Little squares of light in the dark…
I am never more glued to my phone than when I have a newborn baby. Breastfeeding constantly means long periods of enforced sitting with only one hand to spare, as well as minimal brain capacity and an inability to concentrate for more than a few moments at a time. These days, the phone is a natural companion – an instant ticket to distractions and diversions you otherwise cannot be a part of. Internet, iBooks, games, photos, What’s App groups, social media, Netflix – all together on a small device you can hold and operate with one hand. Never before has having something available at the touch of a button been both so literally true, and so completely essential.
Of course, it’s social media that scoops up great swathes of my time. Facebook forums are a godsend for the uncertain parent – especially those with specific needs or queries that are not answered in the usual baby books, in our case, both having and feeding twins. Then Twitter provides a perfectly truncated update on what’s happening, or not happening in the world – 140 characters of soundbites, sarcasm and snark. And then there’s Instagram, its bright, shiny squares of life, opening up a world of lifestyle imagery, perfect parenting and niche brands you soon feel like you can’t live without.
The Real Life
It’s often easy to put down people on Instagram and social media as only sharing their ‘ highlight reel’ – hiding the ugly parts of their lives and focusing instead on a carefully curated version of events. This presentation of a perfect life can leave you feeling like you have failed. (I defy anyone exhausted, with swollen feet and pregnancy acne, to come across Courtney Adamo’s Instagram and not instantly want to throw your very vast self out of a window). And its true that some aspects of social media are about presenting things in the way we think people want to see them. Shiny, pretty, clean, tidy – not ugly, or sad, or painful or hard. We all want to believe our lives look a certain way from the outside, and presenting this to others makes us feel that it is true.
And while in some ways this can add even more challenges and pressure for people – I think considering how your life appears to others can also be quite a useful exercise. Posting things to Instagram makes me think about the issues and challenges in my life in a larger sense than just my immediate experience of them. I can relate stories about our travails with our toddler while considering how the same problems occur for others. I can post a story about our struggles with sleepless nights and open a space for other mothers to share their own exhaustion. I can ask a question about emotive issues – dummies, for instance – and allow friends to offer their own pearls of wisdom. I can upload a beautiful picture of flowers from my garden and remind someone else that amidst all the baby madness there is still time occasionally to stop and smell a rose.
And I want people to know this. Just because I sometimes share the good things from my life, doesn’t make them not true. Having babies is bloody wonderful. Cuddling a newborn of your very own, smelling its milky warmth and stroking its soft head is amazing. Picking fresh flowers from your own garden is a real treat. Having twins is really incredible. Eating cake all day really is as wonderful as it sounds. Good friends really are as important as we make them out to be. Sharing these parts of our lives, focusing on these positives isn’t a bad thing, it’s a vital thing.
In actual fact, the simple act of selecting an image, explaining what it shows and why you picked it, allows you the opportunity to make sense of things, to get some clarity at a time when life is busy and chaotic, the fog of babies and work obscuring the senses. Talking recently about life with her second baby, the inimitable Anna Whitehouse of Mother Pukka, spoke about how the strange and difficult months after having her second daughter were made in part easier by the presence of social media in her life. “These squares have helped me piece together fragments of my lacklustre mind over the past four months and feel less shit. I want to say thanks for that.”
She is so right. F
Sharing is so much a part of social media and of motherhood. Every mother I know can relate a seminal moment when they honestly and bravely shared a worry or fear from their lives, only to find that worry and fear echoed across the table for someone else – a problem shared and suddenly, a problem halved. The village is what it’s all about, and the village on Instagram is (for the most part) one of the best – warm and generous, thoughtful and positive. In fact, it can be a very empowering community, filled with women who want to share the highs and lows of their lives. Often this is presented through the medium of a beautiful image, light capturing smiling faces perfectly. It’s all a bit lovely. And why not? We all like beautiful things. Looking at something lovely makes a change from looking at the bags under my eyes or another mustard-coloured nappy. Bring on the beauty I say.
Someone asked recently how on earth I have time to Instagram now I have twins. I would answer, why don’t I have time? Life with newborn babies is an awful lot of sitting around with only one spare hand, and even more so, an awful lot of sitting around,
Through Instagram I have found new toys that my babies will love; through Instagram I have found ideas for breastfeeding clothes that still look stylish; through Instagram I have found humour and kindness when it comes to raising twins; through Instagram I have had questions on dummies, sleep routines, organic cotton brands and knitted hats answered; through Instagram I have found support, positivity and awe for my efforts to breastfeed my boys; through Instagram I have made connections that have made me feel less alone.
Like-minded souls who happily and generously share of their wisdom and their worlds are a godsend for a new mother. At night, those little rectangles of light shine extra bright, illuminating a darkened room at 3am, bringing colour into a cold, exhausted mind, and company into my world. Thank you for being there, all of you.
You can follow me on Instagram @countrymunchkins