A sad Facebook birth story

The Washington Post is carrying a remarkable birth story today by Ian Shapira, called "A Facebook story: A mother's joy and a family's sorrow."

Shapira has shaped the story using the Facebook postings of Shana Greatman Swers, a 35-year-old Gaithersburg, Md., consultant who died just weeks after the birth of her son, Isaac Lawrence Swers, on Sept. 23 of this year.

Within days of Isaac's birth, Swers was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare, grave heart disease associated with childbirth.

In a "Story Lab" blog post, and in a live Q&A chat, Shapira describes how he came to write about a colleague of his wife's, a woman who, he writes, not only died from "unusual pregnancy complications," but also "had been remarkably public about her ordeal" in her Facebook postings, some of them sent from her iPhone at the hospital.

Shapira determined to tell Swers' story through selected postings from her Facebook page, beginning with her proud announcement of her pregnancy on March 10, and continuing until her death.

What emerges is a picture of a first-time mom reveling in impending motherhood, then reacting with concern and frustration at the unexpected medical problems, responding to friends' good wishes and offers of food and other help.

At one point, her husband, Jeffrey, asked friends to "post a memory or funny story that lets her know why she is special to you," and began himself with the story of their first Fourth of July together.

It seems impossible to believe, reading the posts, that Swers' condition would not improve, that the last post in the story, from Nov. 3, would be her husband's anguished cry: "I love you wifey wife, I love you, I love you, a million times over I love you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Shapira's story, and the Facebook page itself, are compelling artifacts of our times.

Putting motherhood on the clock

One of Hanna Rosin's grievances against breast-feeding in "The Case Against Breast-Feeding," her article last year in The Atlantic, is that it prevents women from doing work that would be more productive, or at least more lucrative.

"It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way," she wrote.

Hello? This week alone, as the mother of a 12-year-old at the end of summer vacation, I have spent a morning at the beach, an entire day at a water park, and an afternoon turning Gatorade bottles into papier mache fish. Need I say that no one gave me one shiny dime for any of this activity?

To the extent that women do it themselves, motherhood is a career-wrecker. Six months or so of exclusive breast-feeding at the front end seems hardly worth mentioning.

I have not worked more than 30 hours a week (most years much less) since my older daughter, Nora, was born almost 23 years ago. It was my choice, but I paid a price in diminished salary and less prestigious assignments — in opportunities.

Even so, I would do it again if I got a do-over.

Why is that? Because I can't think of anything I would rather have than time and relationships with my husband and my children. That was true when the girls were little, and it's true now.

Nora has moved 2,000 miles away this summer. When she calls me, I drop everything to talk with her. And even though, if I added up our phone/Skype sessions, the total would probably look like a serious time commitment, I don't ever worry about how much valuable time I'm losing.

(For a twist on this perspective, see "Putting a Price on Motherhood" in today's New York Times.)