Have you heard of the “mommies club”? It’s a thing. And for wannabe-moms who can’t get pregnant, it’s a very big thing.
According to a new study from the Canadian Review of Sociology, women who struggle with infertility also struggle with the painful feeling of exclusion from a group they feel they deserve access to – the mommies club.
When Krista Whitehead, a PhD researcher at Mount Royal University, began probing into the experiences of women struggling with infertility, she found that many women were heading online to express their personal struggles in finite detail. In fact, the researcher had stumbled upon a thriving online “infertility community” comprised of several dozen personal blogs with names like “Little Blog about the Big Infertility,” “Life in the Waiting Womb,” and “Maybe Baby or Maybe the Loony Bin.” From this collection, Whitehead selected 29 to analyze.
The researcher immediately realized that not only was it mostly white, middle-class, heterosexual, partnered women who were turning to the virtual world to process their exclusion from motherhood, but their blogs revealed a common sense of injustice. They had done everything “right,” but suddenly were being denied access to the next crucial life-course stage: motherhood.
Whitehead says her study suggests that that women want to be mothers as an intrinsically valuable experience for themselves, but also because they want to be recognized as mothers by other people, especially other women.
In coping with feelings of exclusion, the women used their blogs as a platform to move from victim to judge — evaluating who deserves to be a mom, and measuring the competencies of other pregnant women and mothers, who became pregnant with ease, against their own competencies. They observed other women smoking, drinking, taking drugs, having previous abortions, not exercising enough and maintaining a poor diet. Meanwhile the bloggers saw their own qualities of being prepared, responsible and intentional in their pursuit of motherhood as indications that they were worthy of being moms.
In previous research, motherhood has often been summarized as a gender ideal imposed upon women, who embrace it wholeheartedly while also falling into the normalization of this traditionally feminine practice. But Whitehead says that her study shows it’s much more than that.
What we learn from these blog posts, says Whitehead, is that for women in the online infertility community, the quest toward motherhood is impelled by the desire to have and achieve what other women around them have and achieve.