As a journalist and (accidental) influencer, sharing stories is not only a requirement of my livelihood, it is baked into my personality. Making women feel less alone has been at the core of my writing and speaking ambitions since I started out. But when I had my daughter this past March, something in me changed. It felt as if there was a gossamer-light pair of reins holding me back from sharing about her — an emotional bulwark preventing me from expounding upon who she is and how I’m raising her. While surprising at first, this reticence to share has become increasingly familiar, and I’ve been wondering why that is or what it implies.
Recently someone wrote to me that I was making mothering “look easy” on Instagram. Was it a compliment or a passive-aggressive dig? I’m not sure. But I do know there’s this idea that, as a woman, in order to be “real,” you must show the mucky sides: the mess, the pimples, the screaming child. But what if I’m really tidy? What if my child is — and even writing this, I feel like I am doing a disservice to mothers — an easy baby? I am a natural optimist; I’ve never been a huge sharer of the shitty. But in recent times, I’ve come close to sharing struggles that I really do not want to out of some loyalty to “authenticity.” That I almost did, when I would have felt so uncomfortable doing so, feels now like a kind of madness.
There is a universal truth that I feel like we should keep in our frontal lobe at the start of every day, that shouldn’t have to be conveyed in every image: parenting is hard. Hell, life is hard. Putting the onus on women to represent the full extent of that in their social media photos and captions feels unfair, especially if that kind of sharing doesn’t feel right or natural. As a self-described “sharer,” do I have to tick the whole list? When attempting to make others feel better makes me feel worse, can I say no?
Sharing can be healing; but it can also leave me feeling depleted. Because even when I’m careful not to discuss my personal choices when it comes to breastfeeding, weaning and routine, I still cannot avoid commentary: “You are hurting your baby,” wrote someone under an image of me with my daughter in a baby sling on Instagram. The fact that they were wrong — it was a carrier specifically designed for babies to face frontwards post-five months — was immaterial. The comment was so inflammatory. You are hurting your baby. Days later, that comment still rings in my head.
Call it selfish (I prefer self-protection), but I’ve recently drawn some parameters in the sand. They might change, but for now my public dialogue covers the genres in which my work touches upon (fashion, pop-culture, social commentary, feminism, interiors and books) and skirts the edges of the things that I currently feel are essential to keep private: my child, my mothering, my marriage, my mental health. In order to thrive, I have to subscribe to the belief that I do not owe everyone, everything.
This is not a call-to-arms for people to become more private. Indeed, I think the opposite: I find “sharenting” (where women and men share their parenting choices) hugely interesting and at times, bolstering. I love @motherofdaughters and @mother_pukka, a midwife and radio DJ respectively, the latter who campaigns for flexible working for women. I also admire and invest heavily in articles and books written about sex and mental health — two other topics I read about but choose not to share upon. Can one be vociferous in some areas and quiet in others? I hope so. Right now, my mental health depends on it.
I am withholding; I am not withdrawing. Just as I am not sharing all of the bad stuff, I’m also not sharing all of the good stuff. The best stuff. I don’t want to curate a shiny social-media version of my life or my role as a parent. But I also don’t want to write long, broken narratives about various issues I face because I do not want to invite conversation into what I am still figuring out. It’s delicate. It’s fragile. It’s mine.
Oftentimes, most likely exacerbated by childbirth, I walk around like an open wound. My skin feels violet, like the most tender bruise. It is not that I am more sensitive post-childbirth (I’ve always been ruinously so), but that I no longer have the capacity, or the want, to offer myself up like a buffet. Sharing used to be caveat-free for me. Perhaps I’m just older. Perhaps it’s that I have a tiny human who hasn’t opted in or out of the internet yet.
I am sure some people would say that sharing her image is a lot more intimate than sharing tales of her life. That’s the thing with social media: You have to find your happy place. You do you; I do me. Conscious sharing is my way to protect that emotional epidermis, as well as I can. Because I know now that what I choose not to share are my most precious truths of all.
Collage by Edith Young.