These days, every life stage has its own digital landscape. In adolescence, it’s something like TikTok or Snapchat (I’m guessing). As a single adult, it’s the showy world of dating apps. When you’re pregnant—or trying to get pregnant, or trying to feed and care for the product of the pregnancy—you are once again driven online, in search of crowdsourced information: Should I buy this baby gadget or that one? Why does my nipple look this way? Where do I find a pediatrician? There’s an urgent need for networking—for nanny-share buddies, hand-me-downs, and infant “play dates,” which are really for the parents. This can lead you into previously unthinkable corners of the Internet: TheBump.com message boards; Facebook groups with names like “Brooklyn Mamas.” Four years ago, when I was pregnant, I balked at joining such communities, but, once inside, I grew to like them. There’s something refreshingly democratic about the “mommy” Internet. It’s not slick or cool—such considerations are irrelevant when you’re trying to find a speech therapist or diagnose a rash. And it was socially liberating to shed my previous associations and assume a new identity: “mom to T., age three.” Under such a guise, I was granted an intimate, if narrow, view into the lives of strangers.
In recent years, this scene has been getting a makeover. The most prominent example is Peanut, a networking app for moms, which was created in 2017 by Michelle Kennedy, a British entrepreneur. Kennedy is a veteran of the dating-app world: she was deputy C.E.O. of the European dating app Badoo, and served on the board of the American company Bumble. She was inspired to create Peanut when she was a new mom, navigating the digital netherworld that I described above. “It was really frustrating,” she told me. “Like, why is there no innovation in this space? I put it down to the fact that the people who build most social products are young guys in their dorm rooms.”
Peanut now has almost two and a half million users. It’s sleek and user-friendly, combining features of the most popular social-networking platforms. There are discussion groups, as on Facebook, and a feature where you can “swipe” to find potential mom friends, as on Bumble and Tinder. Kennedy told me that she’s most excited about a Clubhouse-like feature, where you can have voice conversations with other users. When I listened in, the other day, a group of new moms were venting about breastfeeding in public. “People say, ‘Why don’t you just pump?’ ” one woman groaned. “Pumping doesn’t work for me. I could pump for, like, two hours and not get an ounce. That’s not an option for everybody!”
Scrolling through the discussion topics on the app, it was hard to believe that there was a time, not so long ago, when it was considered unseemly to talk about the complexities of sex and motherhood. I noticed tags for “rainbow” and “angel” moms (those who’ve reproduced after miscarriage or the loss of a child), and for “420” moms (those who enjoy a toke during nap time). There were discussion groups for postpartum depression, fibroids and endometriosis, and “How to Climax Regularly.” (I was intrigued by a discussion titled “Lazy mamas unite!”) “It’s so intimate and raw and honest,” Kennedy said, of the culture on the app. “What started with ‘My baby won’t sleep’ has evolved into conversations about sex, relationships, financial worries, career worries.” In 2019, Peanut rolled out an app called Peanut TTC (Trying to Conceive), for women going through fertility issues.
Recently, Peanut débuted its newest product, Peanut Menopause, which the company describes as a “digital community dedicated to helping women navigate perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause.” Kennedy told me that the topic started coming up in both the Peanut Mama and Peanut TTC communities. Women were experiencing menopausal symptoms—memory loss, vaginal dryness, mood swings, hair loss, irregular periods—and they wanted to discuss it. Such a forum didn’t seem to exist, despite the fact that menopause is something that half the population will experience. Getting your period, fertility—these are things that women feel increasingly comfortable talking about. But losing your period? “It’s one of the last standing taboos,” Kennedy said. She mentioned a statistic from the company’s research: “Only twenty-five per cent of women will talk about menopause with their best friends.” This silence has left many of us ignorant about basic bodily processes, which Kennedy described as “almost abusive.” She brought up an interview that the talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel did in 2019 with the actress Viola Davis. When Davis mentions menopause, Kimmel asks, sincerely, “What is menopause?” Davis shoots him an incredulous look, and says, “Menopause is hell, Jimmy. Menopause is a dark hole. That’s what menopause is. And that’s where I’m at right now.” She describes an episode of brain fog that made her husband ask her if she was going crazy. Kimmel responds, “But you might be going crazy.” It’s this vacuum, of both knowledge and empathy, that Peanut hopes to address.
I downloaded the app and took a spin through its features and discussion rooms. My interest was not strictly journalistic. I’d come to realize that my knowledge of menopause—both what happens and what it feels like—was not far above Jimmy Kimmel level. This was despite the fact that I will soon be experiencing it—and, after reading Peanut’s primers on the symptoms of perimenopause, the transition stage when your ovaries gradually stop working, I began to wonder if I’m not already in it. The Peanut Menopause app was in beta until this month, so it has far fewer users than Peanut’s offerings around motherhood and fertility do. Still, I found the menopausal community to be a welcoming place. There were funny and reassuring memes, posted by Team Peanut (“I get it now, menopause is just puberty’s evil older sister”), and in-depth discussions about hormone-replacement therapy, a topic that, like fertility treatments, is swiftly becoming its own ever-expanding universe.
I tried the Tinder-like matching feature, swiping through profiles belonging to middle-aged women in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the United Kingdom. (Although there are surely plenty of menopausal women in my area, they are apparently not on Peanut.) These women seemed lovely, but I hesitated before “waving” at any of them. What would we talk about? We didn’t seem to have much in common besides our biology—we were born with an internal weather system of sex hormones, which would one day withdraw, sending reverberations through our bodies and our psyches.
Eventually, I connected with Tonya Jackson, a fifty-year-old Peanut Menopause user in St. Joseph, Michigan. Jackson, who’s retired, recently moved to Michigan from Kentucky, and she said that she had downloaded the app because “I was looking for someone other than my husband to talk about my girly stuff with.” Her menopausal symptoms had set in recently: night sweats, during-the-day sweats, and, most troubling of all, memory loss. She forgot an entire conversation that she’d had with her husband a week earlier, which made her question her sanity. She found solace by sharing her story in a Peanut discussion group. “I got so much positive feedback,” she told me. “It was, like, ‘Yes, girl! We’ve gone through that.’ ” Her fellow-users suggested that she try journaling, and she now writes down everything she does each day. They also advised that she buy a small fan to carry with her around the house.
She said that Peanut Menopause has been a bright spot in her life: “I just love the womanly community. People lift each other up and support each other. It’s nothing like Facebook.” On the other hand, menopause hasn’t gotten any easier. Lately, she’s been having mood swings. “One minute I’m happy-go-lucky, and the next minute I get set off very easily,” she said. The cause is usually her husband. “He sets me off a lot.” Their last argument came after they took down some wall decorations in order to rearrange the living-room furniture. She said that, when they were finished, “He just started putting them back up. I said, ‘No. I’ll do that.’ He said, ‘Why can’t I do it?’ And I said, ‘Because you don’t know where they go.’ ” She warned him not to get an attitude. “And he’s, like, ‘No, YOU—you have the attitude.’ ”
He knows that she’s going through menopause, she said, but not really. A lot of her friends on Peanut are in the same boat. “They are having issues in their marriage because the men don’t understand it,” she said. This points to an issue beyond Peanut’s scope. “I think that not only should the women be informed about what menopause is and what it can do, the men need to be informed. They need someone to talk to about it,” Jackson said. So far, there isn’t an app for that.