I was nursing my 9-month-old son the other day when he pulled off my nipple and looked up at me, finished with his meal. It struck me that I couldn't recall anything about our nursing session, except changing him from one side to the other mindlessly.
But then again, that was normal. I used our nursing sessions as a chance to get comfy and scroll through my Instagram feed, barely paying attention as my son gulped contentedly.
Our half-dozen daily nursing sessions were the times I allowed myself to take a mental vacation. They were a chance to commiserate with other moms about the struggles of motherhood. The chance to see photos of my friends and their latest adventures. The chance to scroll through my photos from the day and decide which one to share.
I viewed it as "me time." But as I looked into my son's wide eyes I felt a new sense of doubt about my social media consumption.
Much has been reported on the design features of social media platforms, with their addictive "like" counts updating in red and the algorithms trained to show you what the data says you "want" to see. It seems like there is always something new to view, therefore making it a constant temptation to open the app and check.
Like frenemies, Instagram and Facebook are always hanging around, and though they are good at hiding it, they're deriving much from you at your expense.
They encouraged me to open up and share the intimate details of my life—my home, my kids, my husband, my struggles and joys—and then used that information to target me with ads and make a profit. I felt like no matter how many "cleanses" I did, I always came back to the apps and couldn't resist checking them compulsively, even when I tried to be mindful.
Social media does a very good job of manipulating users into feeling like they need the apps in order to be relevant, connected, validated. The platforms were never really concerned with my best interests, but rather, with theirs.
As I changed my son's diaper after our nursing session, I couldn't shake the feeling that something needed to change. I began wondering if for too long I had been allowing my narrative to be written by someone else—namely the host of influencers and mom-bloggers I followed with their daily flood of snark and sarcasm, jokes and memes.
It's not to say that the jokes weren't funny, and that reading snarky commentary on motherhood didn't make me feel solidarity. I laughed out loud at their posts more times than I can count, scaring my son who popped off my boob in confusion at the noise.
Yes, I would think scanning over a joking post about the joys of sleep deprivation. This is so true!
The real question is: Was I ignoring my own reality in favor of absorbing someone else's and claiming their truth as my own?
Checking apps broke my concentration and my ability to exist in the real space around me. Space I should have been preserving for my own contemplation, and I unwittingly had become a passive consumer of others' feelings.
Social media can be powerful and positive in many ways. When they were founded, these platforms, in their pure form, were designed to connect people. They allow us to keep up with family and friends who live far away. They let us keep a real-time journal of sorts for the special (and equally valuable insignificant) moments in our lives.
My Instagram account was almost a decade old. The first photos on it were taken before I met my husband. And over the course of the past nine years, I had posted over 1,000 photos - our puppy, wedding, honeymoon, first house, first baby, second baby, and a gap of about a year when I struggled severely with prenatal and postpartum depression.
But as these platforms have evolved, what have they taken from us in exchange for the service?
Our mental space.
Our sense of self-worth if we strive to be like the beautiful pictures we're inundated with from ads and influencers—or even more unsettling, our friends, whose photos we look at and judge our progress, our ability and our achievement.
It was scary to delete the apps. But I had printed photos in albums, and I preemptively downloaded all of my data. This knowledge quelled the fear as I hovered over the "Delete Your Account" button.
I debated making a post about leaving to tell my friends and followers. But decided against it because my decision wasn't one I could write about in a caption. Instead, I hit delete quietly and felt an instant wave of relief wash over me.
As I nursed my son that night, I breathed deeply and wrapped both arms around him. I watched him trace aimless shapes over my chest and gently pinch the freckle on my right breast. I closed my eyes, laid my head back against the chair, and rubbed his fat thigh between my thumb and forefinger. His skin was soft and I contemplated how my milk made those thighs. My exhausted body made and nourished all of him.
I felt for the first time in a long time what "me time" might really be about.