaving.

People want to connect with you. It’s okay if you want them to remain loose ties. Those loose ties are just what you need sometimes. Sometimes it’s enough just to hear that someone is thinking of you.