Monday, March 28, 2011

How much information is TMI?

Before I went on mat leave, a friend said to me, "Don't become one of those mothers who posts a status update every time your baby poos."

"Of course not," I said, and I have honoured this promise.  But the fact is I post a lot of status updates, and most of them are about the baby.

Recently, my baby was sick with a fever and throwing up, and sitting around looking spaced out with her eyes not quite open and not quite closed.  It turns out it was just a virus, and she's fine now.  But at the time time it was scary enough that we took her down to A&E at Royal Darwin Hospital, since that is the only place you can really take a baby here for an urgent check in the middle of the night.  The staff there were lovely, but the doctor was worried because she didn't seem to have gastro or a cold, and speculated that perhaps she was incubating something more serious - that in the past these kind of symptoms without a cause were associated with the start of diseases like chickenpox or measles.  He encouraged us to get her checked again if she still had the fever the next day.

When we finished up there I posted a status on facebook about what had happened and where things were at.  The next day she was still sick and we were back to A&E.  This time we decided to get a urine sample to test for a UTI, which had to be done via catheter, and after we left the hospital I posted a status about that.

Unfortunately, my mum read my status updates and was worried enough to not only try to call my sister and I, but called my mother in law to try and get hold of us.  My mother in law rang my husband, who was out fishing, who thought my mum was panicking and was upset that I was making people panic by posting status updates about Bethany's condition on facebook.  I didn't have any missed calls on my mobile, but later I saw my mum had posted on facebook that she was concerned, so I gave her a ring.  She says she wasn't panicking, but as my husband pointed out she had been worried to the point she decided to ring my in-laws rather than leave a message and give me a few hours to phone back.

Anyway, all this hoo hah to say I ended up in an argument with my husband about why I felt the need to post Bethany's medical information on facebook at all.

The answer is that I was looking for moral support, advice, and to share what was going on with friends and family, particularly other mums.  I live thousands of kilometres away from most of my family and some of my closest friends, and facebook is one of the way we keep a sense of what's happening in each other's lives.  I am also friends with a number of mums online, and sharing our experiences via facebook is one of the ways I have mitigated the isolation of being a new mum.

I tried to explain this, but my husband just cannot understand what possible benefit I would get from sharing the information.  He thinks it is attention-seeking behaviour.

Well, I suppose on one level it is.  I obviously didn't post the status update because I wanted to be ignored.  I was hoping people would post me well-wishes and reassurance, and they did, and it made me feel a lot better.  Is there anything so wrong with that?

He asked would I post a status update if I had a catheter, and the answer is I probably wouldn't.  I would feel this information was too private.  So why, then, should I post it about Bethany?  I suppose I did not think it mattered so much, because she was a baby.  I have to change her nappy, and deal with all her bodily fluids, and I don't think she considers these things to be violations of her personal space.  I don't think it would bother me to know my parents told people I had a catheter as a baby, as long as they didn't harp on about it at dinner parties or anything.  It's not like I'd remember it happening or associate it with any sort of humiliation.

But if it's ok for babies, what age do you stop posting that sort of stuff?  I suggested age 2 or 3, because that's when children start to feel embarrassment and shame etc, and when they also start to remember key things that happen to them.  Then again, it's not like your 2 or 3 year old will know what you're posting on facebook.  Perhaps it's a gradual winding back, so the information you post becomes progressively less sensitive and personal.

I'm afraid I have more questions than answers on this one, despite the fact that I am now working 2 days a week handling privacy complaints, and providing training and policy advice on issues of privacy, which covers these exact kind of topics, although to date I have not seen any discussion of the issue of parents posting about their children.

The ever-enthusiastic Victorian Privacy Commission's latest campaign.

A while ago there was a discussion on my mother's group about posting photos of nekkid bebbies, and views were mixed.  One mum pointed out that it doesn't worry her, since her kids run around without clothes on at the beach and it is a kid thing.  I suppose the difference is that unlike that day at the beach, which fades into the mists of time, photos and other information you post online can stick around forever.  I don't really want Bethany to have people digging up those photos when she is going through her teenage years, or applying for a job interview, or if she decides to run for parliament or anything like that.  Then again, would she really care?  I can't say I'd be overly worried if someone published a photo of me in the bath from when I was two, because I was two and what does it matter?  Still, I'm not sure so (with the exception of one newborn bath photo where you can see her bum) Bethany always has at least a nappy on in anything I post online.

My husband feels I just don't get it.  In one sense he's right - I don't understand why sharing my life on facebook bothers him so much.  But in a broader sense, I do get it - I understand that it does bother him, and that it is like any behaviour that is taboo in one subculture but not taboo in another.  I surround myself by people who post about their lives online.  He doesn't.  Most of his closest friends and family think posting personal information online is weird.  Most of mine think it's normal.  Most of my friends and family think it's a bit odd that he likes to go out and shoot pigs, but most of his friends and family think it's normal.  He doesn't need to shoot pigs any more than I need to post personal information online, we just like to do these things.  And why not, given that from our perspective it's not only normal but part of socialising with our friends?  I guess it just becomes difficult when circles of friends with conflicting values overlap.

I rang my mum to talk about what had happened, because I had got a garbled message that she was upset by me posting things about Bethany on facebook.  She said: "No, that's not what I said.  I want you to post these status updates.  That's how I know what is happening you with you and my granddaughter.  It's how I feel a part of your lives.  Please don't stop posting on facebook!"

So, I don't have any answers, but I'm interested to see if anyone else does.  Do you have any rules or limitations when it comes to posting information about your baby online?


  1. I won't post photos without at least a nappy on and still try to avoid even just a nappy. I recently had to ask my mum to remove a bath photo, even though it was discrete - it went against our 'policy'. She didn't question my call and took the photo down right away. Funny considering she recently asked me the same questions you've just raised in your blog.

    I also dislike videos of my bub being posted, as to me they are more invasive than just photos but at times I wish I didn't feel like this as it would be good to share moments and milestones with my family who also live interstate.

    As for status updates, I try to avoid anything too personal but sometimes reassurance and a whinge are necessary!

  2. I know what you mean, and honestly, I think your husband's reaction comes down a lot to the differences between men and women and the way they handle different things. Women by nature are much more social I think, and we like to discuss things with our friends, especially when we have a network of people available on facebook who are all mothers themselves and may have advice and support. (On the flip side, sometimes you also get unwelcome advice to the things you post too! LOL) My husband doesn't understand why I discuss half the things I discuss, and that is in real life not just online! LOL I think Men are just wired differently! As for our status updates mostly being about our babies, I think it is only natural because at this point in time, our lives basically revolve around our babies, they are a huge part of who we are, and only a person without a child (I think) would make a comment about people writing updates about their children, because they are yet to understand how having a baby truly consumes you. I have thought about things like privacy, especially in relation to things like my own blog, but I couldn't even find my own blog when I googled it, so I am thinking not many strangers are actually viewing it as such. I do try to avoid posting fully nude photos if they obviously show genitals, but otherwise I try not to worry too much!

  3. I also have a no naked photos and no videos policy, although I would love to share videos because she is so cute I just won't. As for words though pretty much anything goes

  4. I have to agree. I have never and would never post a video, they are just too sacred to share. Video just seems to be something I'm really particular about.

    I post photos for many of the reasons others do...large majority of family interstate, sibling O/S as well as family.

    As for status updates, they can be such a great way to offload, get advice and are a way to connect when you feel alone.

  5. I never realised people drew a line btwn photo and video, based on the medium not the content. I think of them as much the same thing. Interesting!

  6. I am surprised to read that also (about the videos). I don't see a difference either. Besides, the people who are on my facebook are people I know and want to share with, not a bunch of weirdos. I mean for example, if I post a video of my baby jumping in a jolly jumper... what is the big deal? Nobody could possibly make that into something indecent no matter how you look at it, it is just a sweet innocent video shared between friends and family.

  7. I don't worry about video vs photo. I do worry about Facebook and it's ever-changing privacy rules. The majority of our photos go on Flickr, friends and family only, and the one video I've managed to post went on Youtube on their most private setting. I do put photos on facebook, but they're carefully chosen to share a particular moment

    Status updates? My facebook ones are shockingly Eamonn oriented, because what else have I had in my life for 8 months, and most of my mummy friends are on facebook. I occasionally feel bad about this, but stuff it. All of my immediate family and in-laws, and 99.9% of my extended family are on Facebook. This is how we communicate. If you don't like my status updates, don't read them is my philosophy. Thankfully DH also lives his life very much online so we pretty much see eye to eye on that one.