Picture this: you’re scrolling through Instagram and happen upon a beautiful, hazy photo of a woman in bed. Her hair is pulled backed into an exquisitely “undone” ponytail as she rests in a fluffy cloud of ivory pillows. On her chest, she’s cradling a sleepy newborn. Gazing down at the heavenly little creature in total bliss, this new mama—with inexplicably flawless skin—seems to be relishing the moment.
Was there a “Motherhood Perfected” filter on Instagram? You can’t remember ever scrolling past it, but it has to be there because this photo looks like how a dream should feel. It’s definitely not “Mayfair” or “Nashville.” Maybe it’s VSCO? You’re not 100% sure what that even means, but you’ve seen enough hashtags to know it’s “a thing.”
Then, you read the caption: “Dedicating this #TBT to those lazy days in bed snuggling with my sweet little person, and enjoying every moment of our beautiful bond. Love these memories most of all!” Followed by a gaggle of “heart eye” emojis.
You’re certain that this is how motherhood should look, but when you finally break the iPhone trance and survey your own reality, it doesn’t appear quite as idyllic. You’re more likely covered in spit-up, tears and sweat stains than dreamy, blush-toned filters. Maybe your newborn is going through that super adorable “baby acne” phase, and your unwashed topknot probably isn’t nailing that “messy glamour” look.
Perhaps it’s my fault, you think. After all, you never wander into fields at sunset wearing a crown of lavender and place your baby in the bottom drawer of an odd, but conveniently placed antique French dresser…which clearly means you’re blowing this whole motherhood thing.
OK, you get the point. Right?
After having my daughter, I had more time than usual to scroll through the endless depths of social media. Since I was at an age where many of my friends, colleagues and peers were also starting families, I became all too familiar with the “Madonna and Child”-inspired selfies. They’re beautiful, of course…but never once did I ever look at one of those dewy-photos of mama and babe, both draped in gauzy fabric, and think: “Yep. Same.”
Mostly, I just thought about my own inadequacy, and how it seemed like every other new mama was having an easier, more photo-worthy experience. Why was becoming a mom so much harder for me? Scrolling through these alternate realities, often caused me to feel devalued, anxious and unsuccessful in my own motherhood journey. The only time I spent all day in bed was when I was suffering mastitis, and even that was only for a few hours at a time. I was desperately trying to find any sort of balance in the bridging of my old life with my new life, which usually meant showering was a luxury. Motherhood is a blessed life event; it’s wonderful, fulfilling and truly joyous…but it’s also messy, inconvenient and entirely overwhelming.
But to see it playing out on Instagram, I was the only one who somehow was struggling.
I’m not breaking any news here, but it’s become a widely accepted idea that Instagram can cause anxiety among its users because it’s helped cultivate a culture of “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out). With every #Coachella Ferris Wheel post and every Hamilton Playbill shot, it’s become a breeding ground for the movement. And I was just as guilty as the next user for subscribing to this idea (apparently I used to go to Cabo…a lot).
As social media evolved, and Instagram became a business for many of its users, new genres within the platform emerged. The “motherhood space” became a popular offshoot, but within it developed an inadvertent subculture of optic peer pressure; where finding success as a new mother and an appreciation for this new role was best represented through syrupy, hyper-stylized images.
None of this is surprising, because it’s just the “motherhood” version of what Instagram does as a whole: it panders to that same sense of FOMO. However, when your core demographic is overworked, overtired and overstressed mamas, it feels less like FOMO…and more like failure.
Personally, I think that’s a very dangerous game to play. Motherhood, especially new motherhood, is equal parts beautiful and disastrous. During those early days, when we barely have time to leave the house, we use social media as a barometer for our experience. That is the time when mamas need a reality check the most, but we are unable to rise above the façade, and recognize the logic. Blame it on the hormones, fear, sleep deprivation or just the overwhelming need to feel like we’re doing a good job for our new, sweet little humans.
Therefore, when we manage to somehow shower and apply mascara, we whip out that selfie stick and snap roughly 115 photos of ourselves staring adoringly at our children, we filter the f—k out of it and then we post it on Instagram with a corresponding caption about how “motherhood is the hardest, most rewarding journey” of our lives. And unbeknownst to us we’re keeping alive the same idea that is causing us to be riddled with self-doubt.
I want to tell you all two things:
- I am 100% guilty of doing this.
- I was 100% full of shit.
My motherhood experience, it turns out, was more normal than not. I had amazing moments and difficult moments; good days and bad days. It was real life. I’m just as guilty as the next mama for wanting beautiful photos of my daughter and me, and blasting that out on social media…who doesn’t want to capture those moments? But I try to balance it with the real moments that are far less idyllic, or at least try to have a sense of humor about the whole thing.
I’m not expecting to rid social media of this idea…and I’m not sure I even want too. I like pretty things, and those “Motherhood Perfected” photos are usually really stunning. I just want mamas to understand that it’s a snapshot of a moment, and not the whole picture (pun intended). Now that my daughter has transitioned into toddlerhood, I no longer need to turn to outside my home for validation. My adventurous, kind, funny little girl is pretty awesome, so I figure I must be doing something right in addition to my many fumbles. Either way, motherhood is as varied and diverse as each of the women who embark on the journey, so just keep that in mind when you happen to deep dive the #joyfulmamas hashtag.
But with all that said, I should remind you that Coachella is around the corner…and I can’t do a damn thing to protect you from those Ferris Wheel shots. Sorry. #FOMO.