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.
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).