Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Halloween. Christmas. Then add all those little holidays and milestones you didn’t even know about like Olivia’s 6 month birthday. You can’t escape it: the bottomless pit of children’s pictures on social media. Many people secretly moan and groan but for me and my wife – two years in to infertility treatments – it’s feels like a digital snowball to the face.
From Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat (an odd direction for an app originally designed for sending nude pictures of yourself) you get a view through the looking glass in to what you think should be your life. There’s a baby sitting on a pumpkin. Countless sonograms. A stop-everything-someone-is-20-weeks-old picture. If death and taxes are life’s only certainty, I would add babies and children on social media to that list.
I wish I could have lived in the era when the only time you were assaulted by family pictures was if a wallet was being unfurled. Yet in spite of this we’ve communally agreed it’s acceptable that 90% of one’s online presence consists of your child(ren).
For my wife and me (especially me, if that wasn’t clear yet) social media is the black licorice of my online diet. Of course we’re not the only ones walking the isolating road of infertility and certainly not the last. The best-case infertility scenario is a year of trying, a doctor’s visit, insurance (hopefully) approval, a few weeks of extra egg-producing shots for her, a fertilized implanted embryo, 10-days of waiting and presto! time to figure out our caption for the announcement on Facebook.
When your baby-making hiccup turns in to a cold which turns in to flu which turns into an pneumonia, these pictures are a daily reminder of all of the things I want to be doing as a family but can’t. That’s not to say we haven’t taken advantage of the official mantra of parents far and wide: “Do it while you don’t have kids!”
With my job in travel, we tick dream destinations off the list: Tahiti, Greece, Croatia, France, England, Scotland, Bali, Singapore – even Malaysian Borneo. We’ve spent a small fortune on our “last trip before a baby”: there was the sunset catamaran cruise in Santorini, five-star hotels in Singapore, snorkeling with sharks in Bora Bora and 3-hour dinners under the moon in Dubrovnik. And while I just zapped any sympathy that might have been growing, I’d trade it all in a heartbeat to change my child’s diaper at 3am.
It’s inevitable upon a return from a trip that a parent friend will remark about some Instagram of us and I’ll humbly say “Yes it was as amazing” but never “You should go.” Clearly there’s envy on both sides and while I have no doubt that raising a family is incredibly hard, the only thing more difficult than having kids is not being able to.
Inevitably, infertility brings frustration, anger, ambivalence, resentment and dreams of what could be at seemingly random and reckless intervals. But mixed with social media you are gripped by a digital echo chamber that heckles you in a voice no one else can hear.
So what do I do? I started by unfollowing great swaths of former “friends.” One innocuous pregnancy announcement and I can go on a spree digitally walling off 15 people from my life in a matter of minutes. (In a particularly fun spiral I unfollowed my cousin, her husband, my aunt and my uncle after their family welcomed twins. No one is safe. Too bad I won’t get to see their kid’s elementary school graduation; that would have added such richness to my life.)
Next, I have a strict policy of not liking any pictures of babies or kids. There are 136 people who think the photo of little miss Maddie at the beach is worthy of a like – I do not. And I don’t think I’ll be missed. I strictly reserve my likes for memes, Instagram models and Tom Brady’s life.
My biggest regret is not having the guts to comment “Who cares?” below that photo of little Liam’s face covered in chocolate ice cream, or a well-timed “So what?” below the filtered picture of chubbie Charlie sitting next to an equally unaware family dog.
What a screwed up place social media is that we have a National Taco Day (October 4th) and National Hug-a-News-Reporter Day (Seriously, it’s April 4th) but no one wants to see our sharps container crammed with used needles across their feed. No, online we keep infertility to a soft whisper until another insufferable parent-to-be yells their good news straight in to my eyeballs.
I won’t apologize for my snark or make excuses for my cynicism. Infertility sucks and sucks bad. It’s quite a paradox: unless you’ve gone through it, you can’t even begin to understand. And even if you have started treatments, everyone – even between me and my wife – has a different story to tell.
I want to wrap this up with some optimistic thought but I can’t. Twitter recently announced that you can block certain words from your feed but that’s really so you don’t find out who was eliminated on The Bachelor while it’s sitting on your DVR. I doubt Mark Zuckerberg is going to give me a way to escape unless I pull the digital plug. Or maybe he’s just braver than me; after all, he and his wife went public about their three miscarriages before successfully conceiving. Of course he only did so when he was announcing a successful pregnancy, but truth changes as perspective changes.
I don’t know where to go from here. There’s an unwritten rule that we all only post about sad things online when they’re buffered by something happy or when said sadness is fully explained, but I can’t do either. Just please don’t tell me to do it “before I have kids”.
Drew Widger, Guest Blogger
If you would like support with the challenges of infertility please contact Elliott Kronenfeld at Elliott@insightbrookline.com.