Baby Dust: The Digital Spaces and Identities of Women TTC (Trying to Conceive)

I recently returned from an academic conference where I presented a paper entitled, “Baby Dust: The Digital Spaces and Identities of Women TTC (Trying to Conceive).” In my paper, I examined pre-pregnancy message boards the websites Baby Center and Baby and Bump. I focused exclusive on posts by women who are trying to conceive without ongoing surveillance by or extended discussion with healthcare practitioners.

I’m sharing “Baby Dust: The Digital Spaces and Identities of Women TTC (Trying to Conceive)” here in its entirety. Following ProfHacker Adeline Koh’s advice in “Publishing Your Dissertation Online: What’s a New PhD to Do?,” I’m making my paper available through Scribd at the end of this post. The paper is free to read and download, but as I indicate on the cover page, the work is covered by a CC-BY-NC-ND license, which means that it can be shared, but it must be attributed to me, cannot be remixed, and cannot be sold for commercial gain.

CC-licensed photo by flickr user Selbe B

CC-licensed photo by flickr user Selbe B

In my presentation, I argued that women posting on Baby Center and Baby and Bump narrate their pre-conception journeys while also recording and tracking health data in order to improve future outcomes. As others have noted, online health communities such as those found on the two websites I examined allow participants to amass and distribute collective wisdom.  I claim, though, that TTC message board posters also create ad hoc algorithms that transform data into metrics by which users can compare health statistics. Interestingly, while TTC posters reconstitute the clinical space and medical authority, their overarching ethical appeal to “baby dust” or luck suggests, at first glance, that they reject rational, scientific approaches to pre-pregnancy planning. I believe, however, that their seeming cognitive dissonance actually reflects an awareness of the impossibility of normalizing one’s reproductive capabilities in any space—virtual or clinical.

I’m excited to make my conference paper available online. In fact, this blog posts roughly marks the one-year anniversary of my commitment to public scholarship. In September of 2012, I announced my intentions to “blog my research,” especially in relation to conference presentations. In the past, this has meant that I transformed much of my pre-writing and note-taking into blog posts.

My usual system of sharing conference preparatory work has improved my productivity, as I consider myself to be a Beethoven-style writer: I write in order to discover my argument and work out a structure for expressing it; as a result, I write slowly. In working on my “Baby Dust” presentation for the PCAS/ACAS conference, I worked more like a Mozart-style writer because I delayed writing and spent more time in the idea-generating and outlining phases; as a result, the writing and revision process came together pretty quickly. For this reason, sharing my preparatory work here on The Ambulant Scholar simply wasn’t feasible. Instead, I decided to share the paper itself.

I’m also sharing the full version of “Baby Dust” because online health communities and TTC women represent a new direction in the health humanities for me. I envision “Baby Dust” as a part of a larger project that examines lifewriting published in electronic spaces by pre-pregnant and pregnant women. I’m also interested in the support that such women receive in shaping and narrating these experiences, including self-help books (e.g., Jean Twenge’s The Impatient Women’s Guide to Getting Pregnant) or publishing platforms (e.g., Pinterest).

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Posted in Blogging My Research, Medical Humanities
3 comments on “Baby Dust: The Digital Spaces and Identities of Women TTC (Trying to Conceive)
  1. Spring says:

    Amy, this is fantastic! I’ve embarked on a multi-phase study of media and breastfeeding – the feminist literature in the area of women’s health is fascinating. Grappling with feminist theory and maternity is really challenging but so intellectually and personally rewarding. Hope you continue to blog/publish this research!

  2. mannacakepie says:

    This is really fascinating–thanks for sharing. I’m wondering if the use of “baby dust” is in part because there seems to be few data-driven sources of information about conception. Finding real data on questions like “what percentage of women have delayed ovulation after birth control”, or “how many couples get pregnant the 1st month, 2nd month of trying etc: is remarkably hard to find! Given vague information, women in online community are making their own.

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Dr. Amy Rubens
I'm an "ambulant scholar," and I move among several worlds. As a professor of English, I research and write for audiences within and outside of academia. As a teacher of writing, literature, and culture, I facilitate learning. As a blogger, I critique, question, and reflect. Learn more about this blog and the work I do as a professor and workplace writing consultant.

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