To Share or Not to Share

Almost six months ago I had a baby. Since then I’ve written basically nothing. (The last thing I wrote says it all.) This lack of “productivity” (I put this in quotes because productive has come to mean something else entirely in the last while, mostly having to do with milk and laundry) is for all the obvious reasons that did not seem so obvious six months ago. In fact, right before giving birth, a friend asked me to look over a piece she had written for a blog about motherhood and in it she said something about how she used to have so much time.

I think my exact words in response were, “I always resent how parents constantly say, ‘I used to have so much time; what the hell did I do with it?’ as though all childless people have nothing to do.'” My friend was very kind and said nothing. Obviously she knew I’d be laughing at myself soon enough.

Holding Mama's shirt.

Holding Mama’s shirt.

For a long while I told myself that I wasn’t writing because I was now always occupied, and when I wasn’t, I might want to sit down to eat something warm off a clean plate with actual utensils.

I had no qualms writing about my pregnancy. Mine was on the unpleasant but not at all dangerous end of things and I shared my experiences because it felt natural to do so, a way of processing this enormous tidal shift. But something changed when the baby was actually born.

Perfect feet.

Perfect feet.

Suddenly I wasn’t writing about me. And it wasn’t my growing belly — me again, in a new, awkward shape! — that I was sharing. My new little family was the subject. My nascent, fragile threesome. An entity that bears little resemblance to the twosome it once was, that is struggling to settle into itself. I’ve never had trouble sharing details about the baby’s eating and sleeping habits; I don’t even worry about sharing the ugly parts of myself in relationship to the baby — the 3 a.m. moments when I have roused my aching body out of bed for the 12th time and find myself practically yelling, “GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP!”

What holds me back is that writing about new motherhood invariably means writing about a marital shift. It invariably means announcing to the world that you have uncovered parts of yourself and of your relationship that you never suspected (or hoped) would be there — the jealousies and resentments; the complications when a third party enters the dynamic and blows it to pieces. The shrapnel might be beautiful in its own right — and let me tell you, she is one gorgeous, joyful baby and I love her with a ferocity that terrifies me — but it is shrapnel nonetheless.

This is especially hard when we seem hell-bent on presenting our happy families to the world. My Facebook newsfeed is made up of one friend’s beautiful baby (and family) after another. My husband and I have chosen not to share her photo on social media (I do, I admit, slip up when it comes to tiny hands and feet). While I don’t judge anyone else’s choices and get great joy out of scrolling through other people’s pictures — I used to spend hours scavenging through shoeboxes of black and whites at my parents’ house — I am troubled by our desire to broadcast our (helpless, clueless) children all over the internet to mere acquaintances.

They may be of us and dependent on us — and they may be too young to make their own choices — but that does not mean that we know what they would choose, were they able to. (This means I really, really disagree with this guy.) Yes, we now lives our lives (or at least part of our lives) in public. We insist on mirroring our every mundanity online and gussying each up with fancy filters. (I am just as guilty of this as the next person.) Perhaps our children won’t think twice about this, since they will never know a truly private, quiet world. Being an expat, I know the impulse to share my life from afar. My closest friends and family cannot actually hang out with my daughter in the flesh. But is it okay that someone who has not yet said her first word have an online presence; one she did not choose and does not know exists? (Here she is drooling! And eating her first banana with schmutz all over her body! And sick on the couch!) That 600 of my “friends” be able to recognize my daughter, even though they will surely never meet her?

Herein lies part of my writing conundrum. While I love reading about motherhood — especially pieces that really tell it like it is — writing about it means putting people who are closest to me on display. (This makes it sound as though I never thought twice about the people I wrote about before now, but the truth is that either a) I was the subject, or b) the subjects were strangers.)

An old writing professor once told a group of us that in order to write truthfully about someone, we needed to take said person off our metaphorical shoulders. To liberate ourselves by placing our subject in another room.

Perhaps when it comes to my tiny family, I still want to simply be in that new room, doors closed, blinds drawn.

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5 thoughts on “To Share or Not to Share

  1. Indeed this is a conundrum and, as a family blogger, something I consider daily. I began my blog when my first-born was six months old. Now he is almost three and I also have a daughter who is about to turn one. I continue to blog about our lives, musings on parenthood, travel, thoughts, baby stages, and everyday triumphs and challenges. I also include a fair amount of pictures. You see, my blog started as a platform to keep my parents, in-laws and extended family up-to-date on the kids. They all live extremely far away from us so the blog bridges the gap. As my kids grow older I know I will have to make choices that consider their own feelings about my writing. At this point, I am settling into a comfortable place of sharing, but with sensitivity and enough privacy that feels right for our family. I am the parent after all, so as the parent it is my responsibility to do right by them (Mommy knows best!). That said, I do think it’ll be interesting to see how “FB babies” evolve and how the next generation handles this current trend in social media. I could go on. This conversation is a good one. Thanks for your insights, and I hope you find the right balance between being able to write openly and honestly about your family, yet still protecting them. Congrats and welcome to motherhood!

  2. The perennial question for the nonfiction writer, no? I think it is terribly difficult to write about the complexities of a relationship while those complications are so fresh and current, and I think it makes perfect sense — is even a maternal instinct, in fact — to keep those delicate complexities close to you right now. Maybe write them for yourself, in case you want to go back to them later. What you’ve said here about your beautiful shrapnel is so insightful and captivating, and surely begs elaboration when you’re ready.

    As for the over-sharing on Facebook, this is one of my biggest concerns for humanity! To me, it doesn’t feel at all like a real way to connect, and although I do appreciate knowing when a friend publishes a piece or has a baby or moves to Austin for a pediatric residency, I worry about what will happen to our ability to really communicate with each other, to take on the responsibilities of a relationship, as people begin to equate a Facebook post to a phone call or even an email to share news with a friend. This question of a baby having an online presence without her consent is another version of the question of what all of this is doing to us. I wonder, though, why it is her photo that crosses that line? Her name, her birthday, records of her day-to-day life (and her mama’s life with her) are all there on FB– so it’s interesting (and I don’t disagree) to think that her photo would be the breaking point.

    Just to follow this line of thinking down the rabbit hole (and away from your original point, perhaps) a bit: If Facebook is purely a place for social, external interaction, then I think your question about whether it’s right for your daughter to have a presence there, for your friends to see her photo there without meeting her in person, takes on a different angle. Seeing her photo on Facebook *is* different from seeing her in person, and that difference is the point. My mother has always sent out photos of my sister and me with her Christmas cards, to a mailing list of more than 100, and many of those people (her cousins, my father’s old colleagues) would never meet us. They would send photos of their kids back to my parents, and I grew up recognizing people in photos who I would never meet in person because that was the extent of those relationships. The fact that these people would never meet me in person didn’t negate the fact that they still seemingly cared who I was and that my parents still cared to hear about their kids. Then there were the people in my life who watched me grow up, even from afar, who were readily present, who knew me. That is the line that Facebook threatens to blur, I think. Not being a mother, it’s surely not for me to say one way or the other about sharing photos of your babe online — I like seeing photos of friends’ kids and I respect your protective instinct to refrain — but I do know that hundreds of her photos online wouldn’t keep me from getting over there to hold the girl myself! x

    • I really like the parallel you drew with the christmas cards. I guess for me, I’ve always been kind of picky who is on my facebook page, just as i am picky about who is on Christmas card list. So when the photo of baby goes up, I pretty certain its with a crowd of people who care and people who I am fairly comfortable exposing baby to.

      Mit Schlag, while I respect and even a tad admire your decision on not showing baby, I couldn’t do it myself. First, simply because social media is the only way I have to stay in touch with so many people who live far away. Second, I desperately want to share baby with people who care because so much of my day is spent alone with him unable to share it with anyone. And third, i am trying (maybe not always succeeding) in keeping what I show of baby to fairly safe glimpses of his world, but not unveiling the whole story and every speck of his little dirty diaper. The fact is, I keep a private space on Tweakaboo for family and very very close friends, a private blog focused on baby’s adventures, a fairly select instagram feed and a pruned baby presence on facebook. Each of these mechanisms reveal babe to its audience at the level I’m comfortable with. it’s not perfect, and yes, maybe baby wouldn’t condone it. But for now, I am the boss and I decide with (i hope) his best interests in mind, which is to make sure he has a community of support out there who do know him as best they can and who can stay part of his life so that when he is able to step out there on his own, he has open arms out there among our friends and family to greet him.

      where I do completely and utterly agree with your discomfort is where you say, “What holds me back is that writing about new motherhood invariably means writing about a marital shift. It invariably means announcing to the world that you have uncovered parts of yourself and of your relationship that you never suspected (or hoped) would be there — the jealousies and resentments; the complications when a third party enters the dynamic and blows it to pieces. The shrapnel might be beautiful in its own right — and let me tell you, she is one gorgeous, joyful baby and I love her with a ferocity that terrifies me — but it is shrapnel nonetheless.”

      If I understand it right, you are hinting not only at the baby shrapnel but the marriage/hubby shrapnel and that is complicated. And I’ve so needed to and wanted to talk about that shift but have been paralyzed to do so, especially through writing. you describe it beautifully and vaguely, and if I’m reading between the lines right, I am right there with you.

      and that said, I’m always here if you want to talk shrapnel behind the privacy of whatever (virtual) door.

  3. Pingback: I Finally Wrote Something With My Baby Brain | abigailrasminsky

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