Real life and online comments

by Jen Lynds

On Saturday, I thought I’d hit the journalism jackpot.
Shortly after I arrived for work, I learned of a really heartwarming story. A Madawaska woman had carried a baby for her daughter, and the baby boy had been delivered, healthy and happy, at The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle. The baby’s grandmother had to carry the infant for her daughter because she could not do it herself, as a heart condition prohibited a safe pregnancy.
Doctors used an egg taken from the daughter and sperm from her husband and the embryo was implanted in the 49-year-old soon-to-be grandmother. Nine months later, the baby was born and is thriving in his home in Presque Isle.
To reiterate: The baby was only carried by the grandmother. He is very much the child of his mother and father, with their genes, who I am sure looks just  like his parents.
As a journalist, I find that I don’t get to report good news all that often. Usually, the articles are tinged with sadness — someone has been caught possessing or trafficking drugs or operating under the influence; someone has been accused of embezzling: a child is very sick and the parents need the help of the community to make it through; a young person has died long before they’d had a real chance to live.
It gets so bad at times that I find myself trying to make the situations better than they actually are. For instance, during a recent article I wrote about a car accident, I found myself thinking “Oh, he’s in serious condition in the hospital? Okay. It could be worse. At least he isn’t in critical condition.”
It is just a coping mechanism, a way to lessen the ache you can’t help but feel for someone whose world has been shattered.
So it was with great happiness on Saturday that I sent the story about the baby’s birth into our editors. It was uploaded to the Bangor Daily News website shortly after I wrote it and it appeared in Monday’s paper.
Like many journalists and BDN online readers, I check out the comments that readers make about the stories at the bottom of the web page. When I sent in the birth story, I told myself that I had written the first article of my career that would not attract any negative comments.
How wrong I was.
By the time the section closed under that particular article, 157 comments had been lodged. Many of them were negative. Some of them were downright mean.
Some people made rude jokes about the relationship of the baby to its grandmother. Others didn’t understand how a mother could carry a baby for her daughter, even though countless women across the nation have done that very thing. They’ve even made movies about it. Then the comments segued into discussions about the right to life, and someone accused our paper of “exploiting” the family. And of course, a few people had to throw in remarks about the governor. Others were just plain odd: missives about the president of Iran, the Holocaust, discrimination, and more.
I know that newspapers across the U.S. are struggling with how to properly govern online comments, as the anonymity of those who draft them gives the writer the freedom to say things that they wouldn’t normally say if people heard them saying them. And I also know that conversations between people roam from the original topic in the real world as well.
But when I saw all of the negative comments under the baby article, that initial “jackpot” theory flew right out the window.
While it was discouraging, it was great to read that people saw just what I did: A loving woman, who really was just “babysitting” her grandchild for nine months.
“It was their child all along,” the grandmother said.” “I was just fortunate and blessed to be a part of this experience and be able to help bring him into the world.”
She represents the power of a mother’s love, an unbreakable bond that illustrates just how far a mother will go to help her child.
While reading the comments, though, I started to feel bad for the baby. How would I feel, I wondered, if I went out into the community and people were making jokes about my birth? Would I feel ostracized? Would I look at the children I went to school with and feel different? Abnormal?
The best part about this blog is that I don’t have to be unbiased. It is not a newspaper article. It is my take on the stories that come out of Aroostook County.
As for the story of this baby, this family, I know that the majority of people out there feel as I do. The selflessness of this woman in carrying her daughter’s baby is tear jerking.
Of course, people may disagree with me.That’s okay. There is room under this blog entry to comment….