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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Emotional Fraud on the Internet

Even those who are Internet savvy enough to keep from being separated from financial capital through scams, let their guard down when it comes to giving away emotional capital. How many times have you read a story through a blog and felt a deep connection to the words, carrying them with you throughout the day and having them affect your mood? Perhaps it is someone ill or with an inspirational story or grieving after a death.

And how would you feel to learn that it's all a scam? A ploy to get attention and sympathy?

There is a name for this type of behaviour--the creation of a fake story via the Internet used to garner support and consideration--Munchausen by Internet. People who engage in this behaviour not only create the situation, but often the people as well. In other words, the teenage girl dying of cancer turns out to be a healthy, forty-year-old man. More often than not, people who suffer from Munchausen are not writing these stories for financial gain, though people are often moved to contribute money or gifts when they are invested in the life. Instead, they crave the attention, comments, and sympathy garnered from the tale.

There have been plenty of famous cases--most notably Kaycee Nicole, whose existence (or lack thereof) was only discovered when readers of her blog became distraught after her "death." Imagine reading someone's story for two years, becoming emotionally invested, communicating with them via email, and then finding out, after dedicating hours of emotional energy, that the whole thing was a hoax. Wired magazine had an article this spring on death bloggers. It explains the impulse may come from the fact that it "feeds the desire of the narcissist and provides the lonely with the attention that they may never previously have known."

Niobe recently wrote about the fact that this could happen--that the Internet is ripe for hoaxes and scams, especially with the fact of even earnest, honest people writing under assumed names. She asked if readers had "ever read someone's story on a blog or forum (no names, please) and suspected that it was was, well, not exactly true? What made you suspicious? And what do you think motivates people like this?" 67 comments later--some repeating the sentiment "how could this happen" and others agreeing that they've read things that have made an internal alarm sound--and it makes you suspicious of everything you read thereafter.

The fact is, the infertility community--even more than other areas of the blogosphere--is ripe for these types of hoaxes. People become emotionally invested in each other's stories and it is too easy to set up a blog and start typing out a tale of woe and find the support you're craving. More than knitting or food, infertility, adoption, and loss are all emotional topics to start. And it does not even have to be an out-and-out hoax to fit this conversation on Internet scams. Someone actually going through IVF can easily stretch the truth and describe OHSS symptoms worse than they are or keep readers on the edge of their seat with dramatic moment after dramatic moment in a cycle.

And in the end, who is hurt by the all-out-hoax or the stretching of truth if no money has been exchanged and the only loss is emotional energy? Limeybean, a story quoted in the Wired article, even threw out the fact that even if a story turns out to be a lie, if a person felt better upon reading it; that it gave them hope or inspiration, was it all bad? It is the question asked at the end of Armistead Maupin's The Night Listener, where a writer befriends a little boy with an amazing tale of enduring abuse and AIDS only to discover that the boy is a fake. The writer still asks the question of the worth of what he learned about himself and life in general through the hoax--and not just the negative idea of not trusting people, but also the true lessons he learned about the ways we endure and triumphant over hardships.

I think we can all say definitively that no one wants their emotions jerked around through lies or fibs. I think most are savvy enough to know how to protect themselves financially or from phishing scams. But how do we open up our heart enough to let a story in while still protecting ourselves emotionally so we're not sucked into a story such as the ones outlined in the Wired article?

Niobe's post stems from an incident that rocked the ALI blogosphere when a woman admitted that she had submitted her children's names to the Names in the Sand project even though they were alive. She wrote on a message board: "If you write born sleeping somewhere on the page she will write your kids names for you - how would she know if they were alive or not, I mean its sad and all but I can't to the beach."

In addition, she writes of a second incident that happened on a message board where a woman claimed to have multiple second trimester losses as well as a neonatal death. Ryan Was Here writes of the incident
This woman (or so I'm assuming) has seemingly disappeared from these online forums, but not without a widespread trail of confused hearts and angry minds. Why on earth would someone WANT to be a dead baby mama, when those of us who had to say goodbye to our beloved babies would give anything to cuddle and caress our little ones just one minute longer? It's infuriating that someone would pretend to have walked in the same shoes as me and many of my friends - and take advantage of our broken hearts.
It is difficult to not become cynical when you read stories of Munchausen by Internet and lose your faith in fellow writers who are trying to record their story while connecting with others in a similar community. I have empathy for those who crave the attention so badly that they would resort to fraud, but my true sympathy lies with those who are taken on a ride, who spend hours worried about the person or crying after the loss. Especially when the situation reflects or effects another loss within their life, compounding grief. Those who have lost a child not only mourned with the woman described in Ryan Was Here's post, but also in turn mourn their own losses fully again through the grief of another.

How does one protect themselves from Munchausen by Internet or lesser frauds? How does one still remain open and trusting instead of cynical? Is there any good that come out of fraud, as per Limeybean's suggestion? And, as Niobe asked, have you ever suspected that you were being taken for an emotional ride and if so, did it cause you to step back or keep reading?

Cross posted on BlogHer

44 comments:

Kymberli said...

As I commented on niobe's post, I have unfortunately seen many cases of Internet fraud within the surrogacy community. Within my role as moderator on Surrogate Mothers Online, on several occasions I've had to gather information about such frauds and post warnings about them. SMO is used not just to connect with people whom you might never meet, but also to form the ultimate connections of cooperating to bring a child into the world. It is a heavy job to intervene in such cases to keep such scammers from causing emotional and often financial damage.

I tend to still remain trusting, but there are many times when my Nutcase Radar begins beeping. It's triggered by an instinctual gut feeling and usually not a specific set of things that I can put a finger on.

angrycanrn said...

Like Kymberli, I trust my gut. I read but in the back of my mind I look for minor inconsistancies. A blogger whose story just doesn't ring true to me, I just don't invest myself in. I don't continue to follow their story.

The other thing that makes me very wary with regard to IF bloggers are those that solicit donations outright on their blog. I think this is in very poor taste. Even obsessed IVF'ers should be aware of the state of the economy. Why not just stand at the street corner downtown with your hat in your hands?
To my knowledge I have not been scammed (but I tend to be less than generous with time and funds). I read blogs purely for entertainment. I invest of myself in friends, not in strangers on the internet who may or may not be who they say they are.

Forgive me, I am not the trusting sort!

Amy said...

I never really thought of that happening. I know that I have to be careful to protect myself from the sad and tragic stories. I try to offer my support, but they stay with me so clearly and vividly that it scares me and takes me to a very negative place. And these are true stories. I can only imagine how hard it would be to find out that the story I cried over, the people that I prayed for and mourned with were fakes?

Anonymous said...

I feel that I have trusted and have been scammed. Not too long ago a blogger I read regularly was requesting donations on her blog for an IVF.

My initial reaction was to want to help. My second reaction was that the request was rather ballsy because who doesn't have financial needs when going through infertility?

Well, while fertility treatments have certainly affected my pocketbook I am blessed to have insurance that covers IVF. If I did not have insurance I would be in a much different situation financially.

I gave. Not a lot, but I gave. I gave because I figured that since I have been blessed with insurance it was my responsibility to help someone who was not as fortunate.

A few days after I gave money the request for donations came down. The goal had not been met, but supposedly $600 had been raised. The blogger gave up on trying to raise money for IVF while sending a guilt trip into the blogosphere, hoping that "everyone had a good time with their IVF cycles".

This left a bad taste in my mouth. I now have no idea what the money I gave is being used for. It is not being used for it's intended purpose. There was no discussion of returning the money.

I will "enjoy" my IVF cycle guilt-free. I hope she enjoys her $600. I will probably never give money to a blogger again. The trust has been broken.

Annie said...

I have actually seen this kind of fraud with someone I knew face to face, but I moved far away so our communication was over the internet when it all happened. After she learned of my firstmiscarriage she made up a story about her own miscarriage. I had doubts about it back then, but I couldn't prove it so I just let it go and avoided the person. A few years later she evidently forgot that she'd already tried the scam on me before and tried it on me again, this time claiming to be pregnant and due around the same time as me, and then within hours of posting that I was m/c that baby she too was having a m/c. I was so angry that I started slyly asking her questions about that and her supposed past losses until I caught her in a lie. Of course then she got angry and told me that I was the one making it all up and said that perhaps even the son I do have doesn't really exist either *eyeroll*.

In the end I don't know if it didn't any good. If nothing else I hope it makes her think twice about trying the same thing on someone else.

Tash said...

As a historian, I used memoirs extremely sparingly with enormous caveats, back up evidence, and grains of salt. To me, even the people with the best of intentions suddenly realize that the story they thought happened to them, is really pretty close and ultimately more interesting than the story that really happened to them. I was pretty taken aback, for example, by how many people got taken in and hurt by "million little pieces," because I guess I go into a memoir with the assumption that it's not truth, exactly.

Blogs are similar, yet different, and now of course, I'm reading because of something else entirely. I'm invested, and to some degree I have to trust or else I'm not going to get much out of the process. When I read about the names in the sand scam, I felt like all my feelings and even experience had just been invalidated. And I guess I finally realized what the "million little pieces" readers were upset about.

Carrie said...

I believe I had this happen to me with some online friends through LiveJournal years ago. After "getting to know" a group of people, one of them, B, became sick and after months had heart failure and died. Me and some others who had been following the story were obviously devastated but when one of us tried meeting up with B's best friend when she was in the town he lived in, he always canceled or never showed. She then decided to do some research and was never able to find any mention anywhere of B's life or death or family, who was supposedly well-known. B's friends stopped communicating with us all together... and we still don't know if B ever truly existed. If he didn't... I'm not really angry at his friends who made "him" up... more sad for them than anything because what kind of person does that? How sad must their life be...

Brenna said...

This subject has come up on a board I participate on dedicated to parents who have lost a child. Fortunately I'm not aware of any issues that have occurred on the board, but quite a number of us have lost multiples and one woman warned against posting photos of your ultrasounds online because there have been instances of other people borrowing those images to post on board pretending to be pregnant with twins or triplets. It just makes me sad--and tired! Who would want to expend that kind of energy on a falsehood? It takes so much time to grieve and go through all of the ups and downs of IF, adoption, etc. that it's hard for me to fathom wanting to create that life for yourself. But you're right, if it's an actual syndrome it must be a sickness of sorts! I also thought of The Night Listener--but hadn't put a name to the syndrome, so this was very interesting to read.

Queenie. . . said...

This happened on a message board that I used to belong to. A woman was posting about her kids, complete with pic's, and her sad divorce from her husband. It turned out she was using someone else's kids pic's,etc. I remember being kind of jealous at the time that she had so much free time on her hands that she could invent this whole other life for herself. Sad, too-there's something really creepy about it.

But if you read someone for a while, you can get a sense of whether they're legit.

It's also a weird concept to me, the fake blog. This is my refuge, my place where I can say what's really going on, without fear that someone is going to connect me to my blog. I treasure the space to be so free. It's hard for me to understand why anyone would waste the opportunity to be honest and get actual suppport for who they really are.

WiseGuy said...

This is 'shattering'! I do not follow Carly's blog....but I think it is hugely pathetic that somebody supplied the names of their live children to be written in the honour of those who are considered departed....

I think like Kymberli/Angrycanrn, I would be trusting my guts entirely... But this is seriously troubling. Of those whose blogs I read regularly, I almost feel a very strong bond that makes me want to feel their every joy or pain, but to be taken on a ride like this, is hugely awful.

I also believe that I am still to encounter a grinch in the IF land as yet, somebody who is making up the story...but knowing what I know now through your post, there will always be a pebble in accepting new blogs upfront.

I thought this was an honest place. Financial scamming is something we are all so alert for that, we can del with it rightly...but how does one get over emotional scamming? Jeez!

I just hope nobody pulls that up on me.

Lori said...

I have come to a simple answer and a guiding principle: don't get drawn into drama.

Even if there truly IS drama for a person, I feel you don't do them any favors by getting in there and swirling it around more.

Instead, I try to be with them where they are, hold them in a place of wholeness, and remember WHO they truly are, at their essence: whole and well, a divine being of light.

I hold them in this place. From here, the drama can better cease (if they want it to) and I am doing my part to help them receive what they need.

Emmy said...

The whole idea that people would make this stuff makes me sick. I WISH I were making up the crap that has happened in my life, and I often say that- although I'm not creative enough to invent this crap.

It's never crossed my mind that someone's blog who I follow would be making stuff up. I just don't get it.

Erica said...

Never thought about this...

I don't think I've read any phony blogs to date, but I really only started in December of '08.

Although I think it's creepy and definitely weird for someone to create some false identity, the benefits of this online community far outweigh the few fakes that may exist. I will be on the lookout though. Thanks for the heads up!

Kristin said...

As a general rule, I trust my gut instinct. I got sucked in BADLY a while ago (wrote it up for niobe's post) and, although it made me wary, I found I couldn't let it destroy my ability to trust and believe in people.

Just Meim said...

This makes me so sad, and quite frankly, a bit scared.

If the blogs that I read are authored by big-fat-liars, I really hope I never find out.

I think that finding out they were fake would be more of an emotional disaster for me than the posts that they write. For me, ignorance IS bliss.

Jennifer said...

WOW!! I trust my gut when reading peoples stories. I look at what has happened to me in life when reading others stories. My blog is a place for me to be able to share my feelings about this roler coaster I am on. It discusts me that people would lie about the things happening. I have not been scammed by a blog yet and hope that never happens.

Trish said...

As far as I know, I haven't been scammed on the Internet.

I did, however, have a coworker who wove the most unbelievable tales for a long time.

The worst (imo) of her tales was about losing twins to TTTS. Completely with pictures she was never in, that were clearly printed on her home printer..

This was long before I was even married, let alone mother to a preemie myself.

At the time, I only suspected she was full of shit. I never said anything to anyone else because frankly, I preferred to be a dupe than to have abandoned a friend who was truly in need.

Later it became clear that she was nutty. (the lies actually got bigger than that, if you can imagine.) But I still don't regret the time and emotional investment that I put into her at that time.

She clearly needed some attention, some friendship. Maybe I made her feel better for a day or two. Who knows?

I have no shame in having been duped. I can stand proud that I was a good friend to her.

As for the Internet, all I can say is that charity is its own reward. Any one could do anything with money given. It isn't about what it's used for, but about doing something for someone.

A message board I frequent took up a collection for us when Robbie was born so early. I was astounded and beyond grateful. I can't account for how the money was spent. It was deposited and probably spent either in gas to and from the hospital or in cafeteria meals. But no one ever asked or specified what it was to be used for. It was just something they felt they could DO in a helpless situation.

All in all, if donating 5 or 10 bucks to a scammer is the "dumbest" thing I ever do, I've lead a pretty smart life.

battynurse said...

Some of these instances are truly so sad. How can you pretend to have lost a child.
I used to frequent a chat board for TTC that was part of a donor sperm site. There was one woman on there who was always fairly dramatic and would very easily take offense if someone didn't respond with appropriate sympathy to her post. Then she had some major problem that prevented her from ever TTC again. Then she came back and it was all ok, then she left. Then she created several other false sign ons with the same info, kids etc but always some sort of drama happening. I tried to just stay as far away from her as I could. Obviously there was something wrong with her.

Clare said...

How distressing. Like many of the other commenters, I only read blogs for entertainment or interest and if a story doesnt FEEL right i dont invest myself in it. I dont think you can fake an IF story over a long period of time - if u havent been there, you dont know!

•´.¸¸.•¨¯`♥.Trish.♥´¯¨•.¸¸.´• said...

I don't know so much about creating flase stories on blogs ...who knows

but I discscovered a 'mother' who pretended she was a member of the DBC (sometimes a stillbirth sometimes SIDs) plus had a child with leukemia (in some the child posts on different forums had already died) ,a son with autism and other lies (her mother died too).
I tracked her through several different forums across the internet/countries and informed the moderators. The story was a little different on each one.

She used similar names, and unusual spelling so it was easy to google her.

Many bereaved mothers (friends on the original forum) were very upset after reading of her multiple losses.
Heartbreaking and cruel.
Most of all she allegedly used her real childrens names ...

It shatters me more that someone could fake losing a precious child.It does capitilise our emotions and cause intense pain.

calliope said...

as someone that totally benefited from the kindness of strangers it saddens me that anyone would take advantage of our ALI community. That being said- I have been on many a message board with some interesting fabricators. Once a woman on a donor sperm board faked a pregnancy- she even used an image from an internet search as her own ultrasound. Someone called her out and a week later she was "in an accident and lost the baby". It was so effed up and yet so sad.

princessoftides said...

I have to say this never occurred to me, though I'm not sure why. I don't think of myself as particularly naive - though maybe this shows I am.

I've certainly benefitted from the generosity of this community, and other communities I belong to. It makes me sad to think I'm going to have to "be careful" about giving back.

infertilityrocks said...

Oh know about these people! I'm a pretty new blogger, but have been on message boards for almost 4 years now. Sometimes we'll get a 'troll' on a board with some sort of fantastical tale about many kids, losses, etc. Usually, when people try to call this people out, "friends" or theirs (other accounts created by them)will pipe up to defend them.

Very odd that some people are so empty in who they are that they have to pretend to be someone else. It's quite pathological.

As far as blog following goes, I just follow my gut. There are just 'truth details' that one could make up unless they have been through IF or loss or adoption. If I don't see those in there, I don't invest.

It does make me so sad that people put a 'bad name' on loss stories. A friend of mine lost her 6 year old tragically with a normal dose of cough medicine, and it makes me so sad to think that people would not be warned of her story because scammers have ruined their ears.

Theresa Erickson said...

As Kymberli stated above, the surrogacy community is ripe for fraud. As a lawyer, I truly hope that you take a minute and think through any decisions that you make - the adage "thin before you act" is so important. Be wary, be careful and trust no one. I get heart sick when I hear from people about how they have been scammed, and how I cannot help them as much as I could have in the first place.

niobe said...

I confess that I've been absolutely fascinated by people who make things up, who tell stories, create complicated imaginary lives out of whole cloth. It's not just the lies that intrigue me -- it's the whole dance of betrayal -- the doubts, the questioning, the unravelling.

And I do realize that whatever this says about me, it's probably nothing good.

lassie said...

Ugh. Munchausen by Internet makes perfect sense. Your post gave me chills. All the comments about people being scammed were unbelievable. I guess this kind of thing happens more often than we imagine.

I'm glad you brought this to light. I'm wiser for reading your post. Thanks.

Jane said...

Just playing devil's advocate here. Where did the last UTERUS fundraising money go? Did Max and Vee take that trip to Italy that their families bought them tickets for and we were raising money for spending money and expenses?

There's fraud and then there is fraud. But where do we drawn the line?

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Hey Jane--that's not Devil's Advocate at all. It's a good question.

You may have missed the discussion, but Max could not be cleared for overseas travel and she became pregnant and also could not travel in the first trimester. She asked if we had her blessing to use the money to go have special time somewhere close. They took a brief trip to Queensland and had that time together. She was completely transparent with it and posted pictures when they returned from the trip for everyone to enjoy too. I'm glad they got to have that time together. We were only providing a part of the money--we raised a little over $1000 for the trip. The rest of the money had come from her family.

The other recipient, Mary, paid off the D&C bill and we gave her the exact amount for that.

One reason that I've been involved in so few fundraising efforts is that it's not only an enormous amount of work, but also because they do involve a fair amount of trust. Flowing in both directions--from me to the recipient, but also the recipient to us.

Jane said...

Yes Mel, I'm sure that this sort of fundraising is fraught with difficulties.....

Shall I assume that all those hundreds of people who contributed to the "fairy tale" trip of Max and Vee's were offered their money back? I can see what a nightmare that would be, but they did donate with that trip in mind (where Max could reunite with his family and they could meet the yet to be born baby).

Difficult conundrum.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Jane, I'm not sure I understand--would you have only contributed for this one trip? I think it was pretty clear from the beginning that there were extenuating circumstances at stake. The question was thrown out to the community and no one objected. It is difficult to know what to do with someone anonymously objecting now because I can neither return money to you nor communicate with you directly.

But, this has cemented my decision not to do another UTERUS project in the future. The economic climate in the US, the lack of time, but also the inability to do this type of fundraising well when it is an imperfect system.

Geohde said...

I've kep this post unread, hoping to compose a sensible reply. But it's difficult. It's sad and craven behaviour to make up a life online for the sympathy and attention of strnagers, but then again I have nothing but sympathy that some people feel so isolated from others and disconnected and lack the skills to interact in a real way.

If that makes sense. They're to be pitied, really.

g

eden said...

Jane,

Which part do you not understand? The part about Max struggling to stay alive by undergoing more cancer treatments? Or the part about Vee being pregnant after SO much heartache all these years?? Do you think they would have preferred to go to Queensland instead of Paris??

Sorry Lollie. It just made my blood boil.

Jane said...

Eden, which part of my simple question did you not understand? Better yet, why did it make your blood boil? Their medical circumstances were the cause of the donation drive. Yes, we all knew that Max has Cancer and Vee was attempting a last ditch effort at FET. No secrets there. Yet the donations were still requested for a trip to Paris. Are you saying that the trip was never going to happen? That the premise of the donations was in itself fraudulent?

People (myself included) donated money to give them a fabulous vacation to Paris. A vacation that at the time WAS doable. Vee's family bought plane tickets etc. That vacation later became impossible to accomplish. OK. Then the people who made generous contributions to a once in a lifetime, fairy tale trip should be informed and offered to have their money returned. I'm sure that 90%+ would tell them to do whatever they wanted with it.

But maybe, just maybe someone who donated had a vested interest in helping Vee take her dying husband to a place that she never got to go with her dead husband. So maybe her wish of making another's dream come true was dashed.

Always more to the story.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Jane,

I think it was an incredibly valid question asked about the trip. And she posted the dilemma about not being able to travel and I posted the dilemma and when no one stepped forward to ask for the money back, she went ahead with planning something close by. I think this is what made me realize that I couldn't do another UTERUS fundraiser in the future. The fact is that it's too easy to have everything fall through and then what do you do next? Does she give the money back and have the community pick a new recipient? What if someone is chosen that people don't want to support? Does she spend it on something else?

I supported that idea since the impulse behind the trip wasn't just Paris, but more the idea of creating that time and memory with someone that she is going to lose. Would it have been more meaningful to have the memories tied to Paris (and I had a very personal story about Paris which is what triggered doing the fundraiser in the first place)? Yes, but I also wouldn't have been upset if she had spent the money to have good pictures of him taken or anything that she can take to remember him by. I cannot imagine being in that position and my heart goes out to both of you. The loss of a spouse is devastating.

I'm not sure what to do now except offer an apology. I can't get that money back and I do wish now that I had emailed every donater directly rather than posting the messages on the two blogs. I am sorry that more wasn't done to make sure that everyone weighed in. But it has definitely given me food for thought about getting involved in the future with individuals rather than organizations.

Fertilized said...

Gosh this is awful to think of but I know this happens all the time. I am going to have my own post about this and think let you know what I do

Alex said...

Hi all,

Most of you know me as Max (alias) from The sweet life. Although I used to blog in the past, I seldom do so these days as I find it to be a constant reminder of my current situation.
I live with cancer, I don't feel the need to write about it, I'd rather escape whenever possible.

Vee has been upset by some of the recent comments regarding the money raised for us earlier on by UTERUS.

I've therefore decided to come out of the woodworks and respond to the best of my ability regarding a comment left by Jane.

First of all let me clear up that this money was offered to us, at no time did we make a request to have a fund raiser for a trip to Paris. The trip to Paris came about as we thought this would be an amazing holiday for both my wife and I. Mel approached us from the goodness of her heart.
We certainly were very hesitant in taking the money and made it clear that we couldn't guarantee that this money would or could be spent towards a trip to Paris specifically due to the circumstances we are in.
Thanks to the generosity of the internet community we received the sum of $1000... It's a large amount of money there is no doubt but I would imagine that people ought to have known that this would only be a contribution towards the trip, not the whole trip.
I think that anyone who donated and feels that they have been robbed because ultimately the money did not go towards a trip to Paris but towards a trip within Australia is not being honest with the community at large. It feels as if someone is unhappy because they thought they were investing into a Fairy Tale story, I hate to point out the obvious but this is not a fairy tale...this is life, cancer is ugly and anything can change from day to day. I'd like to think that people who donate do it from their heart out of pure goodness. A donation is a gift and you shouldn't make a gift if you expect something back in return, even if it's just emotional.

This is a time in my life where I could really well do without having to deal with those guilt trip allegations, therefore, I invite anyone who feels they have been misguided to contact Vee at veelife at gmail.com and I will see personally that your donation be refunded.

For all who donated from their heart and out of compassion, and those who have offered us continual support I cannot thank you enough.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

I wanted to add to something Alex said: the Paris trip was not their idea at all. On September 20th, I had a dream and Vee was in it. This is what I wrote her:

So you were in my dream last night. You were living in Melbourne and I went to visit you. You told me that Sydney is only 15 minutes away so the commute is totally do-able (it's about a three hour drive in reality? More?). Then Alex told me he had a meeting with the oncologist in Sydney and I could tag along. After spending the whole day in the city, I realized that I hadn't seen the opera house and you told me to turn around and I saw the opera house and started bawling because it's one of those quintessential things that non-Oz people want to see when they're there to mark the experience such as the Trevi fountain in Rome. It was such a strange dream. I'm not really sure what it all means except that I'm thinking of you too and wishing you well and hope things are going okay with the new treatment.

The email exchange continued into a discussion of Vee's hair (which was not made out of straw as it was in the dream) and how I want to go to Australia. I mentioned that we always go to Europe on holiday because it's closer. And how we've been to Europe a bunch of times. Which led to Vee admitting that though they have family in Europe, they too usually go on holiday in Asia because it is closer to Australia.

Five days later (Vee and I write a lot of emails to each other. In there is also a conversation about my new iPod), she wrote this in answer to my question about how often they go to Europe:

"We don't get to go to Europe often at all. Alex and I have never been together. Alex went to France just after we met in 2001 his mum sent him home for a family reunion. The last time I have been was in 1992...way tooo long ago. I have never been to France and Alex has never been to Italy so our dream trip would be to do the combo."

I emailed the other UTERUS people that day and when I heard back from them, emailed Vee to tell her about my thought. She was sort of blown away and asked for a few days to think about it. And then returned with a rejection. And I explained my personal reason for why I wanted her to go to Paris and she decided to accept.

Which is why I'd really like to put this to rest. Jane asked a valid question and I answered it. And I'm not sure why I didn't consider sending an email to everyone who participated instead of just posting it on our blogs (it was in LFCA and on The Sweet Life in the spring). It's a matter of taking that information and doing better next time (or, for the people who do UTERUS in the future to keep in mind that if anything changes in terms of how the money will be used, they should offer to return it all via email rather than writing it into a blog). I only wish this question had been asked in March because it was more feasible to do something about it prior to the trip being taken.

I said it to Cali and I said it to Vee and Max (Alex) and Mary--they owe us nothing. It is great when Cali posts pictures of the baby and I think about how we helped BUT if Cali wanted to go off-line tomorrow and never respond to an email again, that is her right. She cannot live her life indebted to everyone. And that is true for Vee, Max, and Mary. They were certainly thankful and emotional and grateful and they properly thanked everyone. The money should have been used within reason for the intended purpose. And if Cali had looked at the sum of money and said, "feh, not sure I want to be a mum. I'm going to spend this on shoes and purses" I would have said no.

But when Vee emailed to ask what she should do now that the Paris trip was off the table, I gave my blessing to use it for the local trip. I own that and need to be accountable for that decision. I made it unilaterally, giving my blessing on the funds being used for a different reason, because I felt the funds were still being used for a similar reason: to build memories, to get time with one another, to escape everyday life and just be with each other (and now Doudou) and pause. Because Paris was just as much about seeing family and seeing the city through her husband's eyes and being in this romantic place with him as it was about cementing a memory.

For me, UTERUS has always been about finding something that can be fixed and fixing it. Cali mentioned the embryos on ice and a light went on thinking, "wait, we can't make her pregnant, but we can certainly do this." I can never give the big things that matter: the baby, removing the cancer, undoing the loss. But I can fix the small things that are tied to those big things.

And frankly, I will always be proud of how we pulled together as a community. The point of UTERUS has always been to donate what you don't need and won't miss. It was the idea of one-person's-trash-is-another-person's-treasure. Or, to donate a skill (Vee and Alex donated art to their own fundraiser). Some people donate money directly and that is fine, but the impulse has always been if you read through the old posts to donate things you will not miss.

And perhaps that is why I thought simply posting it on the blogs was enough. Because if people were giving what they wouldn't miss, I couldn't imagine they'd want it back.

Truly, I am really sad that feelings are hurt and I hope that this explanation smooths things over rather than invites more ill feelings. I've certainly learned a lot from the original question and Jane and I have spoken off-blog by this point and therefore, I hope this puts things to rest.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Holy shit. I just a full blog post in my comment section. Apologies.

Lori said...

Just as committing emotional fraud creates bad ju-ju for the faker (I always got sick for real whenever I used sickness as an excuse -- I shudder to think what bad ju-ju there is when pretending to have a dead baby), I think kind and loving donations to fix something fixable creates really, really good ju-ju.

UTERUS is/was a place for people to create good ju-ju. Thanks for setting it up, Mel, and now for letting it go.

angrycanrn said...

You know this whole thread has gotten out of control to the extreme.

I asked a reasonable question. Mel provided a reasonable answer. Perhaps I was over generous in my donations because I was attempting to live vicariously through the recipients. My bad for wanting something nice for someone. But the discussion should have ended there.

For the record I NEVER ONCE asked for my donation to be reimbursed. I did not address any questions to Max and Vee directly. It was not until Alex posted his little tirade about how *I* wasn't being honest with the community at large that I took exception. Really? By asking a simple question I'm not being honest?

This really didn't have to get so blown out of proportion. I didn't want my donation back. To the shit stirrers who got involved and inflamed things further I hope you are willing to pitch in financially for Max and Vee. They may need it.

Helen said...

As one of the other in the triad of bloggers who kicked off UTERUS, I'm pretty disappointed and sad at how all of this has gone. We've taken three people and made them feel - what? guilty? bad? Indebted?

I didn't know ANY of the bloggers we did UTERUS for. Not a one. I didn't need to, I trust Mel. If Mel trusts Cali, Mary and Vee, then I do too. People gave money. I gave money. Not once did I feel all grumbly about it - did someone go one place instead of another? Who cares. The money was theirs and I hope they took some photos to remember the time.

Like Mel I too am stepping down from UTERUS, also due to time constraints. I hope that it continues because it's a beautiful thing and the world, well, it's kinda' short of beautiful things.

And as an aside- I was there for the Plain Layne saga. I've been had on the internet and have, in fact, been asked many a time if I'm real. Sadly, I really am.

angrycanrn said...

I never said I cared how the money was spent. I only asked what happened to it. Apparently I was out of contact when the plan was altered. I would have thought that since I was a fairly large contributor someone might have made the effort to ask me. But whatever. I would have given my blessing to pretty much anything.

But I don't appreciate being made into a pariah for simply asking that question. I did not denigrate the recipients, I did not try to make them feel guilty, indebted or anything else. But if someone would prefer to throw my money back in my face, then go ahead. There are plenty of other worthy recipients who might even appreciate my efforts.

Helen said...

Angrycanrn- thanks for burning lots of people for simply stating their place. Including Mel, who left was can only be construed as a supportive message on your website.

I think you have issues. No one was witch-hunting you. They still aren't, even though your comment on my site was disgusting, to say the very least.

angrycanrn said...

Yes Helen, I have issues.

Foremost among them an intolerance for people meddling in things that don't concern them. Especially crazy people.

I asked a simple question that should not have caused any angst if all with UTERUS was on the up and up. In fact there was no angst between Mel and I. I missed the conversation about what Max and Vee should do with the money since I was out of commission. There was no ulterior motive on my part. I was interested to know where the money went. So why all the controversy? Why so many leaders bailing ship? Could it be because things are not as pure as the driven snow? Are there irregularities in the accounting? I would expect not, since Mel is honest to a fault.

I over reacted to Alex's comment which hurt my feelings and when Vee explained that it was a hit and run comment (they left the house immediately after writing it) it made more sense. But I can't read minds and responded with a less favourable email in the meantime.

You are not privy to the emails filled with vitrol so please don't pretend to tell me that no one is "witch hunting" me. They are and strangely there is an email address that is just a few letters off of yours and share ONE of your several IP addresses. Why does one need more than one? So perhaps my comment on your mental state on your blog isn't so out of line now. You drew first blood.

I'm done. No more $2K donations to UTERUS. No more caring period. Have a nice life.