Like many older millennials, I tend to be a very private person. I blush at the thought of extra attention and have never been fully on board with baring my soul on Instagram. At 16 weeks pregnant, however, I found myself mentally preparing for my baby announcement (something that would normally make me cringe).
My husband and I were on a 10-day holiday in Spain, and I wanted to document the experience in full Instagram form. But my belly was bulging, and I knew I would have to address my growing size. After a few failed attempts at cute captions, I realised why I felt so disconnected from what I was aiming to post. I had struggled with infertility for three years, and a witty one-liner felt like a massive reduction of my experience.
The past two years of my life were jam-packed with early morning appointments, invasive ultrasounds, uncomfortable catheters, blood tests, oversize needles, relentless bloating, pulsing migraines, bad news, and a hormonal roller coaster that made me question my sanity daily.
Luckier than many, I ended my third IVF cycle with a viable embryo that grew to become a healthy fetus. Despite my delight, my heart remained with those who were still looking for answers: those who I came to rely on through Facebook groups, books, podcasts, and yes, Instagram. Their stories, resources, and optimism kept me going when I was at my worst. Through social media, I found community and empathy from people who just got it: the hopelessness, the isolation, and the physical side effects that made everyday life seem harder and harder to handle. And I did not want to make their days more difficult by blindly blasting my swollen stomach all over their feeds.
Infertility is a fickle beast because it turns one of the most beautiful aspects of life (the ability to create new life) into the most painful. And when I was trying to conceive, scrolling through Instagram felt like a death trap where an otherwise innocuous photo of an acquaintance carrying twins was almost enough to permanently crush my already broken heart. And I saw a lot of these moments displayed through social media's algorithm.
I noticed these snapshots of people who seemingly have it all (stunning looks, booming careers, and perfect families) are as pervasive on social media as the hashtag #pregnant itself. But what I found is often missing from the feeds are true stories: stories that show what it took to get there, the losses, the trauma, and the perseverance. According to the CDC, approximately 12 percent of women (of childbearing age) are unable to get pregnant or carry to term, but when discussing the challenges with people in similar positions, I recognised that we all felt very alone.
When it came time to announce my pregnancy, I wanted to not only share my belly, but also tell my truth because that is what I would have wanted to see when I was in pain. I would have wanted to root for a real person with real struggles and celebrate their real outcomes.
Without belaboring the details of my IVF procedure, my Instagram announcement explained the time, effort, and medical intervention I endured to get my baby boy. I was nervous, excited, and a little embarrassed to lay it all out there. But when friends and acquaintances messaged me with their experiences, I knew opening up was the right decision. By being honest about my IVF process, I had offered those trying to conceive an open line of communication to voice their trials. They shared resources with me and sought advice regarding the many unknowns that accompany an infertility diagnosis. I could feel their sighs of relief mirroring my own.
I've found that the internet's intrinsic value is its ability to connect people over their shared understandings. Like any great technology, Instagram comes with costs and benefits, but I think if we could work toward reaching out to other people instead of shining above them, our time scrolling our feeds might be a little less lonely and much more productive. At least that's what I'm trying to do.