Freelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, blogs about documentaries and the Web in her column, Outside the Frame, published every other Wednesday.
I should say right off the bat that I don’t have kids. So what am I doing at Momversation, a video blog about the experiences of motherhood? Well, I’m an avid reader of Dooce, Heather Armstrong’s popular blog, and she’s one of Momversation’s contributors. She recently linked to an episode about handling political disagreements with loved ones — a relevant topic regardless of your parenting status — and I decided to check it out. I was intrigued by some of the other episode titles, like “Sex After Baby” and “Childbirth Choices,” and was surprised to find myself sucked in.
Maybe on some level, I was looking for insight into what almost every one of my friends is going through. Yes: one by one I’ve seen them marching off into mommyhood, and in some cases, I’m still waiting for them to return. In other cases — thank God — mommyhood turned out to be a place where non-moms like myself are welcome.
But for those friends who’ve disappeared… Well, I thought that this website, and these mini-documentaries of their lives — might help me understand what they’re going through and what it feels like to be in their shoes.
Watching Rebecca Woolf talk to me (she sits so close to the camera, it feels like that’s what she’s doing) about how motherhood changed her sexuality, or Daphne Brogdon talk about how judgmental people are of women who have C-sections, I did feel a connection to motherhood I hadn’t felt before. Watching these women talk to each other, and to me, I couldn’t help but relate with them — because first and foremost, their struggles seemed like the struggles of women, not of a special breed of human beings called “moms.”
At times, I wished they would let their guard down more; try less to be funny, or not always tie things up with a neat, “and the moral of the story is…” bow. That’s a stylistic choice, of course, but it made me think about how the material would be different if someone else was documenting them, rather than they documenting themselves. Instinctively, it seems like the project would lose some of its intimacy, but then, maybe not — maybe as individuals, we’re guarded in ways that only someone else’s camera can see through.
I was also disappointed that the bloggers don’t seem to participate in the Momversation forums. There are some very thoughtful exchanges tied to each episode, with users sharing personal stories and reactions to the bloggers’ commentaries. If you’re telling your story online, as these bloggers are — and especially if you’re doing it on a site with a comments feature, it reads as aloof not to engage with the audience. It says to me, “You should be interested in my story, but I’m not interested in yours.” I’m not suggesting the bloggers really feel this way, but it’s what their lack of participation communicates to this user.
Which, actually, is how I feel about some of my mom friends — like I should be interested in what they’re going through, but not vice versa. As much as I revel in seeing my friends discover this new part of themselves and as much as I enjoy — and even, in some cases, love — their kids, I miss the days when our friendship was more of a two-way street. I miss their support, and their interest in things other than Baby.
Everyone’s story is important — this is one of my most deeply held beliefs. Moms, non-moms, world leaders and the rest of us: our stories all matter. It’s great that the Web gives us space to talk, but what’s really powerful is when we stop, listen and respond. Otherwise, we’re just following the same old broadcast model on a brand-new medium — one that offers the potential for so much more.