In January of 2016, I decided to stop checking my social media like an insatiable fiend. I'm a performer and storytelling teacher. Social media had always been a simple way of letting people know what I have going on. I'd grown accustomed to waking up every morning to see the who, what, and where of my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr on the hour every hour.
Who liked that Janet Jackson video I posted? How many people favorited that picture of my hair looking weird? How many people are “interested” versus “coming” to my comedy show? Why don’t more people love that Janet Jackson video? After a particularly non-productive but heavily media-filled morning of scrolling, scrolling, clicking, and scrolling some more, I wondered aloud, “What am I looking for?”
I didn’t know the answer, which was a little disconcerting. I decided to approach social media with a healthier sense of self-control and detachment. I moved the app icons from the first page of my iPhone screen. I stopped posting every other thought about Whole Foods, celebrity hairstyles, and inclement weather. I took pictures without the intention of sharing them with anyone. When I was curious about a friend, I texted them. When I did post, I made it as specific and purposeful as possible.
Very soon, I was only posting about haircuts I gave to friends and shows I was performing in. When I waited in line at the post office or supermarket, I waited like we all used to: without checking in with who was online. I started to live my life without posting my life and, needless to say, I felt more present and less busy.
Then I got pregnant. Well, I have to post something, I thought.
Impending motherhood is a big deal, but the rule still applied. If I was going to post a pregnancy post it had to have a purpose. I wanted it to be the best pregnancy post social media had ever seen. I would be loathe to post another “bun in the oven” status or a picture of my husband and I sticking out our respective bellies to tell everyone "the good news!”
Those posts had been posted before. I would not add to the cacophony of joy by doing what had been done. Perhaps I was making too big of a deal of something that I knew was a perfectly ordinary everyday miracle, but I wanted my pregnancy post to be the pregnancy post to end all pregnancy posts. Original, memorable, and hilarious.
The first trimester ended and still I didn't post anything. I host a weekly storytelling show where I talked about my pregnancy since I was only three weeks in. I wasn't afraid to share the developing news there, but I couldn't think of a way to announce my pregnancy online that was groundbreaking enough for my performing ego.
In the second trimester, I thought it might be a good thing I hadn't posted because, what if the baby died? I was 35 and every doctor and article seemed to relish telling me that I was “at risk” because I had “waited so long.” I did not want to see a bunch of sad yellow faces with tears pop up on Facebook if I posted about a miscarriage. After all, courageous and heartfelt miscarriage posts had been done before. If I was going to post, it had to be with original creative content. I was drawing a blank.
I ran into my friend and fellow writer, Kate, and she completely understood my posting dilemma. She told me that she had stopped Facebooking for a while but wanted to start up again and was unsure how to do it. She joked that maybe she should just wait until she had an engagement, wedding, baby, and a book deal to post about in one big braggy status. It felt good to know that I wasn't alone in my quest for wow-factor posts.
I batted around a few ideas involving the Summer Olympics as well as Janet Jackson also being pregnant, but no phrasing felt quite unique enough. In desperate moments, I berated myself for even considering posting a selfie in a mirror with no caption so that the picture would speak for itself. I’ve got to be better than that! Where’s the wit? Where’s the originality?
Late in the second trimester, I thought that I should just wait a few more weeks until the third trimester when I planned on having a glass of red wine for the first time in my pregnancy. Then I could post a funny and beautiful picture of myself toasting my belly with a bottle of wine, “Happy Third Trimester!”
Then the third trimester came and not only could I not stomach the idea of having a drink but the idea of toasting my pregnant belly was no longer funny to me. Really, Julia? You wait six months to make an alcohol joke? Maybe you aren't as funny as you think you are. Maybe pregnancy has made you dumb. Stop crying you unfunny, unoriginal, pregnant dummy.
Then, naturally, I had the baby. It was an incredible experience. A home birth no less. It was so fast the midwife almost missed it and my husband almost had to deliver the baby himself. I birthed a live human being in my dirty bathtub in my apartment in all the glory of womanhood and she was the cutest, most adorable child who looked just like my husband without a beard (who coincidentally looks like the Gerber baby with a beard). Now, surely I will post something!
But I didn't. As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and all I did was take care of a newborn, part of me wondered if I was scared. Was I unwilling to accept this new role as a mother and so was using the desire to create a meteorically special online baby announcement as an excuse?
I expressed these fears to a friend and she showed me an article about how Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie did not share her pregnancy because she did not want to “perform” her pregnancy. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t need to either.
As a performer, social media was not just a way to connect but another way for me to perform. Before I decided to take a step back, every post was curated for optimum attention from an online audience. The more likes, shares, and retweets I got, the more I wanted. It was never enough.
For the first time in my online adult life, I was experiencing something privately without making a show of it and without needing to know if anyone noticed or liked me experiencing it. It took me almost a year to realize that the answer to the question “What am I looking for?” was simply this: attention.
Posting something original was never the problem. The problem was always my inevitable unhealthy reaction to the reaction of the post. My self-worth was wrapped up in my online profile and it was not dependable. I'd inadvertently curbed the need for others' attention right when my attention was shifting to something entirely outside of myself.
There is nothing inherently wrong with posting your life and your babies on social media, but I am hyper-aware that I have the capability to become a Joan Crawford and use my child to further perform through the internet. I love and like and favorite all of my friends’ baby posts because they are able to post without using their kids for self-involved attention-seeking. Or at least, they make it seem that way.
Friends will post pictures of my baby and sometimes she is visible at the edges of my posts, but she is never the sole subject of a status. I do not want to inadvertently put my needy ego on her. So I wait, patiently anticipating the inevitable day she asks for her own social media to perform her very own ego online. I hope I will have taught her not to need the attention too much.
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