Author’s note: I wrote this piece in the fall of 2011, and it was originally published for American Thanksgiving of that year. I’ve just updated a few numbers, and I’m grateful to Holly for republishing it now.
In the fall, our thoughts turn to gratitude. It’s harvest time in the temperate and sub-tropical zones, and the fear of starvation if it fails is deeply embedded in our cultural psyche. It is a time to count our blessings and articulate those things for which we are most truly grateful. Everyone has their own list, of course, but I want to tell you about an extraordinary group of people who are very close to the top of mine.
In June 1995, I became pregnant with my first child. I was 33 years old and had been living in Winnipeg with my husband for about a year. I was far away from family and friends and had not yet developed a support network in my new home. Facebook did not yet exist, but I had been keeping in touch with my distant people using ancient Internet modalities such as Usenet and mailing lists. I joined a few pregnancy newsgroups, and then I heard of due-date lists – a set of mailing lists for people who were due in each month of any year. Google was still in the future, but Alta Vista did the trick and found me a due-date mailing list for March 1996, which I promptly joined. I had no idea that this minor waste of my employer’s time would be one of the most significant acts of my life, and lead to some of the deepest gratitude I have ever known.
The emails started coming in. It seemed like a mildly interesting group of people – several couples expecting twins, either naturally or as the result of exhausting and expensive fertility treatments. Most of the members were Americans, but there was a smattering of people from around the world – Canada, Iceland, Israel, Australia, Scotland, England and Belgium. The demographic was fairly heavily skewed towards academics and computer geeks. The youngest moms were 23, the oldest 45. We traded morning sickness remedies, worried about prenatal tests, argued about natural birth versus epidurals. It seemed just like any other special-interest Internet group, and we did not expect it to last more than a few months after the babies were born. After all, what would we have in common then?
The first babies, the twins, started coming in January. Being so premature, they spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and we all worried together. Suddenly, the letters on the screen represented real people, with real pain that we could feel. Not all the preemies survived, and not all parents stayed with the list. Many people dropped out of sight in the newborn haze. Some returned later; quite a few did not. As more and more babies came into the world, we scanned our email eagerly for the latest news. Some of us breastfed, some could not, some chose not to. The Mommy Wars raged – breast versus bottle, daycare versus stay-at-home, attachment parenting versus cry-it-out. A few tried to dictate the course of the list, necessitating some harsh decisions on the part of the list owner.
It should have been enough to tear us apart, but a funny thing happened. We stuck. March96 is still going strong, over 20 years after its inception. We have experienced all the vicissitudes of life together – tragically, one young father died shortly after his daughter was born. Divorces, remarriages, births of younger siblings, the teenage years of older siblings, the care and eventual loss of aging grandparents – we have been through all of it together.
When my second son was born with a major birth defect, the love began to arrive in the mail – gift certificates appeared out of the ether, with cards signed by people I had never met. That love helped me through those dreadful weeks in NICU, the operations, the fear and worry until we knew that he was going to be fine. Several of our members have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and we have been there through their treatments. We have our share of disagreements, but we have learned how to deal
with them – on the religious front, our spectrum spans Evangelical Christian to Roman Catholic, Reform to Orthodox Jewish, Muslim and every kind of unbeliever. Our political range is similar. We have learned that some subjects are best not discussed on the list, just as in any family.
The love and friendship of this group is incredibly deep, especially since some of us have still not met face-to-face. We do try to have periodic get-togethers, but not everyone can get to them, especially in recent years with the troubled world economy. Our current members range from Iceland to Australia, from Saudi Arabia through Belgium and Scotland to the Pacific Coast and Hawaii, from Canada down through the Midwest to Florida and the very tip of Texas. While most of the remaining members are women, we do have some courageous dads who have stuck with us from pregnancy to impending menopause.
One of the many beautiful things to have come out of this group is the independent deep connection that has grown among the children, now 19 years old. We set up a mailing list for them a few years ago, and they used it when they were younger. Now, true to their status as Millennials, their communication occurs via texting, Facebook and Skype. As we have all become sisters and brothers, they see themselves as cousins, and they know that they have family everywhere. I could send my child to a family in Houston or Brisbane that I have never met and know with complete confidence that he will be loved.
For that, as much as anything else, I am truly grateful. May we be blessed to love each other for many more years.
Photo Credit: Betsy Bailey