It was a little over six years ago when my relationship with social media changed.
Sitting on the couch, trying to breastfeed my newborn, surrounded by mounds of washing, I decided to take a sneaky Instagram break.
In the search for a new nipple shield I came across images of women happily cradling their well-fed baby. It gave me hope reading comments about how the shield helped them nurse. I felt I wasn’t alone knowing other women were having the same issue. Win!
I had just given birth to baby number four a couple of months earlier, but still looked pregnant. Sleep was almost non-existent. And I was rocking the same ‘mum bun’ for the last two days straight because it was easier than detangling what started to resemble dreadlocks.
Like most new mothers I started comparing myself to these women I saw online, and it felt terrible. If they can get up early, workout, cook breakfast and do a load of laundry before a school run then what was wrong with me?
All I could muster after a broken night’s sleep was to plonk a box of cereal on the table, while I wiped vomit off my shirt that I had got out of the dirty wash pile because I hadn’t done the laundry in several days.
This went on for several weeks.
It got to the point that I would get anxious just before I opened Facebook or Instagram because I knew I was immediately going to feel like a failure in some way.
Part of me was worried that I’d be missing out on what other people were up to, but after a little while things began to shift. I started to feel liberated and free of judgement (admittedly it was my own judgement).
It seems I am not the only one feeling un-Insta worthy. Sydney-based Psychologist, Geoffrey Haines, says social media use among pregnant women and new mothers can increase levels of anxiety and self-doubt.
“What you see on social media, such as Instagram, is a glamourised version of reality,” says Haines.
“Unfortunately seeing everyone’s idealised images of pregnancy or motherhood can make a woman feel isolated and alone. People generally only talk about the positive aspects, so it’s not the best place to get a realistic view of what pregnancy and birth is about.”
This is a common sentiment shared among many health professionals. NSW Midwife and Birth Educator, Jenna Monro-Argent, says Instagram favours the extreme versions of pregnancy and birth.
“We’ve got a bit of a divide now between what women are sharing on social media,” says Monro-Argent.
This heightened view of motherhood can affect a woman’s expectations of her own pregnancy and birth. A recent study published in the BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth Journal found that informal information sources, such as Instagram, have a huge impact on a woman’s birth preparedness.
Despite the ability to perpetuate unrealistic images and ideals, social media does provide some benefits for women who want to connect with others – whether it be for advice, share experiences or just chat.
“Women can also come across information that they hadn’t heard of before or be exposed to different experiences that can give them a realistic view of reality,” says Monro-Argent.
But she acknowledges these stories are few and far between, with social media favouring beautiful imagery over substance.
“It’s not very often you see posts like ‘I had a third-degree tear’ – that’s not exciting. It’s horrible, it can be debilitating, and it can change your life. These aren’t the type of stories that are getting publicised.”
While the raw side of pregnancy and parenting is something the majority of women choose not to post online, the tides are starting to turn.
Australian mum blogger and influencer, Constance Hall, is one brave woman who regularly exposes the reality of parenting. She has attracted more than 420,000 Instagram followers for her honest depiction of motherhood.
Promoting body positivity among pregnant women online is an important issue, says Monro-Argent, and social media use in general is something she makes a point of talking about in antenatal classes.
While social media provides instant access to news and information, Haines advises women to seek help from a health professional over any concerns they are having. He says people shouldn’t rely on social media as a sole source of information.
He also urges women to approach social media with caution and to remember the perfection they see online is not the reality.
Hearing those words really hit home and made me realise social media is all about perspective. Finally I felt at peace knowing it’s ok for my life to not resemble anything like the filtered perfection I often see online. My reality is chaotic, messy and a complete shitshow most of the time. And that’s ok.
So, to test my strength I recently reactivated my Instagram after a six-year hiatus, and it feels good to reconnect.
Now every time I feel the urge to compare my life with other women, I remind myself that social media is a form of entertainment – art even.
And if my babies can love me without makeup, have worn the same outfit three days in a row, or order takeout because I’m too tired to cook, then I’m #blessed.
Cheers for now.
Your imperfect friend and parenting peer