The disturbing conversations women are having on fertility apps

Scroll through the community boards on the popular fertility app Glow, and you’ll be inundated with posts about ovulation and pregnancy tests, women asking each other if the second line is dark enough to be a BFP (big fat positive), and sprinkling each other with “baby dust”—an almost Disney-esque term used to wish someone luck conceiving. But in between messages about “putting it in God’s hands” and “he can’t keep his hands off me, I love him to pieces!” are posts like this one: “This morning, my husband put his hands on me. He literally wrapped his hands around my throat and threw me on the bed… I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow to confirm my pregnancy.”

pregnancy test

“Please file a report, I can assure you this won’t be the last time,” a user named Brianna wrote in response. “I’m so sorry this happened. I remember walking [in] on my dad doing this to my mom,” another woman replied. “Well forget him then,” “The baby will be better off without him,” “[Peace out emoji] mother*cker,” others posted. (Note: This article does not link to posts in order to protect users’ privacy.) “The community is particularly vigilant in this area and wants to support one another,” says Jennifer Tye, Glow’s Vice President of U.S. Operations. “Women will share their own stories, encourage an abuse victim to leave their abusers, share resources, and even offer their emails and phone numbers when they’re really concerned.”

Most of Glow’s 10 million users—a number that includes its sister apps Eve by Glow, Glow Nurture, and Glow Baby, which track everything to periods to parenting tasks—don’t come to the app to talk about violence. But there are pages and pages of posts starting with the question, “Is this abuse?” and similar messages that go on to describe women being beaten, threatened, controlled, or raped by their partners—men who, in some instances, they are trying to have a child with or with whom they’ve already conceived a child.

Is this abuse? One woman, who has posted anonymously, writes in the subject line. “I have always told my boyfriend that I am not into anal sex… but the last time we were having sex, he was trying to get his fingers in there and I told him to stop and he didn’t… Or sometimes it hurts me while we’re having sex and I let him know and he doesn’t stop. He forces me to continue, or gets so mad. I really love him but now I don’t enjoy sex because I am always scared.”

Is it abuse? another message starts. “My husband grabbed my throat (while holding my 8-month-old) while we got into a fight, then pushed me on the bed. Is this something you would divorce over?”

Russia domestic abuse thumb

Is it abuse? “My partner shakes my head violently when he’s angry with me. He reaches up so quickly that I think he’s going to hit me and that scares me. It also triggers awful headaches. He knows this and he does it anyway, because he blows up at little things. He wasn’t like this before, but now he is. And is, ‘I don’t know what else to do with my anger’ a good excuse?”

That women would seek any safe space to disclose that they are being abused, or to ask questions about abuse, isn’t surprising—especially considering that nearly one in four women in the U.S. experience severe physical violence by a partner in their lifetime, and about a third of women are victims of sexual violence, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published by the CDC. And a fertility app like Glow is easy to access on a phone; may be a less obvious place for an abuser to look than text, email, or Facebook; and it provides an audience of strangers who may be less likely to judge. There’s also the added layer that women on Glow are on the app to talk about their bodies—about periods and ovulation and sore breasts and sex, IVF and miscarriages and the relief of a positive test. There are millions of comments on what women’s bodies are expected to do, and what women are expected to experience from a reproductive standpoint. But within that, users have also carved out a nook to talk about what women’s bodies should never endure but too often do, which is abuse at the hands of their partners.

“The anonymity of these rooms provides a space where survivors of abuse can explore their feelings around the fact that they are in an abusive relationship,” says Rachel Goldsmith, Associate Vice President of domestic abuse shelters for Safe Horizon, victim’s assistance organization. “They might feel they can talk about it without someone pressure them to leave. They may feel like can talk about any ambivalence they feel. An abusive relationship is still a relationship.”

As for the repeated “Is it abuse?” subject lines, Goldsmith adds that it’s not uncommon for women to ask others if what they’re experiencing qualifies. “People don’t often know a lot about abuse,” she says. “We don’t openly talk about domestic violence as a society, so a lot of people are relationships and they are not sure what’s happening. It makes a lot of sense that this would be the question they start with.”

pregnant lady

The bigger question is why a woman would try to conceive a child with a man who is harming her. “There can be a belief that when a child comes into the relationship, that would stop the violence, thinking, We have this innocent child,” says Goldsmith. Some women may hope that, “this would make people more loving, that they would feel more connected. I don’t think it’s any different with domestic violence than other types of relationship problems where people feel like, It will be better when we have kids. We won’t argue as much.” Unfortunately, for some women, abuse begins or becomes worse during pregnancy, according to the New York City Health Department. Abusers may experience increased stress with a new baby, or feel jealous that their partners are shifting their attention elsewhere.

Simply disclosing abuse to strangers on an app won’t help women who are in immediate danger, however. To address this, Tye says that Glow moderators and users “keep a sharp eye for posts” about abuse, and when they see one, “We reach out to the users, encouraging them to contact a hotline (RAINN, Safe Horizon, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline) in order for them to get the information and support they need from organizations dedicated to helping victims of abuse.” (A company spokeswoman clarifies that moderators are not abuse counselors, and so “we send an email to the users with information on how to connect with expert resources.”) Getting quick, effective support from trained counselors can be crucial, especially for women who are pregnant and suffering physical abuse (about 324,000 women in the U.S. each year), or those with children who could also be in danger.

“I’m desperate for someone to talk to and also for some support,” writes a Glow user, anonymously. “I am 8 weeks pregnant and my partner is emotionally, verbally, and financially abusing me. I am an absolute mess and I don’t know what to do.”

“We found out I was pregnant about 6 weeks ago and we have been so happy about it all up until Saturday,” another woman posts. “He pushed me really hard against the wall. He was screaming at me… Then the day after he was all apologetic and I told him it was over. This is when he started threatening me saying he will destroy my life, destroy my career, saying I will never work again.” She adds, “I’m scared and I know if he can do that while I’m pregnant, he can do anything.”

A pregnancy can heighten typical fears around leaving an abuser, says Goldsmith. There are emotional obstacles, but also financial ones, that may grow larger when a child is factored into the equation. “It’s one thing to think about your financial security, but then you have to think about who is going to pay for diapers, who is going to help when the baby is sick and I have to go to work?” Goldsmith explains. On the other hand, some survivors become more motivated to leave after finding out they’re pregnant, feeling that the stakes are higher, and there’s someone else to protect.

On Glow, users often encourage women who post about abuse to leave their abuser. But according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it takes a survivor seven times, on average, to leave before the separation is permanent. Before that can come a series of steps: recognizing the abuse, talking about it, and with support, creating a plan that may include ending the relationship. For some women, the first step is shouting out into the void of the Internet. “To whoever reads this,” an abuse survivor who is 36-weeks pregnant begins. “I really need some help or advice.”


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content