I absolutely could not wait to announce my first pregnancy on Facebook. I had the ultrasound image ready and the clever post (“ovBUNen, ETA: 7/13/13”) prepared. I loved the response, in both “Likes” and Comments, marveling at the delight that even distant Friends took in the news. We had told our families, close friends and colleagues in person, so it was a symbolic ‘coming out’ at best, but there were still old college friends, erstwhile bandmates and childhood neighbors to be surprised and delighted.
I also noted in my pregnancy journal–an adorable indulgence I had time for then–that I started to feel much better physically around the same time that we introduced the baby to social media. Of course, I was past the first trimester queasiness and worry. But I reflected then that being totally ‘out’ about the pregnancy was a huge relief.
When my husband and I attended a wedding two weeks before my due date, I posted images from the photo booth of the two of us goofing around with my huge belly. I happily linked to snarky articles with titles like “What Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman.” And, of course, one of my first acts upon being transferred from Labor and Delivery to the Maternity Ward was to share a “He’s here!” picture to Facebook.
The second time around, I was more reticent about broadcasting the news. Initially, I simply didn’t have the time. But it wasn’t just the two and a half year old I was chasing instead of coming home from work and putting my feet up on the couch. It wasn’t that I was so bone tired that fretting and Googling over every little twinge and twitch was last on my priority list. (I didn’t notice every little twinge and twitch, because I was so bone tired.)
True, the pregnancy seemed shorter and loomed less large the second time. I ate foods off the ‘avoid’ list and occasionally had a glass of wine to take the edge off. I regularly forgot how many weeks along I was, and I certainly had no damn idea what size fruit or vegetable most closely aligned with this second little parasite.
Although my neglectful maintenance of social media started as an oversight, it became a conscious choice. I found that it’s pretty nice to have a space in life where my pregnancy was not the first thing that others noticed about me. I was losing patience with people–including my high school students and total strangers–commenting on the size of my body or asking personal questions about my plans. (It was nice to hear, “you look great!” but less nice to see the surprised laugh when I replied, “you too!” because it made the unspoken rest of the sentence–”great…for a pregnant woman!”–so clear.) I was more impatient with the simple things I couldn’t do as well or as quickly: walking down the hall, carrying laundry or my son, digesting food. I loved that people cared and wanted to help, but I didn’t like the solicitous or paternalistic tones they used, the ones implying that being pregnant had suddenly made me everyone else’s responsibility.
But online, a pregnant person can ‘pass’ as a normal, functioning person. A person who, if she “looks great,” just looks great! Someone whose body and choices are not suddenly the provenance of every person who crosses her path. Who doesn’t necessarily need help. Who engages in a wide variety of conversation topics, and is not accused of “baby brain” when she performs normal human activities like forgetting something, or subjected to knowing laughs and teasing comments when she has a craving.
There are risks that come along with the rewards of an overlarge community–or village, if you will–participating in the raising of a child and the life of a new mother. The radical change that happens with the birth of a first child can leave her desperate for input and advice. But with so many voices confidently conflicting over birth, breastfeeding, baby blues, and sleep patterns, that ‘support’ can start to feel more like harassment. So being choosy about how to share the news the second time around–keeping my village small and essential–was an important first step for me in taking ownership of not only my pregnancy, but my choices, and my child.
Online, without the element of pregnancy coloring my every interaction, I got to be wholly myself again. (Though I had already taken on the identity of ‘mother,’ I’ve chosen not to make that a big part of my social media life, partly out of concern for my son’s privacy and partly so I do not annoy my friends.) And though I know that masking aspects of one’s identity online isn’t new, that even in the overly confessional nature of a platform like Facebook, everyone’s posts are heavily curated to present a persona of choice, and I know that what makes me ‘different’–my pregnancy–is temporary… it still feels a little dishonest, a little risky, a little radical, to withhold something so elemental to my life and my self.
But I understand the importance of a whole self better now than I did before I became a mother. Because then, I took for granted that my interests, wishes and desires had their own space in my heart and mind. Now, I must carve out that space, and fight to keep it whole.
Of course my interests, wishes and desires are influenced pretty heavily by having children whose happiness is my primary concern. But remembering that my happiness is important too–being a whole person in addition to being a mother–made me a better mother to my son, and to the baby girl whose birth was a big surprise to most of my Facebook Friends. It’s a new understanding of pregnancy and motherhood, born of experience: I give myself permission to be entirely me.