2018 | 72 | 49-80
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Rasestumise, lapseootuse ja sunnitusega seotud kogemuslugude funktsioonidest foorumite suhtluses

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The focus of the study was to take a look at the functions of telling personal experience stories on the Estonian internet family discussion forum Perekool (Family School) subforums dedicated to conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. The analysis was based on four groups of stories and their comments: ‘strip catchers’’ stories (stories of women who want to get pregnant), IVF (in vitro fertilization) stories, ‘belly growers’’ stories (stories of pregnant women), and childbirth stories. The aim was to find out which role these stories play from the point of view of the functioning of the internet group, and which are these broader socio-cultural meanings and motives why women share their personal stories with delicate content on the easily accessible internet forum. The following categories of functions of personal experience stories emerged from the research: support and help, information exchange and advice, warning, self-presentation, and entertainment. Sharing personal experience stories on an internet forum can provide support and help for both their writers and readers. The woman who wants to get pregnant, is undergoing in vitro fertilization procedure or is expecting a baby can feel lonely or isolated if she has no close people with similar experiences and understandings of her condition (what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’). Sometimes a woman prefers to conceal her experiences, thoughts, and feelings, because she is afraid of being misunderstood. For example, women’s long-term problems related to getting pregnant and in vitro fertilization seem to be topics that the wider public knows very little about, and that is why women prefer to share their stories and get support and help on the internet forum from those who have similar experiences and thus may understand them better. Both writing and reading the personal experience stories provide psychological support to group members, driven by understanding that only the women who have experienced the same can truly help. The so-called ‘success stories’ play an important role in mutual assistance. A woman can share her success story with the aim of getting in return other women’s stories with a happy ending or the aim may be to offer hope and support to others. Personal experience stories function as information exchange in the sense that they are an important alternative or additional source of information that women get from their relatives, doctors, and midwives. Women may prefer to get information from others’ experiences and stories posted on the internet forum because they have not found a common language with medical staff. For example, women with endometriosis write in their stories that the diagnosis was a shock for them because they did not know anything about it and the doctor gave them very little hope (or not at all) to become a mother. On the other hand, women have found advice and information suggesting they might still get pregnant from other women’s stories. The stories have a kind of informal advisory function because they allow access to the experiencer’s point of view. Both configuring your own experience into a story and reading about others’ experiences help women better understand their condition and become aware of potential different solutions of their problems. The aim of the story writer may also be to initiate a discussion on her own experiences. In this respect, the study revealed that the longer narrative form (a detailed description of the experience, related events and emotions) can provide more specific feedback and advice from group members than a mere question-answer style conversation. A personal experience story can also function as a warning that leads women to stand up for themselves in communication with medical staff and to avoid their own thoughts and activities that they might regret later. In addition to the activities in the physical space, the purpose of writing a story can be to warn against the risks associated with the use of the internet. Personal experience stories work as self-presentation on the internet forum in the sense that they show how women manage their experience. The stories also enable women to show that they belong to a particular group of people with similar interests and experiences. So, there is only one meaningful ‘my story’ per person within the Family School subforums titled Conception, Pregnancy, and Childbirth. The personal experience stories on these forums function as business cards, which allow women to introduce themselves when they join the group and by which other group members identify them later in the discussions even if women participate anonymously (for that purpose anyone can use the pseudonym Cuckoo). However, in spite of accessibility of the discussion forum (the postings are easy to find by a search engine and can be read by all internet users), the women do not write their stories to present themselves and their stories to the general public, but only to peers, i.e., other women with similar experiences. The easily accessible (public) internet forum is perceived as private communication space of a particular interest group because there is an implicit assumption that the forum is used and the conversations there are read only by those who go through a similar life period and who need, based on personal experiences, to participate in the group. A personal experience story can be entertaining for both the writer and the reader. Entertainment as the function of women’s stories emerges in relation to comparing experiences and ‘expecting together’, but also in connection with the fact that sharing the story at the end of the journey of strip catching, in vitro fertilization or pregnancy has become an unwritten rule of the internet group – the woman who has spent time reading other’s stories is expected to share her own story as well. Also, entertainment as a function emerges if, in the passage of time, women share their stories on the forum in response to other ones, when the concrete topic and experience are no longer relevant to them. To what extent and in what form one or another of the functions of the experience stories emerges, depends on the core experiences, interests, problems, and needs of the concrete subgroup.
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