On Building A Village, Millennial-Style
I’m a millennial, technically. As a January 1982 baby, I joke that I’m basically the oldest millennial there is. Still, a millennial is a millennial, and (older) people like to assume that my generational label means I can’t remember a time before smartphones and Snapchat, that I have no idea what it’s like to not have the internet at my fingertips.
They’re exactly wrong. I remember the before and after of the internet like a knife edge through my eighth grade year. The internet came to my house and brought with it teenagers from way outside of my tiny town. It showed me that there were other people who liked what I liked and valued what I valued. A switch flipped, a modem be-bop-be-bop-buzz-zzz-zzzed, and all of a sudden, I could find and know kids like me, whether they lived in New York or New Zealand. Before: isolation. After: connection.
(Older) people talk about all the information we millennials have at our fingertips like that was the revolution. That wasn’t the revolution for me.
My revolution was people.
I found out I was pregnant a few days after my 33rd birthday, a few days after I’d quit the job I’d been at for longer than any I’d ever had. I was trading stability for a startup, and as I stared at the second line that appeared — not entirely by surprise, we’d been trying, we’d wanted this so badly, we were starting to wonder if that second line would ever appear — the thought coursing through me was “what on earth have I done?”
I couldn’t talk about it. In the abstract, I’ll say that there’s no reason to wait to talk about pregnancy — tell everyone you want to! As soon as you want to! Be free! Let people be there for you, whatever may come! But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t get my head around what this might mean for my fresh new job, my family, our future, at least not in a way that led to words I could speak.
So I went where I’ve always gone, and I found my people online.
Finding that tribe
Online trying-to-conceive and pregnancy forums are notorious for being intense and often deeply weird places, with their own vocabulary (BFN EWCM DTD POAS) and all manner of bad internet behavior. But I got lucky: I found a place with smart women who had good grammar and a sense of humor and whose brand of crazy roughly aligned with mine.
My real-life friends were wonderful, as I slowly let more and more of them in on the secret I was (literally) carrying around. The job I’d been so worried about? That was Spright, where I would go on to model maternity yoga pants and where I still happily am today. But nothing could take the place of these women who were right there at the same stage, who could fret over test results and commiserate as we outgrew all our clothes and celebrate when nausea stopped and bitch about people who wouldn’t give up seats on the train. Posting (barely) anonymously, I could write all the things I couldn’t say out loud.
For the rest of my pregnancy, and now well into my daughter’s first year, they were my safest space.
Because we’re in this together
There is something wonderful and deeply necessary — I truly believe this — about finding people to muddle through a new experience with you. It meant the world for me to have a place for my 3 AM thumb-typed ramblings after my baby was born, a place to vent without pissing off or worrying anyone in my in-person circle while I worked through all the emotions that came with resetting basically everything I knew about daily life. I loved that we were all clueless together, because it made me feel less dumb.
Still, though, there were times — there are times — when I longed to talk to someone who really knew what was going on. A few women in my group have multiple children, and I looked at them like the wise elders who could bestow upon the rest of us the greatest gift: telling us that what we were experiencing was normal. (Or, occasionally, that it wasn’t and we might want to call our doctor or find a therapist. But mostly that everything was normal.) When I’d post a “is anyone else …” or “what do you do when …” or “is it OK that …” and one of them would weigh in, I’d feel a rush of relief.
There were times when there was nothing better than navigating unknown waters with a bunch of fellow novice sailors, but sometimes I really wanted a captain.
while I was floating in a sea of poopy diapers and gummy smiles, my colleagues at Spright were watching online dynamics play out in a different sphere. Running messaging-based classes for people looking to change their health habits, they saw groups of strangers or friends-of-friends chime in to support each other — and they trained expert coaches on when to offer knowledge and reassurance. They played with the balance between the wisdom of the crowd and the wisdom of the credentialed pro. And they were discovering that one particular group of people could especially benefit from this interplay between shared experience and expert guidance: new parents.
So, yes, my personal life and my professional life have dovetailed quite nicely. I’m a new parent building an app for new parents. And one of the things that drives me is that — while I’m a little less sleep-deprived and a little more confident in my parenting abilities than I was in the earliest days — I still remember what it was like to fumble for my phone during the night’s 3rd nursing session to vent about leaky diapers or ask for recommendations for a different type of pacifier (because the one I was using sure as hell wasn’t working). I remember what it was like to want to know things — like what to do when my baby stopped taking a bottle two days before I was supposed to go back to work, or how to make bathtime less unpleasant, or if “drowsy but awake” seemed like a myth for anyone else’s kid — but also to have no idea how to ever know those things if I couldn’t get the answers on my phone. I remember all the fruitless internet searching I did then, and I know how much I still do now. I remember what it was like to be up all the time, just up, with a baby who was wide awake, trying to find something entertaining to read that would keep me awake too while we rocked and rocked (and rocked and rocked). Most of the time I still can’t remember what I ordered from Amazon in the middle of the night.
What we’re making at Spright
is an app that offers things I only wish I’d had:
- Digital workshops on parenting topics led by experts who can provide guidance on sleep or pumping or starting solid foods, where we can learn from professionals and from each other without having to get our shit together to leave the house.
- A personal guide to help parents get our questions answered — to recommend products and services, keep us off Google in the wee hours, and help us know when we need one-on-one attention (and from whom).
- Things to read — some funny, some serious, some educational, and sometimes pictures of polar bear babies because oh my god it’s 4 o’clock in the morning just show me a bear learning how to swim already.
- A whole bunch of other parents at similar stages — whether that’s parents with a particular shared interest or parents who happen to be awake and need to chat with other people who are awake, too.
The old millennial in me still sees the connections we make online as novel. The part of me that’s been working in digital media for more than a decade, though, knows that just being able to talk to people who live in a different place isn’t exactly groundbreaking. I’ve done it for well more than half of my life.
What remains special, though, is meeting the people you need to meet at precisely the moment you need to meet them.
They may be professionals with the wisdom to guide you or others like you just trying to muddle through. It’s connection plus immediacy plus context. It’s a way to build a village, gather a tribe — no matter how dispersed, no matter whether you’ll ever see each other’s faces. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first year of parenthood, it’s that I need that tribe.
I was lucky enough to find my people. Spright can help other new parents find their people, too. Join us.