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Mothers Anonymous

In the collective id known as UrbanBaby, New York women confess their darkest fears about parenting and marriage—and, not infrequently, go to war over them.

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Photographs by Gail Albert Halaban, from the series "My Name Is Mommy."  

11:37 A.M.
“I just found out that my DH [dear husband] is cheating on me while he’s away in europe. I have an email from the woman planning additional time together. I don’t want to continue a life with a cheater . . . feel so sick and lonely. what do i do now?”

10:24 P.M.
“I drink. I love it. It is my best friend sometimes. but other times it is my enemy. I get so lonely sometimes and it quells me. anybody here experience the same thing?”

8:21 P.M.
“I’m a sahm with 2 dc. I have a cushy life with a housekeeper once a week and big budget for stuff. Still I’m so bored and lonely with life. I eat and go on the computer all the time. My dh works all the time too.”

8:22 P.M.
“Grow up.”

8:26 P.M.
“I’m 40, how much can I grow up at this point?”


A SHORT HISTORY OF AMERICAN MOTHERHOOD
Once upon a time, becoming a mother was something you did alone, in your home, with your baby. Your sources of expertise were few: women in your family, women on your block, and your doctor. Your husband knew nothing, and when you had a question, there was Dr. Spock. Maybe you were happy, or angry, or drunk, or overwhelmed, or pleasantly bored, or deeply satisfied. But those emotions lived at home.

Then came the Internet. (Okay, then came feminism. But after that, the Internet.) And for New York mothers, then came UrbanBaby.

If you’re a mother of a certain type—upscale and analytical—you have likely heard of the site. It’s a discussion board, but it’s also a bit of an obsession and a bit of a drain, in the sense that it’s a place where a lot of New York mothers dump their most toxic feelings, in maroon-and-bright-green threads that spill down the screen with little organization. On UrbanBaby, the private lives of city mothers are lit up and exposed. All the houses are glass there, and everybody’s got a rock.

In part, this is because UrbanBaby is anonymous—and online, anonymity acts like a combination of a truth serum and a very strong cocktail. But this is also because being a mother can feel like sitting in a solemn lecture room, listening and taking notes, and repressing impulse after impulse to yell out dirty words. On UrbanBaby, people blurt out these dirty words.

On my screen right now, these threads co-exist uneasily:

“What percentage of people do you think just ‘settle’, i.e. just marry the person they are with when they get to a certain age not b/c they think they are the perfect person for them but are too scared to go out there again?” “If you saw a jewish girl wearing a vineyard vines sweater what would you think? be 100% honest.”

“Why do I have to keep telling dh size doesn’t matter? why?????!!!! I hate lying.”

“Is Anderson Cooper gay?”

“Post names of really crappy nannies you know.”

“These soycrisps are addictive.”

“I am in love with my daughter. She is on this new roar and growl routine as she crawls like a crab across the floor. I could watch this forever.”

“Tell us a secret about yourself. Something you don’t want other people to know. We won’t tell a soul.”

MANHATTAN MOTHER
Everyone knows the scary archetype of the monster Manhattan mother: She’s all elbows and no bosom, like ritzy Mrs. X in The Nanny Diaries or careerist Kate Hudson in Raising Helen; she’s every East Side matron on Wife Swap braying about “me time.” Which is to say, a professional who treats her child like a résumé; a fashionista who wears her child as an accessory; a trophy wife who leverages her child as an excuse to quit work and go shopping. Or perhaps she’s turned motherhood itself into her career, driving her child insane with flash cards, like the Parker Posey character in Best of Show, except with a toddler instead of a purebred Weimaraner: obsessed with getting exactly the right plush toy, right now.

Even many actual New York moms talk about one another this way, so much have we internalized the notion that there is something loathsome and prissy and spoiled at heart about New York motherhood. Something at once neglectful and overprotective. Something not very motherly at all.

But then again, I’m one of them. From the time I was three months pregnant, I was online, researching. I bookmarked sites for music classes and cribs. I lurked around, the way people do, surfing from place to place. But something about UrbanBaby kept drawing me back. The tone was different. It was not supportive—a welcome shock. It was toxic but also compassionate in surprising moments. It was an antidote to sites like BabyCenter—those earnest malls trafficking in humor-free LOLs and “babydust” (a virtual gift sent to women who are TTC, or “trying to conceive.”)


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