If you’re like me, you look at all your friends’ Instagram posts, and then you watch their Instagram Stories, and then you close the app and pretend like you’ll read the Washington Post, but you reopen Instagram and click that little magnifying glass for some reason, like social media has created this insatiable void inside you that you can only appease by constantly accessing it, thereby widening the void, and you come across two to five posts from moms you don’t know who live in monochromatic homes, make their own baby food, use cloth diapers, keep dozens of houseplants alive, and have hot, bearded, adoring husbands who can’t wait to make that fifth or sixth baby. And meanwhile you’re scrolling through Instagram instead of doing the dishes or brushing your teeth at noon for the first time that day or bringing your child that plastic bowl of processed cereal he hollered for eight clicks ago.
Can they even be called moms? They are a species unto themselves. They are thin and beautiful and their children seem like they’d eat salad no problem and their clothes come from places like Free People and I don’t even know what Free People is. Is it a store? A commune?
These women are glam moms. Gloms! They are purified, sanitized, powerful representations of all that motherhood could be: clogs plus kimono plus spunky-looking towhead finishing up his afternoon art project that you can probably buy on Etsy. These gloms have definitely never open-mouthed cried, in front of their children, about how hopeless things seem.
Maybe they’ve cried, but first they’ve constructed an elaborate fort out of Pendleton blankets and made sure the beautiful wooden toys are easily accessible and the children have ceramic bowls of fresh mango before excusing themselves to drop a tear or two onto a hanky they embroidered with a tulip one “lazy Sunday afternoon.” And they were probably crying about how beautiful life is, how motherhood never gave them pause.
Okay, so if you’re like me, you use these posts to berate yourself.
Before I became a mother, I thought I was ready to become a mother. My body furiously demanded that I have a child. It was time, and I answered the call. I read all the mom blogs. I went to all the classes. Would I nurse my baby? Of course! Would I co-sleep? Can’t wait! I scrolled through these strangers’ Instagram posts, my heart drenched in gooey emotion, totally sure that this was my calling, this perfectly square, symmetrical image of beatific mother and beloved child, basking in the sunbeams I and so many others were shining upon them.
It was motherhood as commodity. It felt like it had been simplified and packaged into something that I — we, all of us — could have. As easy as swiping my debit card to purchase something, I would be transformed into one of these ethereal beings immediately after pushing my child into the world.
Then I actually gave birth, and I realized that all my preparation, all the marinating I did in other people’s post-baby lives, amounted to nothing I actually needed when I was in it. I stared at this newborn child, my child, and realized he felt like a stranger to me. The moment of new-mother bliss I had so excitedly anticipated never came. Instead, there was fear, exhaustion, self-loathing. I’d expected motherhood to look a certain way, for me to become a certain person.
The thing about having a child is that everything changes, but you’re still you.
A friend once told me that parenthood enhances every aspect of life. I had focused on only the positive connotations of that advice, but there are negatives, too. Prone to anxiety, depression, doubt? Motherhood is like a helium tank to those once-manageable balloons. I gave up nursing after six weeks, and I agonized over the baby’s sleep schedule like an addict checking and rechecking her stash. A little voice kept telling me, Hold on, hold on, it’ll get better. During late-night feedings, I’d check Instagram and see those gloms, having pillow fights and movie nights and cookie-baking marathons with their kids, pointing out an interesting cloud to a fully engaged toddler or simply showcasing their morning coffee. Everyone thriving, not just surviving.
These posts gave me hope, but they also made me feel like I was being left behind. As a child, I had insomnia. The idea of the entire world sleeping peacefully while I struggled to fall asleep kept me up for hours, my heart racing and angry tears stinging my eyes. Those feelings came rushing back as I scrolled endlessly, searching. Everyone in the world has it together. You’re the only one who doesn’t.
As a child, I’d sometimes wander around my house, wondering if a single night could also be an eternity. Then morning would come, the world would wake up, and I’d finally feel tired.
Nights end. Babies eventually sleep more. They hold their heads up and smile and pee in the potty, and then one day they’re five years old, finishing a puzzle and announcing they’ve dropped the mic, and you belly-laugh and shake your head at how this kid is a fully realized human and most of it was his own doing. The joy my children bring is like a fireworks finale compared to the darkness that still lingers. I try to keep my eyes toward the light.
There’s a thin film of dust under my couch. Smudges all over my walls. My TV is a canvas of handprints and splotches. The other day, I threw out a houseplant that was only half-dead. I often purposely stare at my phone in front of my children so they’ll go play on their own. I fiercely guard the evenings and nap times when I know I can be alone. And the days when I pull it together enough to wash my face and brush my teeth before noon are days I worry I’m being manic, trying to do too much. Is that floss?! Slow it down, there, Mommie Dearest! My life and home look nothing like those of these gloms, whose lives have the envious allure but questionable depth of an ad.
My kids and I do make cookies together, and I have two pairs of clogs, and I would fill my Instagram with pics of my daily coffee if I could think of any other caption than, “Today’s sloshed coffee stain brought to you by this cuppa. The stain is in the shape of a peapod and it is courtesy of a headbutt from my youngest.” Instead it’s filled mostly with pics and captions that make me laugh. It’s a feed of our own specific joy. Every once in a while, I realize that I’m doing it, too: I’m faithful to a brand of motherhood that is palatable to me. It’s a brand that feels mostly real and tries not to bog down followers in psychological baggage, since we all have our own shit.
Lately, I’ve been trying to be more honest about what’s really happening before, during, and after a post, but I have to be careful. I am pregnant with my third child, and I need something to scroll through after she’s born, something to remind me that life is full of meaning, even when we have to pretend.