My Facebook post about the birth of my daughter—written while still flush with adrenaline from 12 hours of natural labor, taking sips from a 36-ounce Buckeye Baby cup of ice water—was the most gushing, earnest thing I’ve ever shared on social media. It lacked any sheen of irony, any of the sly meta quality of millennial self-representation. I included seven photos, some featuring the baby still slick with gore. (Yes, I was that person.) Then I disappeared into a tiny wooden cabin in rural Ohio.
I’ve come of age as a writer at a time when it is no longer enough just to write: A writer must also promote her work and, in the process, promote herself as a person of interest. Social media is a skill set as necessary for my generation as typing was for my mother’s. I learned the snarky, casually intellectual voice of feminist and pop culture bloggers, the easy outrage, the clubby camaraderie. I learned to distill my agreement and disagreement into concise, digestible fragments.
Yet after my daughter was born, I found I could no longer engage with social media the same way. It began with the Facebook birth announcement and photos, which I uploaded out of both a sense of duty and an almost advocatory desire to celebrate the gritty rawness of birth. I became abruptly resistant to snark. Vacillating between the sleep-deprived poles of genuine awe and unspeakable terror, I found that I needed to believe in motherhood. I didn’t want it eroded by constant ironical observations, abraded by a posture of defiant unsentimentality. Before I had a child, I took it for granted that no intellectual writer-type could ever be taken seriously were she to cave to conventional sentiment. As a mother, I was swept away by these huge, ancient, universal emotions I’d previously dismissed as uncomplicated.
For a long, green summer in that Ohio cabin, I baked enchiladas. I read Buddhist theory. I nursed and nursed and drank water and nursed some more. I woke and slept in delusional fragments of time. I had spent my 20s working, traveling, and living on five continents, eating coconuts in the backs of trucks and summiting remote mountains; I had spent my early 30s in an MFA program, writing in a blur of coffee and ambition, sitting on the rooftops of run-down apartment buildings and dissecting New Yorker essays. Now I looked no further than this Midwestern front porch at dusk, rocking my warm, downy baby while red-winged blackbirds called from the pond. I did not see myself as a figure in a story. I lived without presenting my life to an audience. I no longer had the desire for small talk, the need or occasion to be a witty conversationalist. In those first months, I wanted only the bare elements of the quotidian—milk, sun, spaghetti—and the big, unabashed questions about the meaning of life. I could actually say things like “the meaning of life” without dissolving into cynical giggles. (I still can, though I cloak them in loftier language.)