The Trouble With Google

Sprawled out in bed one night, six months pregnant, I was plowing through a half-gallon tub of mint-chocolate chip ice cream. I’d convinced myself that a) because I hadn’t had an actual dinner that night, my intake volume wasn’t too gross, and that b) my manic sugar consumption was definite evidence that I was having a girl. Or a boy?

By 1am, after more than three solid hours on the Internet, I had:

  • become 100% sure I was having a girl
  • become 100% sure I was having a boy
  • decided the names we’d picked out — for girls and boys — were awful, so I researched more names and came up with three new options for each gender
  • picked an email fight with my husband, who rejected all six options and therefore had terrible taste overall in life and was also a selfish prick for being on a work trip when I was pregnant, as he clearly didn’t love me or our unborn child
  • realized I’d gained too much weight
  • realized that actually given my pre-pregnancy height and weight, I probably fell outside “traditional pregnancy guidelines” and was therefore totally the perfect pregnancy size
  • finished the ice cream
  • convinced myself I didn’t feel attached enough to my baby based on what I read in two popular #mommyblogs
  • convinced myself the baby wasn’t active enough for its gestational age
  • started to feel like an irresponsible idiot for not having had an amniocentesis to rule out a wider variety of genetic disorders than the standard 12-week tests had
  • bawled my eyes out after stumbling upon a chat forum for women who’d had late-term miscarriages
  • researched non-toxic paints for re-painting the nursery, since the paint I’d just used wasn’t on a list of “Safe Paints” I found – and was definitely not certified organic
  • decided I really should start caring more about things being organic. At least lettuce. And…berries, maybe?
  • decided that this newfound eco kick should mean cloth diapers – and researched the best brands
  • learned how one cleans cloth diapers and immediately changed my mind, because gross.
  • racked up an unholy credit card charge buying an environmentally-friendly diaper company “bundle,” several gender-neutral outfits to match the super-cute diaper prints, a body-fat scale, a book of baby names, a non-toxic paint-deck, and, obviously, more ice cream.

As helpful as the Web can be when it comes to advice and information, the flipside is that it can easily compound already intense anxiety. There’s a reason it’s become a cliché that one shouldn’t ever consult Dr. Google when feeling crappy.

The same applies to Googling while pregnant or with child. It is embarrassingly easy to become unmoored when your body is basically marinating in hormones, and there is no worse combo than a vulnerable, paranoid woman and unfettered access to a cauldron of unfiltered information. The Internet somehow manages to legitimize our most absurd worries, even those that, until detailed on a computer screen, we hardly even realized we had. And even if you can muster the discipline to shut your laptop and walk away, you can’t unread what you’ve read, and this stuff finds a way of sticking in your head and screaming at you just as you’re about to fall asleep. At best, you end up spending money on products you don’t need in hopes of avoiding the imaginary worst-case scenarios (whatever those may be). At worst, you end up ruining what truly can be an extraordinary, sweet time by spending all of it in fear.

I’ve taken a few epic spirals. But despite my status as a Worrier Extraordinaire, somehow pregnancy and newborn-hood didn’t send me to Google Crazytown as often as I would have anticipated. I credit two crucial people for keeping me (relatively) sane throughout: my husband and my HAHAHAH JUST KIDDING.

That’d be my OBGYN and my pediatrician.

I invested a lot in both, starting by picking people I liked personally and in whom I had confidence professionally. I did my best to establish a relationship with each that was based on close communication and trust. And then I made a deal with myself that I would never be too embarrassed to bring an issue to them and that I would also believe them when they told me that either my baby or I was (or would be) OK.

Especially when you’re pregnant or new to parenthood, be protective of yourself and of your family.  In service of that goal, try to:

  1. Practice Safe Surfing.  Don’t Google late at night. Resist the urge to use the Internet as a symptom-checker — your search results didn’t go to medical school, nor have they ever met you or your baby. Notice which sites or blogs tend to make you feel bad, and don’t go there anymore.
  2. Follow Up. If you see something on Google that actually and legitimately freaks you out, don’t let it live alone in your head. Get more info. Fact-check. Touch base with your doc (during daylight hours).
  3. Choose carefully the people to whom you go for advice or support. Easier said than done, I know, but if you know your friend Christina is kind of a smug know-it-all or your sister-in-law Janine is sort of a Debbie Downer, don’t ask either about the weird cramps you’re having or the strange gurgle your baby is making. And if you don’t trust your doctors enough to believe them when they tell you something or to bare your anxiety-riddled soul to them, find different doctors.

Above all, the most important relationship you have is the one with yourself, and specifically your gut. (Which is hopefully filled with ice cream.) The more external noise you can turn off, the easier it is to listen to your body and to your baby. Trust your instincts, as maternal intuition is a Real Thing.

Don’t believe me? Google it.



Alice Leiter is a recovering lawyer living in Washington, D.C. with her husband and four children. Her hobbies include making fun of her family on Instagram, watching Bravo, and worrying that people are mad at her. She hates when grown women call her “Mama.” Reach her at alice@aliceleiter.com.