“Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email [email protected].
Dear Swipe This!
My husband and I are expecting our first child. We’ve shared the good news with both of our parents over Zoom, but we’ve been holding off on telling our friends. If things were different (and there wasn’t a pandemic or daily protesting in the streets), I’d want to shout it from the rooftops. I’ve celebrated other milestones with announcements on Facebook and Instagram, and I would love to put together a big cheesy Instagram post, but in this climate, the very thought makes me feel guilty.
Not only has 2020 been a total year from hell, but it has also hit our closest friends very hard. Two were laid off from their dream jobs. Another lost her dad to the coronavirus. We have been there for them, but I feel a tremendous amount of guilt for having things that they don’t, like a job and two living parents. I fear putting up an announcement that I’m a mom-to-be will make me seem tone-deaf or self-involved.
My husband, on the other hand, can’t see a downside to sharing this news. He thinks it would only spread joy. He says our larger community will be happy for us, and that people need good news right now. But I don’t know. I’m just not sure I’m comfortable sharing this yet. I keep telling him, Let’s wait until the time is right. He counters that the time may never be right.
I can’t argue with him when he says that. Things are bad and don’t seem to be getting better anytime soon. And I do wish I could celebrate with my friends and even my acquaintances. Still, I’m conflicted. What if my post comes across as insensitive? Or what if my friends smile to my face and act like they’re happy for me but suffer privately?
Is it in poor taste to announce my pregnancy on Instagram or Facebook when everything is so terrible? Is there a right time, or a right way, to do this?
Secret Mom to Be
Dear Secret Mom to Be,
Congratulations! What an exciting moment you are having in a very complicated and difficult time. What a joy to know that you are about to bring new life into the world. And what a heavy responsibility to become a parent in a world where everything feels so uncertain. I can understand why you’d be thinking more carefully about how you handle this topic right now, especially given your friends’ misfortunes.
Of course an Instagram or Facebook post feels crass! These are spaces where we curate our lives to look sunny and cheerful. For the past two months, they’ve also become spaces where people speak out against police violence and injustice and share resources for surviving unemployment, a pandemic, and a seemingly never-ending list of tragedies. I totally understand why posting news that indicates your life is normal feels bizarre because, well, things certainly are not “normal” right now.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t make room for joy. In fact, I’d argue, we need to.
I hear yearning in your letter—and not just for Instagram likes and the dopamine rush that comes with them. What I hear you craving is celebration and connection. These are not shameful wants. These are absolutely human. And your friends, no matter how great their grief, want these too.
I get the sense that as much as your friends are grieving, you are, too. They’ve lost jobs and loved ones, but you’ve lost something, too. We all have. We’ve lost our normal. Our losses in this pandemic may be varied, and our privilege certainly renders our experiences wildly different, but in the world of this pandemic, the one thing we all share is our loss of togetherness. Unless you are among those who are flagrantly ignoring advisories and gathering in large groups, you share this grief. We are all grieving this, together.
Grief, however, can be cruel and isolating. It tricks us into thinking that we are alone, that our feelings are unique and unknowable. The truth is, no matter how deep our sorrow, our sorrow is shared. Not everyone can know our exact pain, and certainly there are moments when our misfortunes seem misaligned with the happiness of others. But ultimately, these feelings of loss are so innately human that they can in fact be tools that bind us instead of separating us.
Grief hurts. But it can also create an opening where we connect with who and what we hold dearest.
The truth is that death is a part of life. Anytime we share a birth announcement, we are in fact sharing the potential for both joy and grief. They go hand in hand. To live is to die. To connect is to inevitably experience loss. These things exist as part of a whole, and as uncomfortable as that truth may be, there’s simply no escaping it.
Even if everything in the world went back to “normal” tomorrow—which it absolutely cannot because our normal was a lie that included all kinds of human suffering, not to mention the exploitation of our planet—your post could still touch someone’s grief. You have no way of knowing who has had a miscarriage or lost a child or yearned for one and never had one. Does that mean you should go through life forever postponing your own joy? Absolutely not.
It simply means that you can share your joy, but you can’t control how anyone responds to it. Facebook and Instagram give us the illusion of a parade of endless heart-eye emoji and thumbs-up. But the truth of our experiences and how they affect those around us is so much more nuanced than that.
While your husband is right that people will publicly be overjoyed for you, I think you owe it to your friends who have suffered to connect in a more meaningful way. Why not set up a FaceTime or a Zoom call, at least with those closest to you? Yes, it may feel awkward, but it’s much more thoughtful and caring than blasting out a photo of your baby bump to a thousand or so of your “friends.” Ultimately, it will create an opportunity for what you’re really craving, which is joyful connection.
If you have complicated feelings about sharing good news, you can be honest about that. You can make room for their discomfort. Confess that you are nervous to share good news in a difficult time. You do not have to put on a sunny face or act like everything is normal when it isn’t. By the same token, you do not have to quash moments of joy with the troubles of the world. You never know. This could be a very bright spot in their day and something for them to look forward to for weeks to come.
And then, if you really want to, go for it. Make that public announcement. Or don’t. Honestly, it’s up to you.
When I read your letter, I found myself thinking of “Good Bones,” a poem by Maggie Smith. In it, she points out that for every way in which the world is lovely it is also full of misery, violence, suffering. She writes: “[The] world is at least half terrible… though I keep this from my children. I am trying to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”
Our world is at least half terrible. Perhaps even three-quarters. And we can’t erase that truth. But you’re about to bring some beauty into it. So don’t hide your joy. We need it. Your friends need it—and so do you.