When my twin boys were first born, I took a hiatus from Facebook. My partner went as far as posting a status update –an overly cheerful announcement that the boys were born at 10:03 a.m. –and left it at that. Most of the responding comments were those of congratulations, but there were a few that exposed the truth of what was happening –like “Oh… God, isn’t that kind of early?” “Are they okay?” or “How’s mom?”
While some friends probably thought they got their dates wrong, others knew I wasn’t due for another three months. The boys were born at twenty-seven weeks and five days. It might sound unnecessary to say five days instead of rounding up to another week, but when infants are born that early, every day in utero matters.
We narrowly made it past the twenty-six week mark, which is the point at which a birth is potentially viable. The boys would need to stay in the NICU for three months to continue their development. In the first month, it was uncertain that they would survive.
In those days, after vigorous scrubbing, we’d be given permission to touch their hands or tummies through little doors in their incubators. We watched as they developed nipples and lost the dark fur covering their bodies.
We also learned before ever holding our son, Reese, that he had experienced some sort of trauma in the womb. The first ultrasound showed one concentric bright light that indicates a cyst. In the weeks that followed, more and more cysts were uncovered in various parts of his brain. The neurologists told us as much as they could: Reese would probably have some form of cerebral palsy and possibly other expressions of brain damage.
While we were going through all of this behind the NICU doors, people on the outside would gently nudge, “When are we gonna see some pictures!” and I could only say, “Not yet.”
Eventually, my dad leaked a picture to a family member and that family member shared it on Facebook. When I discovered it, along with all the cheerful “How cute!” comments under my child’s sick, emaciated face, I was so angry. It seemed like a white washing of what was the most heartbreaking and terrifying time in my life. I felt like our story had been stolen from me.
Conversely, the moment the boys were in good health, my partner and I created profiles for them on Facebook. We posted videos of late-night hysteria. Everything was playful. We never posted about the various medical problems we still faced, like the extreme projectile vomiting that made it hard to get anything to stay in their tummies, or the financial stress that comes with having twins in the hospital for three months.
I think we needed the one-dimensional format of Facebook at that time in order to feel like the hard times were behind us. We could boil down the experience to all the nuggets of goodness, and then just ignore everything that was missing from that picture.
Whenever I troll our early parenthood on my timeline, it seems really fake to me, but I’m also grateful we had a way to feel normal—even if appearing normal required extreme editing.
On the boys’ first birthday, I posted a “note” about what their day of birth was really like, in all its graphic detail and bare emotion. The response from my friends was an outpouring of earnest compassion, gratitude, and support.
Facebook gave me a way to put myself in context for people. Maybe, if it had been something other than motherhood, I wouldn’t feel the need to explain it to everyone. But, because having children is so universal, people constantly made assumptions about my experience. Every time I chose to nod my head instead of going into the details, I felt like I was burying my soul.
Two years after that first note, I continue to actively share our experience on Facebook through pictures, updates, and links to my blog. It’s become a form of storytelling for me, and at the end of the day, that story becomes our life.
I decided to take down the boys’ profiles out of some vague concerns about protecting their identities, but just as we have in real life, the twins and I have all kind of morphed into one entity now.
In writing out little updates or sharing links to my blog, I’m often reminded of the tap codes prisoners of war would use to get through the years of isolation. Much like the tap codes, but unlike the telephone, Facebook has allowed me to say it all how I want to say it, in brevity or levity, without the input of a live conversation. It may seem impersonal to send a message through a wall, and get one back from someone on the other side, but it means everything to be heard.
Editor’s Note: You are reading the first entry in our User Experience series, in which our writers explore how social media sites affect their daily lives. No self-proclaimed gurus, no marketing speak, and no technical jargon allowed–just real people talking about the internet.
Rachel Pedroso spent most of her twenties as a flight attendant, reader, writer, trouble-maker, and occasional runner. Then in one season she fell in love, started playing house, and got pregnant with twins. Today she spends her days trying to inject as much gratitude and thoughtfulness into parenting twins as she can remember to. Rachel likes mustard greens, the internet, and radical self-disclosure. You can read more of her writing on her blog.