My twins were Instagram stars before they were even born. They first appeared in my pregnancy reveal; a Beyoncé tribute that was viewed over 50 million times.
Within hours of posting, hundreds of thousands of kind and supportive comments came rolling in, and then… “BITCH, YOU AIN’T BEYONCE” said a stranger with a handle like @iloveeeBeyonce1, who I assume loves Beyoncé. Her colleagues from the Beyhive agreed, with observations like “NO YOU NOT BEY YOU JUST UGLY AND FAT,” and “IS THAT BELLY PHOTOSHOPPED YOU DUMB BITCH.”
On any other day, with any other post, I would find these comments to be hilarious. I mean, I KNOW I’m not Beyoncé—I’m waaay more talented, beautiful, and successful. But for the first time in my life, I felt like these comments weren’t just about me, they were about me and my babies. The two little beings that I would do anything to protect were now out in the world for anyone, from any hive, to comment on.
I instantly regretted sharing the news at all. I wanted to press ‘delete’ and go back to just a few hours before, where my boys were safe and warm inside of me, guarded from the dangers of the world and the cruelty of the internet. That night, through heaving convulsive sobs, I vowed to my husband that “I… will… never… post… any photos…. of…. my belly or…. my babies… EVER AGAIN.”
But then, the Beyhive removed their stingers from my social feeds and a new group appeared. A lovely, supportive incredible group of strong, funny, women—pregnant women, new moms, twin moms—all going through the same thing, online, together.
Slowly but surely I started to feel safe enough to share again. To be funny and candid; and to be me—just a larger, more pregnant version of me—and every time I posted something new, I felt overwhelmed with support. The more I shared, the more I heard from moms online who had gone through the same thing, who appreciated my sense of humour and who made me feel like I was a part of something even bigger than my XL maternity leggings: an actual community. By the time Rio and Dray were born, I didn’t think twice about sharing my joy with the world.
Immediately upon their arrival, the babies I swore I would “never post EVER AGAIN” became the only thing I ever wanted to post. They were so sweet and funny, I couldn’t resist sharing pictures of them eating and sleeping, crying and laughing, bathing and pooping… I even chose to include them in sponsored posts for products I genuinely use and love and think other moms might like too. Also because I have to pay for 10,000 diapers and two Harvard tuitions.
In their first year of life, I posted 144 public photos of my twins. It was only when scrolling through my feed to compile a collage for their first birthday party did it occur to me, that maybe… just maybe… I should stop?
My babies were becoming little boys, with personalities and opinions. In their own way, they could ask me to be fed and to be held, but not once did they ask me to be Instagram posts. Was I exploiting them? Putting them in danger? Was @jessicruickshank a #TERRIBLEMOTHER!? I sought answers to this mom-crisis the only way I know how—by sending frantic texts to my friends. Specifically, to the mom friends I love and respect, who choose *not* to share pictures of their kids online.
My lifelong bestie Anji explained her decision to me, starting with the basics. “I think social media is harmful to both children and parents because it magnifies perfection at the expense of reality,” she said. Sure, I replied, but it’s not like I’m posing in a field of daisies wearing a boho dress and porkpie hat, cradling two babies in my arms and telling you I’m a #RealMom. It didn’t matter, she said: “As far as I’m concerned, your child’s image belongs to him. At baseline, you are creating an identity online that the future adult inside the child may not agree with. With few exceptions, that identity is permanent.” She was not wrong. The split-screen of my son and Farrah Fawcett that I posted recently, because I happened to think it was hilarious, could live on the internet FOREVER—whether he wants it there or not.
Growing up and figuring out who you are is tough enough without naked split-screens of you and ’70s centerfolds on your mom’s Instagram account. By the same token, doesn’t everything we do as parents—from the environment we raise our kids in to the schools we send them to—have an impact on their identity? Isn’t that the scariest thing about parenting? I may not know much about child-rearing, but I do know that I hope to raise a son who will one day find this post as funny as I do, even if he doesn’t know who the hell Farrah Fawcett is.
Of course protecting a child’s identity is important, but my friend and former colleague Duana reminded me that so is protecting my own. “When my son was born, I was besotted with him,” she told me, “but I worried that posting a lot of pics on social media would brand me as a ‘mom’ first and foremost—which I thought might be seen as a disadvantage for my career in TV, where being young and hip (or at least, seeming like you *could* be) is at a premium.” I praised her for her fresh perspective. “Narcissistic perspective, Jessi,” she corrected me. She wasn’t worried about her kid, she was worried about her career. And in fairness, maybe I should be too—branding myself online as a ‘mom’ may get likes from my girlfriends but sadly, not from all prospective employers.
Finally, during a play date with my friend Amanda, we sat on a park bench watching our boys dig in the sandbox as she explained her position. “I don’t post my child because it feels too personal,” she told me. “I wouldn’t walk through a crowded mall handing out my kid’s picture and I don’t see how posting online is any different.” Fair, I thought, as I watched Rio carefully feed a fistful of sand to Dray. “When he’s at an age where he can choose for himself, I’ll support his decision,” she continued. “Until then, I think it’s my job to be the guardian of the right and joys of a private childhood.”
She was absolutely right. There are some things that feel all too personal even for me to share, but at the same time I know that I have not exactly been a model guardian of the rights and joys of a private childhood. Instead, I have chosen to share the joys of my kids’ childhood with the internet. In return, I have felt deeply supported by the community that follows me, empowered by their overwhelming positivity and a little less alone in this strange and hilarious journey that is motherhood. As for the Beyhive? They’ve stayed away—even trolls know better than to f*ck with moms.
While sitting there on that bench, watching my boys blissfully eat sand, two things became perfectly clear. For one: I find their energy to be so full of joy and humour that for me, sharing it with the world… just feels right. And secondly: This would make a killer Instagram story.
As I got up to take the picture, a complete stranger tapped me on the shoulder. “So… which is Rio and which is Dray?!?” she asked. I looked at her, shocked and a little disconcerted. She shrugged. “They’re Instagram stars!”