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Are Infertility Blogs about Bearing Witness or Entertainment?

Clarification at the Bottom

Josh and I started listening to This American Life’s podcast, Serial.  We place my phone on the bed between our two pillows and lie on our sides, listening to a disembodied voice tell us about a murder of Hae Min Lee that took place in Baltimore in 1999.  While the narrator is talking, my mind is simultaneously processing the facts and imagining details from my own life.  Could I tell you what I was doing on a specific day last month?  Whom I saw?  Whom I spoke to?  What I ate?  Did Adnan Syed really kill his ex-girlfriend, or is there a man in my state serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit?  Will the answer be apparent by the end of the final installment?  The story is gripping; I keep checking the app to see if the next installment is in because I don’t know which day it will normally be released.

Gripping.  That word.  Isn’t it one we usually associate with entertainment value?

It only took a few minutes into the first segment for an uncomfortable question to bubble up in my brain: was I bearing witness or was I being entertained?

If I was bearing witness, I was participating in something important.  I was listening to a story that honoured the end of Hae Min’s life and tried to bring about justice.  If I was being entertained, I was the lowest form of human being; someone who derives pleasure by passing the time gawking at someone else’s misfortune.

Two segments in and I’m still not sure which side I fall on this line.

Entertainment or pleasure are perhaps the wrong words.  What do we call rubbernecking?  Unless we’re slowing down with the intention of helping, looking at the accident as we pass merely to look at the accident feels like emotional trespassing.  The subjects never asked to be watched.  And even if the case of a blogger placing their story online, they didn’t do so for anyone else to gawk at.  They wrote out their story to take it off their heart or inform their family (or long-time readers).  And yet people come in droves when there is a loss, when there is a mishap, when the drama is high.

There is also the greyer truth that many infertility bloggers state: there is a readership when they’re going through treatments or processing a loss.  But the moment they get pregnant, all those readers disappear.

[I would argue that it is just as common for infertility bloggers to stop blogging once they get pregnant, which may be because they’ve gotten busy but could also be seen as using their readership to get through a moment of life and then disappearing as soon as they’ve gotten what they needed.  That’s neither here nor there.  I only point it out because there is more than one side to that rise and fall in readership situation.  And there are millions… well, at least, dozens… of reasons why people stop reading or stop writing.]

It begs the question: when we read an infertility blog, are we doing so to bear witness to someone else’s experience, or are we reading for rubbernecking-like entertainment? 

It points more towards rubbernecking-like entertainment if the readership dries up once the dramatic moments of infertility have passed.  BUT it’s also possible that the readership dries up because our role of bearing witness is over.  What are we bearing witness to after the moment has passed?

I mean, beyond regular, everyday life.

There are the people we read because we love their blog.  We stick with their story simply because we like the writer, not because of any detail in their life.  And then there are the people that we click over to read because someone has posted a link to post highlighting a horrible moment in their life.  On any given day, we encounter both situations.

Unless we’re reading a blog to offer support or learn about life from someone else’s point of view, looking at a post about someone else’s tragedy is akin to rubbernecking.  I try not (though how successful am I?) to click over to look at a post unless I’m doing so for one of those two reasons because Allison’s situation with Zoë has always been in the back of my mind.  So many people clicked over on the day her daughter died, but how many of those people stuck around to help her through the emotional fallout of the loss?

The point is that I don’t think we can paint all infertility blog reading with one brush: I think sometimes we read because we’re bearing witness and sometimes we read because we’re doing a bit of rubbernecking.  But I do think it’s important to ask ourselves which one we’re doing.

I still don’t know which one I’m doing by listening to details of a murder on Serial, though I know I grow uncomfortable when I see the show described as compelling or addictive or riveting, words I associate with entertainment value.


I just wanted to add that I think there are just as many reasons for reading as there are for not reading.  There are the people I read because I’ve read them for years and years, and I am invested in their life.  There are the new people I start reading because I find them and their voice compelling.  They make me think or laugh or feel something, and therefore, I add them to my feed reader.  But we also know there are people out there who “hate read,” specifically reading blogs of people who annoy them. (I’m going to admit, I don’t really get this.  It’s hard enough keeping up with the people who make me happy.) And I think there are definitely rubbernecker readers.

Listening to Serial has made me wonder whether I’m stretching my mind by listening to the facts the podcaster was able to undig.  Or am I bearing witness, honouring Hae’s life?  Or am I being entertained?  Because I know I am interested in this story.  I am waiting for the next segment to be released.  And doesn’t it fall into the realm of entertainment if I’m treating it like that?  Is listening for Hae, or is listening… for me?


1 Nicoleandmaggie { 10.08.14 at 7:57 am }

I always thought infertility blogs and forums were for a sense oF community, support,and information. I couldn’t have gotten through infertility, miscarriage, an pregnancy after a loss without the forum I was on. I’m no longer part of that community, and I don’t read infertility blogs (blogs of people who have been infertile but are no longer ttc, yes, and if I’d read blogs back then I would probably follow the legacy ones because I cared about the people, but as my forum cohort got children, we all dropped off. PCOS has a pretty high fertility rate with treatment, especially for 20 somethings.)

2 Karen (River Run Dry) { 10.08.14 at 8:19 am }

I have never really thought about this before. I think, for me, infertility gave me this huge sense of empathy AND responsibility; the idea that no one who is going through the pain and loss would have to bear that grief alone.

I click through, then, so I can offer them words of comfort. To let them know that another person is thinking about them and sending words of love into the universe on their behalf.

I’m not sure where this fits into the categories you put out. Maybe it’s both bearing witness and the blog equivalent of rubbernecking (which, frankly, I hate to do. I just say a quick “please let everyone be okay” into the universe whenever I pass an accident). Maybe it’s something else completely. But I like to think that we are honoring people by reading their stories – good AND bad – and offering support when their life swings out on that hinge.

I recently read a book by a Unitarian Universalist minister who works with the Maine game wardens, and her view is that God is in those spaces where people reach out and offer comfort during a tragedy. If God is love, and people are reaching out and offering a form of love – their words – on a blog when someone suffers pain and loss, then it’s not about entertainment. It’s about connection.


3 Jennifer { 10.08.14 at 8:35 am }

You bring up an interesting question: Before I was pregnant I read blogs because I was looking for people who were going through something similar – to commiserate, if you will. Sometimes when those bloggers got pregnant (before I did) it was hard to follow for a while because then I felt like we had less in common. But I usually came back at some point because I felt invested in their story. Isn’t that often what happens in real life with friendships? You are friends with someone because you have something that draws you together – usually something in common, even if it only is something like age. And then as you have less in common sometimes you drift apart. I can only speak for myself but I definitely would not liken my blog reading to rubbernecking at an accident.

4 a { 10.08.14 at 9:16 am }

I don’t know, I guess for me, it’s the difference between slowing down to a crawl so you can see all the gory details of the accident and pulling over to stop and see if there’s some sort of help you can offer. So, if you click over to read about someone’s horrible experience because you want the details, and wander off without any interaction…well, that may be rubbernecking. If you leave a comment, even a simple one, it becomes something different. And, unfortunately, as in Allison’s case, sometimes it’s a bit like a funeral. People come to express sympathy – and they’re often people you don’t know well and will never see again.

As to true crime stories – I think that’s a different category entirely. I think we want to understand the pathology behind these actions for two reasons. First, we’d like to be able to recognize the potential in someone to do something horrible, so we can avoid them and protect ourselves. Second, we’d like to be able to identify that potential and try to help the person turn away from that life path. And I think it also helps us develop our empathy and social consciousness – or at least informs our political decisions as we determine new laws.

5 queenjohnsonclan { 10.08.14 at 10:24 am }

This is interesting. I think I initially started reading blogs because I was desperate to find someone…anyone…with a voice I could relate to and hopefully find funny in a very rough time in my journey. I had been a part of an online infertility community with women I adored (still friends today) but I was the only one without a child from our journey together. I was/am deeply vested in their lives but I was desperate to find and listen to someone else still struggling. I do not think its wrong to connect with another person on this issues and maybe not connect with them on much else. A connection is a connection and I think if you give them an understanding (albeit fascinated) audience and they give you a look into their journey (especially the roughest parts) then everyone is giving for that time. It may come time to move on when the giving is one sided or just no more. I don’t have a negative connotation to watching someone go through anything with fascination either. As long as its not in hate.

I think doing anything in hate is just poisonous so hate reading is something different from “rubbernecking”. Hate reading is letting the bitterness in you seep into an actual action. That’s just awful. Good topic!

6 Megan { 10.08.14 at 10:28 am }

I really like A’s comment! But I think it’s even more complicated than that – I feel like we have a kind of symbiosis, the writers and the readers: the readers comment to offer their support, but they also need support from the writers – and the quickest way to feel that support is by reading posts that they can relate to. That’s why I started reading who I read, because they were having the same problems as me and it was comforting and supportive to know that I wasn’t alone.

7 Mrs T { 10.08.14 at 10:47 am }

Because of a blog friend who is/was in a situation akin to Allison’s with Zoe, and because the stats show so many more page views than comments received (which smacks of rubbernecking, even if it wasn’t intended to be), I am always careful to spend time there – read several posts – leave as heartfelt a comment as I can on a blog I just found. I definitely wouldn’t call it entertainment, though sometimes it feels like “cautionary tale.” (which I’m not sure they’d appreciate either).

8 Working mom of 2 { 10.08.14 at 11:51 am }

Interesting. I disagree that people don’t blog to be read–if that wasn’t the case they could just type a file on their computer or send family an email.

As to your question–at first I read for commiseration and information. As I had success I still read for those reasons but also to check on people who were left behind as compared to me. I now follow former IFers who are parents since I am too. But I also still read some if blogs, since I still feel part of that community even tho I’m “over” it. Once in a while I have advice or hope to offer also. But I don’t think I’m rubbernecking(and I do think posting a blog for anyone to see is fundamentally different than being a victim at an accident scene–it’s not like blog readers are cruising by IF clinics slowing down to see so done crying as they walk out).

9 Working mom of 2 { 10.08.14 at 11:52 am }

*someone not so done

10 Tiara { 10.08.14 at 1:11 pm }

Very interesting thoughts…in the past, I would never have read a baby loss blog because it was too heart wrenching. But then a blogger I love & had grown to care deeply for lost her son & she expressed how important it was to her for his memory to be kept alive. I’d always looked at it as this was to sad for ME to read & not realized how important it is for the words to be read. So now I click over, read, say the child’s name & hold it in my heart & honour the memory & offer my condolences. I may not continue to read the blog but I don’t think I’m rubbernecking either.

11 Alexicographer { 10.08.14 at 1:17 pm }

It’s an interesting question. I have recently started following an ALI blog written by an SMC who’s just given birth (early, but not *very* early) to twins, one with health issues. And I’m mystified about what I should be doing because she blogs using Tumblr, and I literally do not know how to comment (or whether it is possible to comment) on her blog. Of course, she may not want comments, which is fine. And she has both FB and Twitter links, but I’m not willing to comment using my IRL identity. And … ?

Her writing (and her situation) are compelling, and I enjoy reading her blog and knowing how her family is doing. But it does feel more like rubbernecking given that I can’t comment.

I still follow IF bloggers now parenting kids older (and in some cases younger) than my own, whom I started following, well, probably 10 years ago (hi, Julie! hi, Tertia!), because I enjoy their writing and am enjoying seeing their kids grow up.

And I’ll click through sometimes to new blogs (or new-to-me blogs) to see if I can add something … sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes I try to leave an “I was here” note. Sometimes I write something that must sound bizarre to the recipient. “Oh, 8 years ago I was where you are now, and I remember so well how it hurt. I’m so sorry. I hope you find a path that brings you the family you are seeking to build …” Usually including details about what I experienced and how it might possibly relate to things they are experiencing (e.g. if it sounds like they might have, as I did, undiagnosed hypothyroidism or are dealing with figuring out what to do with that diagnosis. But increasingly I wonder if my knowledge about that + IF is even current anymore, and my sense is that REs are much more current about it than they were “back in my day.”).

It’s weird. This post captures the tensions very nicely.

12 Justine { 10.08.14 at 2:56 pm }

For the most part, I read them because they’re real. Sometimes I feel like other blog genres pretend to be something they’re not, or paint life as less than complicated and painful and messy. But IF bloggers … so many more of them, to me, feel like people I can talk to, people I’d pull a chair up with in real life, and have a long glass of wine or cup of tea.

13 Sharon { 10.08.14 at 3:06 pm }

Interesting questions. Although I started blogging primarily for myself, as a previous poster said, on some level, I must have wanted my thoughts to be read, or I would have made my blog private or written those same thoughts in an off-line journal. Farther along in my blogging, I certainly wrote posts with the knowledge that they would be read, whether or not it was with the intention to have them read, by others.

As far as reading others’ blogs goes, generally speaking, when I begin reading someone’s blog, I am looking for connection or to provide the writer with support. There have been times when my reading has begun to feel more like it’s for my entertainment–I don’t feel any emotional investment, I’m not providing support, the events being reported are dramatic/extreme/etc.–and when I notice that this is happening, I generally stop reading.

14 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.08.14 at 3:16 pm }

Such an interesting question — bearing witness or being entertained — and I like how you brought it into the ALI realm. I have tried to be mindful of my motivations before I click over on an unfolding story in our community.

I’m a teacher of history, and I get students interested in the subject because of all the drama inherent in the stories themselves and the way they’ve been transmitted (and possibly changed) over the years.

I wonder if there is a statute of limitations having to do with how long ago the drama took place. At some point does it become instructive, cultural, part of the collective? In a time when abiding is no longer possible (because the event is long past, the players long gone), is it wrong to be entertained, instructed, curious about the story?

If Serial was telling a story that happened 115 years ago rather than 15 years ago, would that make a difference in how we see the question?

I don’t have answers, only more questions.

15 fifi { 10.08.14 at 3:20 pm }

IF can be so isolating and the feelings so unexpected at times. So sometimes you just seek out other stories for reassurance that you’re not alone, that your feelings are normal (“you mean I’m not crazy if I’m happy for someone and jealous at the same time?”)

16 KeAnne { 10.08.14 at 3:27 pm }

Really thought-provoking. I like to think and hope that my blog reading is among the bearing witness variety. It’s important for me to feel a connection with the blogger because otherwise, like Sharon said, it’s too easy for it to become entertainment. I’m having technical issues commenting on a lot of blogs using my wordpress account, so I often don’t comment at all recently, which makes me worry that my reading might be interpreted as rubbernecking.

I have been guilty of rubbernecking before, especially when the events are dramatic/overly dramatic. I think it can be easier than we would like to believe for us to rubberneck vs bear witness since it can be easy to forget the person on the other side is a real person. Fortunately, I usually reach a limit of what I can stomach and stop reading. Mrs. T’s comment is a great reminder about unintentional rubbernecking.

17 nicoleandmaggie { 10.08.14 at 5:18 pm }

In terms of traffic-wreck blogs (and I don’t know of any infertility blogs that count as traffic wrecks mainly because I have never been in the infertility blog circuit– I found this blog because it’s on anabegins’ blogroll), I feel really dirty after reading one even if I can’t look away. So I permanently leechblock them so I can’t look. If I’m not naturally a good person I can force myself to be one.

We recently had a post about GOMI which is the ultimate in hate-reading. http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/ponderings-on-blogging-pet-peeves/

18 nicoleandmaggie { 10.08.14 at 5:20 pm }

p.s. Sometimes I don’t comment on a miscarriage or still-birth post because I’m crying too hard and I just can’t. I guess that is silently bearing witness.

19 Mali { 10.08.14 at 8:49 pm }

Personally, I think that infertility/loss/no kids blogs are written and read to be part of a community, not to feel alone, to find understanding and comfort. I doubt that people read infertility/loss blogs simply to be rubberneckers. I can’t see them having any appeal to other parts of society. I have many many more page hits than comments, but I assume that I have many so-called lurkers, people who aren’t ready to comment, but who get something out of reading my blog. I like that. I don’t mind that they don’t comment. I don’t need them too, though it is always nice when they decide to do so.

Sometimes our blogs are read as entertainment, sometimes they are educational and comforting and spiritual (in whatever way you define spiritual), and perhaps sometimes they are a train-wreck, inviting rubbernecking. I tend to feel though that the rubberneckers are those who are part of the community anyway, they are people who will understand, rather than casual passers-by with nothing linking them to us. Those who read and don’t comment as a one-off are not always rubberneckers though – maybe they’re just reading withdrawing quietly, not wanting to cause more pain, wanting to leave us in our grief and privacy. That’s how I like to interpret one-off visits anyway. That’s what works for me.

20 Bronwyn { 10.08.14 at 9:25 pm }

It’s not just the taking pleasure, though, is it? The rubbernecking is compelling because our instinct tells us to scrutinise tragedy looking for a way to save ourselves. We don’t always think of it consciously or like that, all we know is that somewhere deep within an ancient voice is telling us to pay attention.

Infertility blogging. To be honest I always found it very draining to ride along with people. I used to hate going through the L&F at one stage because I knew I’d feel I should click where anyone had experienced a tragedy and it wasn’t compelling for me, at least not by that stage. I think earlier, perhaps maybe, when I was still trying to work things out and not just hang in there.

Thank goodness murder and deadly accidents are rare enough to draw our attention.

21 Kimberly { 10.08.14 at 9:35 pm }

This post is thought provoking to me and I need to process this post and my thoughts on it further before I can write a full comment or post in response. That being said, my initial feelings come down to the fact that I regularly watch shows/movies/documentaries on graphic crimes. Shows about murders or documentaries about terrible historical events. I recently just watched a special about Jonestown and I was caught up in it. I didn’t see it as entertainment or pleasure, even though my initial point to turning on Netflix was for entertainment value. What I took from it was education. I opted to learn about a crime to build my knowledge base. Maybe it could be seen as rubber-necking or hate watching, but I didn’t think that way as I watched it. In ways, I feel like I am honoring the lives of those people who suffered by acknowledging their story and taking this knowledge into the future. Their story could help others.

In my hometown, there has been a resurgence of a 24 year old cold case of a young man named Clayton Miller. While trying to sift through all of the information now coming out because people are pushing for the case to reopen and the call came from government officials to reopen the case, I’m trying to sift through the facts because I was so young when it happened, I was too young to understand it all when it happened. But when I do, in that case I feel like I’m rubbernecking and it’s for entertainment value. It’s an honest inquiry on my part but, at the end of the day, the sifting leaves an icky feeling there.

So yeah, my thoughts are conflicted on this. Thanks for the push. I’ll be back. 🙂

22 Persnickety { 10.09.14 at 6:40 am }

I don’t know. I know that the blogs I read, mostly I am there for the voice of the blogger, although for some it is also the story.

I do find that when I land on a new blog, and there is a reference to previous issues, I will go back and read the back story. I may not comment ( because comments on a five year old post feel odd) but I am reading to get a clearer picture of that person. I don’t know if that is rubber-necking. I want to know what led them to where they are now, without asking a potentially difficult question (I once accidentally asked an old friend I had gotten back into contact with about a reference she made on FB and it turned out to be the car accident her husband died in, so don’t do that anymore)

But, I once wanted to be an archivist, and I love to read old letters and communications in museum exhibits – they give an idea of someone’s life, of their opinions and feelings and life. Blogs are probably a variation on that, a slice of someone’s life. People used to write a lot letters, we don’t anymore, but that expression has to come out.

23 Jamie { 10.11.14 at 3:13 pm }

Very interesting question and one worth asking. I first came into blogging after meeting some ladies on another website that provided forums for people to connect and give each other support related to infertility, adoption and loss. Some of the ladies there started to blog and I started reading their stories in the blogosphere. Our group was in different stages of TTC. As the forum participation decreased, the blogging participation increased. I think blogging gave people options as to the level of participation that differed from the forum. The forum was more of a conversation. But as people in the group started getting PG, I think their participation declined for different reasons–guilt, respect or trying to find a new group that was in the same place in their journey. Blogging kind of gives someone a semi-private space where the forum was a shared space. Reading each other’s blogs is like visiting a friend in their home while the forum was like visiting a coffee shop. The forum conversation only works if there are others to participate. A blog can stand alone, but can be enhanced with the interaction of other readers. I read some blogs because I am invested in their story. Other blogs I read to find understanding and comfort–to find others who are in a place that I am currently in or may someday be. But, I also love to be moved by a great story. I would not say I am a rubber neck reader. It goes back to I write in my space for me, and if my story may help others or they feel moved by something I say, cool. If that space keeps me connected to people I care about, cool.

24 Vanessa { 10.15.14 at 1:57 pm }

I have a different perspective. I am not a regular commenter. I’m sure I can count on my fingers the number of comments I leave in a year across all the blogs I read. Despite that I am an avid blog reader. When I find a blog that resonates with me I will often go back to the beginning and read years worth of archives. I often read through the archives of blogs that have been abandoned and are no longer updated. The fact that the story was written before I “met” the blogger yet is retained and preserved in the internet is part of the appeal to me. Is this rubbernecking?

I bristle at the thought that by sharing in the moments and thoughts that make up another person’s experience I am invading their life in a way that only benefits me. I want my connection to that person through the words they left behind them to be real. The people I read about have created something beautiful out of their experiences. Sometimes I can relate, other times I can only marvel at the strength and wonder of their life.

I’m grateful that others produce beautiful art that changes me as a person in the world. I would hate to think that my witness is hurtful because I wasn’t there as an interactive support.

When I am present for an event in the life of a blogger, and visiting over the days when the dramatic event unfolds, I still tend to remain quiet. I let me presence be the support rather than the contact. Perhaps this is a personality flaw? I’m reserved in person, too. No matter what I do, though I will always only ever be able to hope that my actions are supportive, rather than hurtful.

25 Mel { 10.15.14 at 2:01 pm }

I think it’s always more about intention than action. You can have a person read silently with good intentions and you can have a person pipe up with supportive words but with selfish intentions. So I don’t think it’s about action — whether a person leaves a comment or not — but more why they are reading in the first place. Some people slow down to look at an accident to check that the people inside the car are okay, and they intend to stop their car and get out and help if they see help is required. Some people slow down and look at the accident to satiate their curiosity. That, to me, is rubbernecking.

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