Meet the May Moms Cyberspace support transcends distance
Patrina Pink, Gleaner Writer
YEARS BEFORE Facebook, when tweeting was solely a bird's domain, the mailing list reigned supreme. In 1996, one such list circulated on the Web, opening a forum for pregnant women due in May the following year. It would prove to be an active community where they would share ideas on issues as diverse as lactation to keeping malicious mothers-in-law at bay.
Yet, the 'May Moms' couldn't fathom that the bonds forged in cyberspace - a kind of Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants friendship - would withstand more than a decade of globetrotting, depression, divorce and spousal suicide.
Each day, Gillian Haughton, a communications specialist at the Ministry of National Security, checks her inbox for emails from the May Moms. She has been with the group throughout the 14 years and has seen and discussed it all. This mother of one is grateful for the tips they provided, primarily after the birth of her son Nicholas.
It was a difficult pregnancy for Haughton, as she had miscarried twice before, a traumatic experience for herself and her husband, Norman. Haughton admits that she was apprehensive about childcare.
"I didn't have a sister or anything like that I could turn to, so the 'May Moms' had to be that for me."
Interestingly enough, the group consisted of quite a few childcare experts, having at one time a nurse, lactation specialist, midwife and doctor on the list, and all pregnant.
never an outsider
The 45-year-old is the only Jamaican in the group, as well as the only May Mom of African descent. She says that though the group is otherwise composed of whites, she has never had any reason to feel like an outsider.
Currently, there are mothers residing in as culturally contrasting places as Israel and Kenya. The moms have also embraced one of their members who, after heterosexual relations, is now engaged in a same-sex marriage.
Haughton says religious and cultural differences haven't spurred any major rifts, and that most of the disagreements have been among moms living in the North American region. These email confrontations are referred to by group members as flame wars and are known to get saucy.
Yet, often enough, husbands and in-laws are the subject of angry, bitter messages.
"Whenever a mom sends a heated message, we respond and give her some advice. It's also good for the mom to read what others think and gain some perspective. As she reads the responses, she sort of cools down."
But what of the role of husbands? Haughton admits that there are times when the husband of a May Mom is a bit marginalised; she says that mothers often go to the group to make a decision and husbands sometimes disagree. The husbands of May Moms aren't called by their first names and are referred to as a 'DH', an abbreviation for 'Dear Husband'. Yet, for the most part, the moms have drawn the men into the sisterhood and quite a few of them have been present at May Mom reunions as far back as 1997.
In 2006, the group had its 10th anniversary in Orlando, and only this July had another reunion in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Haughton made the journey in July and said the children behaved like siblings separated at birth.
"Quite a few of them have the same birthdays. They became instantly close; my son actually cried when it was time to go home," she said.
The group has been the bedrock for members as they navigate their lives. "We've had a mom whose husband killed himself and that was a pretty tough period for her, as well as the group," said Haughton.
Computer consultant Marie Goldenberg is a very active member of May Moms. The American, who resides in Pennsylvania, says the group has offered priceless support over the years. Goldenberg, 51, also had a challenging pregnancy, and while pregnant with her second child, Sonia, developed severe complications. During the latter stages of her pregnancy, she was bedridden and found comfort and support in being able to chat with women in the same state. She says the group has taught her to shut up and listen.
"This group has taught me the valuing of not arguing sometimes, it's an education I think women need to link up ... . I know my life is better because of this list."
Goldenberg's daughter has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition that results in hyperactivity and the inability to focus for extended periods. Goldenberg also has an older son who is autistic.
"What I learnt most from this group is dealing with children's behavioural challenges, it helps to know that you're not alone."
Melody Stallings-Mann, another May Mom, praises the group for helping her navigate her way "through the world of work while, at the same time, trying to be a devoted parent".
May Mom, Tamara Solanti, is now residing in Kenya. She says she will continue to turn to the group as life with teenagers becomes more challenging.
"I look forward to see what these children will become as adults, and sharing the experiences of grandparenting with my friends," says Solanti.
Haughton is also looking forward to the years ahead, as technology continues to ease the strain of communication, she is positive that the group will strive.
"I see us chatting; emailing 10 years from now. There is no end to this thing," says Haughton.
Top: May Moms pose for a campsite picture at their July 2010 reunion in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. From left are Betsy Gartrell Bailey, Gillian Haughton, Betsy Blagdon, Dawn Hall, Kathy Benson, Judy Morgan Loomis, Dana Desonie; Danielle Edwards; and Marie Wallace Goldenberg.