I refer to my son Matthew as a "gift from the universe," which is a cheeky way of saying, "We didn't use a condom and I can't count." According to my swift calculations in that pivotal moment following an "is this a safe time?" query from my husband, there would have needed to be six weeks in the month of January, 2005.
17 days later, having developed a superhuman ability to smell EVERYTHING, I frantically typed "pregnancy symptoms" and "how to conceive" into Google again and again and again - thankful for yet cursing this new and wondrous way to retrieve information. According to the 14,5078 sites I visited I was most likely pregnant and should probably go pee on stick.
I peed on two - not believing the first and dancing giddily when the second one showed that gorgeous, beautiful, terrifying "+" sign. The journey to motherhood had begun.
Along the way, I spent countless hours on the internet, in that obsessive way pregnant women do. One day, I stumbled across a pregnancy message board and was both entranced and mystified by this online community of women embarking on the same journey - some for the first time, others for the third or fourth. Here, I was thrilled to discover a place where any and every question about pregnancy and labour was answered by women who KNEW and could commiserate. Nothing was taboo or off limits. No one tired of yet another soon-to-be Mama's labour jitters even as the bottle versus breast debate raged on for pages. I found a page dedicated to October 2005 Mums and was delighted to have women I had never met join me in complaining ("I can no longer see my feet!" or "Sex is awkward and I'm afraid I'll squish him!") and rejoicing ("I heard my baby's heartbeat!" and "My boobs are fantastically huge!") about our changing bodies, changing lives. Slowly but steadily, as my belly blossomed with life, so too did my online friendships.
The saying, "it takes a village to raise a child," became a reality for me in September of that year, when fire-haired Matthew was born. My parents, in-laws, friends were collectively smitten and joyful - devoted to raising Matthew in true "village" style. Only my village included my now-indispensable internet friends. As the October babies were born and we were tossed headlong into love and motherhood, these women became my supporters, my allies, my guiding lights and in many ways, my second home. A group of us formed our own private message board, where we were free to share all of who we were becoming - not just as mothers, but as wives and daughters, too.
Today, we call our little corner of the internet "Camp!" and it remains my solace, my harbour, my sounding board. Part confessional, part journal and always a place of comfort, Camp is now woven into the very fabric of my being - these days, I am as much Belly as I am Mummy, or Liz. Perhaps even more so.
We are a strange collection of people from all walks of life and even different countries, bonded and bound by the magic of motherhood. Camp Mamas (and one incredible Dad!) have borne witness to my own remarkable journey from "all about me" Liz to proud Mama of Reds. Camp knew I was pregnant with my second son, Luke, before anyone else, including my husband. They are almost as in love with my red-headed leprechauns as I am and never fail to make me laugh, think, share. We cheer and cry with every positive pregnancy test, birth and potty training victory. We bicker and argue and yes, we've lost a few campers here and there, but we are, like the children that brought us together, always evolving and growing and basking in constant love.
During our years together, campers have virtually held and hugged each other through the agony of trying to conceive, miscarriages and the staggering loss of Grace, felled by SIDS in 2006. Marriages have faltered, cracked, ended. Some of us lost parents and siblings. Jobs. Friends in "real life." As parents, most of us have lost our minds.
Campers prayed for my family when my beloved Mum fell ill, when my husband lost his job and my own marriage came perilously close to falling apart. They cried and raged with me when my only brother died this year, bolstered me, their Belly, with compassion and love - all via the internet.
The lines between real and virtual life have blurred significantly in the years since my initial foray into message boards and the wonder of the internet. Later this summer, I will journey to Iowa to spend five days with a beloved camper who has become like a sister to me, and whose sons I've come to love and watch grow entirely through my computer. Campers from all over the States are travelling to meet - my very own virtual village, come to vivid life.