How Reddit Moral Philosophers Got Me Through A Very Challenging Pandemic Pregnancy

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How Reddit Moral Philosophers Got Me Through A Very Challenging Pandemic Pregnancy
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I had been on the fence for many years about having children, concerned about the physical and lifestyle changes, so it seemed fitting that when I decided to get pregnant, it would be during a pandemic.

The months of my pregnancy and the subsequent health issues that I went through made for a tense time. But a Reddit group called “Am I The Asshole” (AITA) helped me get past the anxiety and late nights during my pandemic pregnancy by connecting me to people around the globe and their moral quandaries.

What exactly is Am I The Asshole? It’s a subreddit feed that describes itself as “a catharsis for the frustrated moral philosopher in all of us.” For instance, if you want to know if you are the “asshole”  for throwing out your boyfriend’s yogurt collection that was taking over the kitchen or whether you were morally justified telling your partner’s parents outright lies about your upbringing in Australia, this group will tell you — bluntly.

On AITA, hundreds, sometimes thousands, of subredditors will weigh in whether you are “Not the Asshole” (NTA), “You’re the Asshole” (YTA), Everyone Sucks Here (ESH), “No Assholes Here” (NAH) or need more information. It’s not the place to go for relationship advice or legal queries.

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On the feed, you’ll find stories ranging from hilarious to downright disturbing. I started reading after one story of a Redditor who kept asking his neighbor if she’d make him dinner made the rounds on various news and social media outlets.

Other AITA stories are downright bizarre like the woman who threw away her couch because her husband kept method-acting as a bug or the woman who threw away a jar of her own teeth that her parents had collected as part of a family tradition. 

But other stories can be upsetting. There’s a lot of AITA threads about entitled houseguests abusing their hosts or in one case, a pregnant woman whose husband and father-in-law were convinced she’d die in childbirth so they were making her pack up her clothes and make videos just in case.

It’s frankly an incredible spectrum of human behaviors ranging from people learning to push back against their toxic family and friends to abusers trying to justify their maltreatment of their victims. And again, there are the wacky ones involving a surprising amount of teeth and sexual uses of peanut butter.

For me, it was a strange sort of oasis as I navigated my own pregnancy. For years I had worried about the physical toll pregnancy would have on me. I was a higher-risk category since I had Crohn’s Disease and had been told there was a one-in-three chance that it could get worse (as well as a one-in-three chance it could get better and one-in-three chance it would stay the same). Morning sickness was also a serious cause of concern.

While there were always risks with both vaginal birth and cesarean section, the Crohn’s made the decision even more heightened. Tearing during vaginal birth could have a life-long impact on my quality of life. But then again, a C-section was major surgery that would take weeks of recovery, best case scenario.  

Of course, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d end up pregnant during a pandemic, the likes we hadn’t seen in our lifetimes. At a time when I wanted to avoid doctor’s offices, I had to go regularly, and toward the end of the pregnancy, I’d have to go to my doctor’s office every week. And I couldn’t rely on my inner circle to provide comfort and advice in the same way since socializing was now irresponsible and dangerous. 

As my due date got closer and closer, and as I began to be even more uncomfortable in my own skin as my body continued to change, the anxiety grew and so did my insomnia. Even though I was weary from the pregnancy, sleep would not come. 

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So I found a routine of spending hours each night reading AITA as the rest of my household slept. Each night I’d dive into these moral quandaries that people had. It made me feel like I was part of a community where people shared some of the worst — and sometimes weirdest — moments on earth, seeking advice, counsel, and inevitably judgement from complete strangers on the Internet.

Some would take their judgments with grace -—either accepting that they had done wrong or had been wronged; others would fight the judgment and get themselves banned from Reddit altogether. 

But what I think was the most remarkable part was the sharing of experiences. There were the original posters (OP) who shared their tale of woes but the subredditors would also tell their own stories. For those who genuinely needed support, strangers would give words of wisdom and advice, sharing their own moments, to urge the OP to take the steps to improve their station in life. 

For instance, a staggering amount of posts are from children who wonder if they are AITA for standing up for themselves against their parents or siblings. People would respond praising the kids for making a stand against the abuse and even suggest ways to help them leave the toxic situation.

People would talk about how they suffered from their relatives’ hands but how they have fared since leaving the situation. The generosity and care of these strangers blew me away; strangers helping strangers. 

Now of course, the subreddit isn’t perfect. There’s common pieces of advice that pop-up: any relationship dispute means that the relationship should break up or people should go non-contact with family and friends at seemingly drop of a hat. People can turn on a person quickly and harshly if they are deemed to have failed the moral test.

AITA is not for the faint of heart. And there are also fake posts — people writing in their stories that are fabricated for one reason or another — be it a creative writing exercise, making a political or social statement, or simply attention-seeking. 

The subreddit calls itself a place for moral catharsis for the posters but it was a catharsis for me, akin to watching a Greek tragedy where witnessing tragedy gives the viewers a release of their worries and anxiety.

AITA certainly was a key tool in helping me in the months leading up to the birth of our daughter. During the isolating pandemic, it made me feel just a little bit more connected to my fellow dysfunctional human.

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Elisa Shoenberger is a freelance writer who has written for the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Business Insider and others. She writes regularly for Book Riot, Loop North News, Sixty Inches from Center, and FF2 Media.