Going into motherhood, I expected to be exhausted when my kids were infants. But I didn’t realize that I’d be sleep-deprived on and off for literally years. Between scary nightmares, upset tummies, and strange “noises” emanating out of closets, kids can really wreak havoc on your sleep. And for me at least, I will never say no to a child who’s upset or not feeling well — even if it is in the dead of night.
Recently, after having been up all night with my sick toddler, I posted a selfie of my (very) exhausted self to my Facebook page, along with some other general thoughts about sleep deprivation and motherhood. As a parenting writer and lactation consultant, I like to share the honest realities of motherhood — not just the pretty, Instagram-worthy moments — without glossing over any of the difficult parts.
But I was not prepared for what happened next.
The response to my post was, in a word, overwhelming. For one, it received over 1,000 likes and 700 shares — much more than my usual posts receive. It also caught some attention outside of the Facebook world, and soon I saw my selfie popping up on sites like the Huffington Post.
But it was more than just that: Mostly, I was struck by the sudden outpouring of solidarity that came from sharing one single, unfiltered photo. It wasn’t long before other mothers started sharing their own stories and sleep-deprived selfies. And I could immediately see why: They needed to see someone who looked just like them — no make-up, messy hair, under-eye bags, creases under the eyebrows … all of it.
They needed to know that they weren’t alone.
A friend of mine later asked what compelled me to share something like that. She thought it was “brave” of me to show my face in such a potentially unfavorable light. (Though she kindly added that she always thinks I look beautiful, even when I’m that tired!)
And it’s funny: I hadn’t really analyzed it too deeply. (Remember: I was tired to the bone!) But I think the reasons I shared it went beyond a desire to connect with my readers. I did it for me — as a way to commemorate and remember this aspect of motherhood.
Of course, thinking about some more, I realized there were a few other concrete reasons I decided in that moment to snap the selfie.
- I wanted to remember all the nights I lay awake with a snotty, feverish toddler in my arms, because I know he will only be this little — this needful — for so long.
- I wanted to savor those nights when my big kid would come into my room because of a bad dream, and recall how just a hug from his mom was all he needed to calm down and drift back to sleep.
- I wanted to remind myself that the reason I’ve been so tired all these years is because I am doing the most meaningful work I’ve ever done — the work that has given me more happiness than I could ever have imagined.
- I wanted to give myself a pat on the back for attending to my sons’ needs, even at night, and to remember that doing so is how I’m raising my sons with a foundation of trust, a feeling of safety, and the comfort of a mother’s love.
- I wanted to remember that even in my most sleepless, depleted moments — even in the moments I feel totally unattractive and unglamorous — I have a kind of beauty.
- I wanted to celebrate motherhood, my motherhood, in all its raw, unfiltered truth.
- I wanted to have a way always to remember the parts of motherhood that have felt too hard because I know how easily I will forget, and always to have compassion for parents who are struggling.
- I wanted to remember that everything I did as a mom, I did out of love, and that it was all worth it in the end.
I have noticed over the past few months a proliferation of viral photos showing the stark realities of motherhood, and I think we’re all touched by them for the very same reasons: We see our own faces in these photos. Motherhood can be isolating, and too often the reality of it is hidden behind closed doors. How many real mothers do you see on TV? How was motherhood portrayed to you when you were a kid — in books, in news articles, through the lens of celebrity? Probably not in the ways you experience it now, right?
I think it’s really important for us to share motherhood for what it is. Too often we feel like we can’t express how utterly exhausting and overwhelming motherhood is. Or we blame ourselves for not being tougher or more resourceful. But the fact is, everyone is getting their ass kicked. And what mothers need more of is both compassion and commiseration. They need to know that they’re doing a great job — the most important work on earth, as far as I’m concerned — and they need to know that they’re not alone.
I’ll forever be grateful that something as simple as posting a selfie in all my sleep-deprived glory could make a few mothers feel less alone. And I hope it gives them a little bit of solace on their motherhood journeys. Because I know firsthand just how much they deserve it.More On