I’m what many people would call an ‘oversharer’, the irritating brand of parent who posts multiple pictures of their child to Facebook every day, and later on maybe just Instagram if self-awareness kicks in and leaves an unsettling sense of shame. (It’s okay to overshare on Instagram, its target demographic of parents, fitness fanatics, and amateur chefs all pile together in a big narcissistic orgy and no one has to feel bad about it. That’s its ‘thing’.)
I know it’s annoying. I know it’s tedious to log on to Facebook and be assaulted by static images of my son using a spoon or walking down a tree-lined path flapping his arms like an inebriated bat, or squinting uncomfortably in the sun and making a face that bridges the gap between pain and glee. I know it’s repetitive. I know it seems as though my relationship with my child is enacted through the medium of my phone camera. I know.
Some people may wonder whether I value my son’s right to privacy, and I agree that’s a real issue. I’ve wrestled with myself over how much of his life I share with the world and whether or not I’m being respectful of his autonomy. Truthfully I feel uncertain about it even after turning it over and over in my head for months on end; I don’t own his life to throw it out for everyone to see. I don’t own him. But I do own myself and for now sharing is helping me heal in a way nothing bar intensive therapy ever has before, and at this stage in our journey together what benefits me benefits him too. It’s an easy mistake to assume that as parents we should throw ourselves on the fire to provide our children with a certain kind of life, but our relationship is symbiotic; to borrow an overused analogy, I need to put my own oxygen mask on first. When he’s a bit older I will ask him how much he’s happy for me to share and of course I will respect his choice and be proud of it, no matter what it is. And in return I will ask that he respects my own decision to share my story.
Because that’s what the photos, the blog posts and the Facebook statuses are about – they’re a celebration and an acknowledgement of a life that so far has been difficult and amazing. They are me saying, “Look where I am, look at what I’ve achieved!”
Some people believe pride is a flaw, but you know what? For the first time in my life I am unspeakably, extraordinarily, astonishingly proud of what I’m doing every day. I spent a long time in jobs that didn’t last because anxiety built up like a pressure cooker and overflowed in waves, taking me back to square one, and later I worked from home in writing roles I neither cared about nor paid well. I didn’t have anything to talk about or feel proud of.
And then this happened:
And suddenly I had a reason to feel as though my life mattered. I had something to say. I wasn’t studying for a PhD or working in my dream job or travelling the world, but I was making a human being. For the first time in my life I was doing something really and truly worthwhile. And that was just pregnancy!
Along came my pink-faced squish and a hurricane of love and depression blew me away like a flimsy polythene bag. I hated myself. I hated my baby. But I also loved my baby. I must be an awful mother! I hated myself some more. All the while I was dutifully taking photographs and uploading them to Facebook (that’s what normal people do, right?), and a strange realisation gradually crept up on me – sharing those photos was helping me feel better. Every positive comment was a different perspective for me to consider. Sometimes it was validation that I couldn’t be doing such a terrible job, other times a few simple ‘likes’ would be enough for me to feel that people were rooting for me and maybe I really could beat this. And just the presentation of being a functioning, successful parent with a beautiful baby made me momentarily believe that it was true. It was incredibly powerful. And addictive.
So I carry on sharing my photographs. Perhaps after reading this it’ll still be annoying and boring, but hopefully my friends will be able to understand why I do it, that I don’t think my life is more interesting than anybody else’s, or that they should want to see countless pictures of my son. It’s just a small glimpse of the happiness I’ve achieved and am so proud of, or a second of glee caught on camera on an otherwise shitty day to get me through without breaking down, or a way of convincing myself that I do have this parenting thing under control, that I’ve got this. And I can bet my reasons are shared by many other parents, whether they’ve suffered from PND or not.
There’s an argument that projecting a sugarcoated version of parenting can silence struggling mothers and prevent them seeking the help they need, and I agree, and I speak from experience; watching the perfect mothers around me made my shortcomings appear even shorter. But that’s why I started this blog. Photographs are blissful snapshots in a day full of chaos, but my written updates are a window on my reality. I started writing here for myself, but if I can show just one new mother that she isn’t alone then every second of fear and panic I feel before I hit the ‘publish’ button will be worth it. I owe it to every other scared mum battling feelings of inadequacy to be more than just an Instagram profile. But that’s just me. How others project themselves is entirely up to them.
Ultimately, who’s to say why other people post photos of their kids? Frankly, it’s not my business. But it isn’t yours either. So what if they do it just because they think their kid is the bees knees, even with a snot-encrusted nose and a fist full of masticated raisins? They should think that. Equally, it’s just as fine for other people to boast about their gym progress, or how much weight they’ve lost, or the kick ass job they did on that project at work, or how many unsuspecting females they ‘pulled’ the other night (wait, that’s never fine). No one has to justify what they share or why. The only question that really needs answering is why it bothers you so much.