The bedside machine was pulsing, the steady glug-glug of an underwater expedition set to the beat of an unborn heart. Nichole Putz, 32 weeks into her pregnancy, was in the hospital for monitoring with less than a month to go until the scheduled delivery of her son. The machine allowed her to listen to his every move.
To the other side of her bed in Abington Memorial Hospital was her laptop. It allowed her to share news of the pregnancy's progress.
Just a few hours earlier, Putz had updated her Facebook status: "just had an ultrasound and my little man is already approx. 4lb 10oz at 32 weeks! He is getting big!!!!"
Already, 13 people had clicked the Like button. One friend commented, and there were sure to be more before long - about 30 people regularly had been responding to her posts that, because of her hefty amount of spare time, had increased exponentially.
Texting intimate and inconsequential details to the masses has become standard for many people - and there's been debate about how much is too much.
But whether it's announcing ultrasound results, describing food cravings, or, in some cases, giving play-by-play labor details (one man from Wisconsin famously tweeted the birth of his son last year), sharing and social media have indeed entered a new realm, one historically considered a very private experience.
"The fact that there is an application for Facebook called My Pregnancy and that random strangers are privy to what used to be private details of a woman's or couple's life certainly represents a huge societal shift," says Wendy Forman, a psychotherapist who shares a Center City practice with her husband. "Maybe Facebook has taken the place of the village - or rowhouses - whose inhabitants used to be around to help birth and raise a child."
But, Forman says, such tools also connect pregnant women who are feeling isolated or even frightened to friends and relatives, some of whom may live far away.
Thirty-five years ago when she was pregnant for the first time, Forman and her husband returned to her hometown of Philadelphia. Aside from her parents, she knew no one, and wanted to meet other women who were sharing her experience. Forman posted a note at her doctor's office. She got one response.
These days, that same query posted on the Web could result in dozens of pregnant Facebook friends.
Yet that same impulse to connect to a like-minded pal may also produce a barrage of post-delivery notes - here's Junior laughing, here's Junior eating, here's Junior at the beach - to friends who might be less than keenly interested.
For those who don't appreciate the frequent updates, it's optional viewing, Forman says. And there's no need to force a straight face while lying about a kid who's not quite as cute as his parents seem to think.
Such posts, however, aren't always used to brag. For Cris DiLegge, 38, a production manager for HBO Sports, giving birth was another reason to share.
"We're not very private," DiLegge says. Her boyfriend, Angelo, "pretty much posts everything. I get phone calls from people at work that happen to be friends with him, and they tell me things."
On Jan. 15, her water broke at 4 a.m. By 5 she had checked in at the hospital. The staff gave her instructions: Wait.
Pietro took his time, emerging at 3:04 p.m. That left DiLegge with nearly half a day of waiting. So she started texting. And for a couple of hours, she honed her distribution list - she had planned to send to more than 40 of her friends and relatives an e-mail birth announcement - and composed the message on her BlackBerry.
Within three hours of Pietro's birth, the details made their Facebook debut. Most of the ensuing comments were congratulatory; the rest asked with incredulity why she was on the phone. That night, DiLegge, who grew up in Philadelphia but now lives in Brooklyn, posted a picture she'd taken with her cell phone, her son lying atop her.
Facebook provided her friends and relatives with the basics, but those she texted got a more personal flavor. To her friend Kaci Crooks, she thumbed, "IT'S A BOY!!!!!! . . . that was really painful." And, later: "the baby weighs 8lbs 11oz and 21¼ long, NO WONDER that hurt & I needed tons of stitches!"
Angela Nixon, a public information director at Clemson University in South Carolina, says a cousin of her husband's posted Facebook updates last year throughout her labor.
"Thanks to the wonders of Facebook," Nixon says, "we all knew when her water broke, when she received her epidural, when she started pushing. It was truly a bit much. She was updating live, every step of the way. And then, of course, we saw photos immediately after the baby was born. It was crazy."
Nixon enjoyed knowing the latest despite being separated by 800 miles - her cousin-in-law lives in New York State - "but part of me also felt like some of it was a little private, like maybe she was sharing a little too much information. I feel like . . . some things don't need to be broadcast to the world."
Carina Slater, 25, from Bear, Del., gave birth March 25 to a boy named Curtis. While her husband, Brad, refuses to join Facebook and prefers the phone to e-mail, she sent a group message at 1:11 a.m., less than four hours after Curtis' first breath. It included the date and time of his birth, along with his weight, length, and a photo. She posted the same on Facebook. She texted small groups of close friends and relatives.
She recognizes the loss of intimacy but relishes the time saved.
"You write it once, and it's out and it's done," says Slater, who works for a Wilmington law firm and owns and operates a weddings-and-events planning service. "People can respond if and when they want, at whatever length they want, and I'm not in some long conversation with someone when I have a crying baby."
All of these are examples of the narcissistic effect social media have on people, says Aaron Moore, a professor of public relations at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., who often writes about the subject. In other words, it's all about my news on my time.
But Moore isn't above the fray.
"Just a couple weeks ago, I was talking to someone about the fact that all my friends, including myself, share the news of having a child with each other via e-mail and texts. No longer are the days of passing out cigars in the waiting room."
Austin Lee, who develops social media strategies and campaigns for clients, says he's seen an uptick during the last year of those sharing maternity details.
"The ability to show live video of ultrasound appointments or births and/or provide a stream of tweets as the event unfolds is easier than ever before," says Lee, based in Atlanta. "Parents in faraway states or countries can now be there as their grandchildren are born. As Norman Rockwell as that might sound, there are some drawbacks."
First, it can unnerve a partner if one is sharing willy-nilly without express permission, Lee says. And most women would prefer the I've-just-experienced-labor portrait to be a private matter. Plus, what happens if there are later complications? Imagine an online comment board rife with armchair quarterbacking of the decisions made during labor.
That said, having a child can be the happiest moment in people's lives, so it's natural that parents would want to tell the world immediately about their new addition.
"Pregnancy and childbirth can be amazing and even spiritual experiences that are totally unlike anything else in life," Forman says. "So it seems OK to me to indulge new parents a bit in helping to make this developmental family stage special."
New parents, Forman says, need the emotional support of those who can impart wisdom, or simply listen.
"If Facebook is the delivery system of choice, then so be it," she says. "I just hope that people aren't spending so much time uploading photos and writing little quips that they leave the baby crying miserably in the other room."