When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a private blog. Writing has long been my preferred means of communication, and blogging felt like a natural way to chronicle my daughter’s birth and my birth as a mother. We were 2,500-3,000 miles from our family and friends, and this blog helped make that distance seem shorter.
I posted weekly belly pictures and anticipatory poems about labor (“Here I sit in early labor/Hoping my moans won’t wake the neighbor”). I wrote a post entitled “My Cups Runneth Over” in which I gleefully reported on my trip to the bra store when I discovered that I now filled a C cup. I wrote about my ambivalent feelings about the ultrasound I got halfway through my pregnancy. The image on the screen was so different from my experience of my baby that the moment didn’t carry for me the emotional significance so many women report. “All attention was on that little screen,” I wrote, “but I had the entire universe inside me.”
I posted pictures on the blog for a while after my daughter was born, but telling her birth story was painful and new parenthood was kicking my ass in ways I had never imagined it would (and the blog host started charging money), so I eventually let that blog go.
Between my daughter’s birth and my second pregnancy, Facebook was born. I leaped into the Facebook ball pit and jumped around happily with everyone else, tending my pretend farm, “poking” people, sending magic eggs, updating my status seventeen times a day. While pregnant with my son, I posted weekly belly pictures, and after his birth, I posted photos of us in the birth tub and dozens and dozens of photos of his cuteness.
Then there was some alert about Facebook using member photos in advertisements, and how, based on the terms of agreement, all content on Facebook was the property of Facebook to do with as it liked. I wasn’t really sure how big a privacy risk this was, but it got me to thinking about what I was doing. My son had been on the internet since before his birth and had no say in whether he was there or not. This didn’t seem fair. So, I took down all of the photos of my children’s faces, all of the birth photos, all of the belly photos. Eventually I deleted all content and closed down my personal profile (although it still shows up, and I suspect it might not be possible to delete it entirely).
I started Imperfect Happiness, and carefully avoided posting photos of faces. (Eventually I posted a photo or two of my own face, but I still avoid photos of my kids’ faces.)
I posted stories about my kids, but I never used their names and when my friends would forget and use my kids’ names in the comments, I would edit them. I wanted to post about deep, important issues, but I didn’t want that traced back to my children.
For a long time, this seemed like enough privacy, but now I’m not so sure. Telling my own story is one thing, but do I have a right to tell my children’s stories to anyone who happens upon Imperfect Happiness? Am I betraying their trust in me by exposing our private conversations and concerns to the world?
I felt this way about my daughter first. She’s four years older and much more private than my son. Especially now that she’s on the cusp of adolescence, she seems even more in need of someone she can trust with her secrets. In the past six months or so, I’ve started to feel this way about my son, too. He’s not yet six, but he has a rich internal life that he lets me glimpse and which delights me. I want to resist the temptation to share the things they say as “cute.”
And my children are cute. They are endearing. Every day, they each reveal a heart that’s sensitive and strong and wise in its innocence. I listen with amazement as they reveal their hearts to me and to their dad and to other people they trust. I am one of a very few with whom they trust their hearts. It doesn’t feel right for me to turn around and tell all about it on the internet, especially in that distancing, patronizing “isn’t that adorable?” grown-up way. That doesn’t feel like a good way to cultivate trust.
This has been my struggle with blogging over the past few months. How do I tell about the moving and perception-altering experience of sharing my life with my children without betraying their trust?
Without an answer to this question, I tread carefully. I’ve withdrawn from the revelatory posts I’d previously found so comfortable, and this has left me feeling flat about what I’m writing. I know authors who write movingly without telling too much about their families; I know it’s possible, but I’ve not figured out how to do it yet and so I err on the side of silence.
Just as my children have since their births been engaging in the long transition from being one with me to being individuals, I need to learn how to transition from interweaving my story with theirs to the degree that their stories are merely an extension of mine. Even more difficult, I have to learn to see my own story as not merely an extension of theirs.