- Dr. Shari-ann H. James
Pregnancy in the Age of Social Media
One of the defining changes of the early 21st century has been the rise and expanse of social media. Social media has closed the distances of land and sea and given voice to many across the globe with the simultaneous rise of smartphones. People are now intimately connected with others - family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers - that they might not have been 20 years ago. Our life events are now documented for everyone in our chosen circles to see and partake in. While this trend towards a global family might be the new way of the world, there are unintended consequences as is the case with any new paradigm.
In today's social media landscape, it's now common for women and couples to share news of pregnancy and birth. We don't just share the fact that we're pregnant, we document the journey to birth and beyond. This of course can be very liberating and empowering to women, who no longer have to hide their baby bumps but show them with pride. We share the ups and downs of hormonal changes within our bodies, weight gain, ultrasounds, gender reveals, and our general excitement for the life changes ahead.
However, pregnancy in the age of social media has given us tools to immediately and continuously compare our pregnancy and postpartum to that of other women. Because of the dynamics of social media, we tend to be socially connected with those of similar ages. There is now a greater likelihood of multiple women being pregnant in the same social circle over a span of a few years or less. Within my own relatively small circle of friends, there were 15 pregnancies, including one of my own, within a four-year period. This is not including the many pregnancies of friends of friends or other acquantancies that can inundate your news feed. It has become increasingly difficult to not look at other women's journeys and compare to our own, sometimes critically.
For the woman already suffering from perinatal distress, comparing herself against the two-dimensionally presented pregnancies of others can exacerbate existing feelings of dread and inadequacy. "Why don't I feel that way?" "Why am I not excited as her?" "Is something wrong with me?" Our world of instant sharing has given rise to portable realities that we are unable to emulate. This is no fault of social media. Social media is just a tool for humans to express themselves and connect with others. But for those suffering from feelings of depression and disconnectedness with their pregnancy, exposure to social media can make their struggle worse.
If you are pregnant, be mindful of the effect that social media can have on your pregnancy, a time when you might be more vulnerable than usual. Don’t be afraid to limit your exposure, or turn off access all together. If your distress increases, share with others close to you how you are feeling. Allow those around you to provide support. If your mood, behavior, or health worsen, you should seek help from a trained mental health professional.