My Body, My Tweets

Sarah Seltzer

Who knows how many young Erykah Badu fans knew nothing about natural childbirth, and learned something from her tweets?

"Morning im in labor"

That’s how soul songstress Erykah Badu and her partner,
rapper Jay Electronica, kicked
off their live-tweeting of the natural home birth of their daughter last week.
According to Badu’s twitter account, the healthy newborn girl is named Mars

Although both musicians have "locked," or private, twitter
accounts, they each have thousands of followers, and several news organizations
pounced on their tweeting. So in essence, Badu’s birthing process was broadcast
to all, in all its details, from the length of her contractions – Badu’s last
"tweet" before she handed over the virtual reigns to her partner was
"contractions are 3 min. apart….. breathing" – to how it felt to look at her
daughter hours later: "her eyes are looking right into mine . she struggles to
focus . so much ♥ in her."

While Badu went on tweet-hiatus to give birth, Electronica
provided up to the minute updates. Mtv news described it thus:

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The rapper told followers he was
sending the tweets between watching contractions and rubbing Badu’s feet. He even
blogged about Badu’s water breaking, how far along she was dilated and when she
started pushing.

"I see the head, full of
hair," he wrote. Just over 20 minutes later, Badu gave birth…

Many fans were excited to be let in on the home birth, as
the number of twitter users who flocked to follow the pair during the process
indicates – not all of them could have purely voyeuristic.

But Badu’s choice to relay her story online was particularly
interesting given the fact that she had already come
under attack for her pregnancy from commenters on a hip-hop message board

(because this pregnancy was her third child with a third long-term partner).
Badu shot back with a long, poetic response, saying that "I am an excellent
mother and resent all of the negative comments and insults on my character" as
well as questioning the modern conception of marriage and praising her children
and their fathers.

As brave as her response was, the incident showed that like
all celebrities – particularly female ones and particularly females of color – her
body was already considered public territory. Perhaps Badu’s tweets were a way
of reclaiming that public aspect in a positive way, celebrating a pregnancy
that had been decried.

Of course that message was lost on most. The publicity that
followed the live-tweeting was inevitably marked by a note of beffudlement or
condescension. "Artists have always done strange things to win our attention,
right? And lately, we’ve seen how musicians are using micro-blog site Twitter
as an über-marketing tool. This weekend, one pair of artists took things
further than we expected," wrote
MTV News’ Jayson Rodriguez.

Over on dudely
, Tom Breihan wrote that "Great news about the
baby and all, but… the sense of mystery and remove that great artists once
projected has now given way to this rampant, almost pathological oversharing,
and now pretty much anyone with an internet connection can learn about every
squishy moment of Erykah Badu’s labor. Maybe it’s time for the artists of the
world to get off the damn computer."

Okay, so some people didn’t entirely embrace the idea, and
in the responses, it’s hard to thoroughly sort out the threads of misogyny from
threads of backlash against our YouTube, livejournal, everything goes-culture
(but there’s plenty of the former to be found). But Badu’s choice to share her
experience has a huge positive value, particularly since she is a celebrity
with influence, and already one of the few female role models in the music
industry who projects self-actualization.

Who knows how many young men and women who are Badu’s fans
knew nothing about natural childbirth or childbirth in general, and learned
something from her tweets? Or the women who had chosen natural birth, sometimes
frowned upon, who felt validated by Badu’s choice? Or finally, the couples who
are inspired by the loving, relaxed partnership the two musicians displayed?
Ultimately, as second-wave feminists aimed to do with "consciousness-raising,"
the more women’s stories are out there, the more the variety of our experiences
becomes normalized.

Badu’s choice of medium was also interesting. YouTube and
blogging can expose users to harsh responses. But new streamlined forms of
social media like Twitter and Tumblr have freed women to selectively share
information about their reproductive health using miniature soundbites and
scattered thoughts, without being swarmed by hostile commenters.

And Badu wasn’t even the first woman to tweet her
childbirth, or to get flak and appreciation for it.  California blog "valleywag" mentioned
a local LA woman tweeting her childbirth
and received a barrage of comments
either begging all woman to keep such tweets to themselves, or in telling
detractors not to read the tweets, and one
from the tweeter herself
expressing bewilderment that it was considered

Oddly enough, before the recent trend of childbirth tweets
was the mini-trend of abortion tumbls. Last spring, a woman started using Tumblr (a cross between Twitter and blogging) to describe the lead-up and
aftermath of an abortion, including her hatred for anti-choice politicians but
also her frustrations with the clinic she used and her loneliness. She was soon
followed by another (and here’s
two more using the traditional blogger
format). At first glance, the concept of sharing the two procedures seems
wildly different: childbirth is celebrated in our culture while abortion is
taboo. But if you look at
the responses
to both the abortion and childbirth cyber-chronicles, the essence of the split
is parallel: it’s "eww, TMI" vs. "the more that’s out there, the better." And
while motherhood is lauded in our culture, there’s a squeamishness about the
messy, corporeal, female-centered process itself (see "Knocked Up") that is
linked to squeamishness about women’s bodies and therefore abortion.

Bo one is forcing women to share their intimate
reproductive processes with the world. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that
personal stories have a different, sometimes more potent, effectiveness than
op-eds or political campaigns. While these sometimes-graphic accounts are easy
to ignore, the service they provide the curious is valuable. And the
communication that online media forges between women can be valuable too: as one
baby blogger said
, "The more we know each other, the more likely we’ll be to
realize that we’re all in this together."

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