How many times a week to you scroll through Instagram and roll your eyes? Do you see a photo and wonder why your life can’t be like that, why you don’t look like that, what you have to do to fly to Bali five times a year on a private jet, or, better yet, why it isn’t you with the baby bump or the pregnancy announcement.
We live in a culture now where life very much revolves around social media. Social media allows us to keep in touch with school friends that otherwise we may have lost contact with, share photos with our nearest and dearest, communicate with strangers across the globe who share a common interest, and sometimes find people who we form a support bond with; people in this world that share the same demons as us. For me, this has very much been the case with regards to my infertility. I have found a community of people who understand how I feel, who have shared the journey and experienced their own. In this community are people who are having egg collections on the exact same day as me; people who have used clinics I am considering, but above all, know what to say when my nearest and dearest (through no fault of their own), just don’t.
I regularly get asked about pregnancy jealousy; how do you stop yourself feeling so envious, so sad and so bitter towards other women who are pregnant? My best friend recently gave birth to a beautiful little boy and in all honesty, when I found about her pregnancy I was absolutely floored. It didn’t matter how happy I was for them; my first round of IVF had only just failed, and it triggered an obscene amount of emotions that frankly, I just didn’t know how to cope with. I was so excited, I was going to be “fake Aunty Amber” and yet my heart still stung at the fact it wasn’t me, even after all this time. I would always preach about communication, how telling my friend how I felt somewhat saved me from hiding away, how I refused to let my heartache stop me from sharing the most exciting period of my best friend’s life, but as of late, I’ve found myself scrolling through Instagram and seeing an unusually large amount of pregnancy announcements – both lockdown babies and post-lockdown IVF successes, and no matter how much joy I feel for these people, I just can’t shake the jealousy.
The lockdown baby is a real thing. In March, when Boris Johnson announced the shut down of our country, the world shared memes and told jokes about all these lockdown babies that would be due at the beginning of 2021. The IVF community spoke up on Instagram, begging people to be more considerate of this when couple after couple were having their treatment cancelled as a result. However, the memes were right, and I have had countless women send me private messages on Instagram to tell me that they too are feeling like there are pregnancy announcements consuming their feed. IVF treatment also resumed, and it seems that the post-lockdown treatment has come with a higher dose of luck; almost like it is making up for the time it lost, as whilst sadly there are still many failed cycles, there is an unusual amount of positive tests flooding our feeds.
I have never muted accounts on Instagram before. Two weeks ago, I did just that. I went through my feed and 90% of pregnancy or newborn related posts resulted in my muting of the account. I felt awful. I wouldn’t unfollow; I was still so happy for them and have every intention of continuing our ‘online friendships’, but I could no longer bear to see it. The guilt was so consuming; these people had supported me during the worst times of my life and yet I couldn’t bring myself to watch their stories or see their posts about their newfound happiness. The problem was this; this wasn’t just one account of whose posts I could see, it was multiple. It wasn’t a case of one picture for every thirty I saw, it was almost every three. I couldn’t just scroll past and ignore.
Sometimes, we have to do things to protect our own mental health. Muting accounts did not mean I wasn’t supportive, that I wasn’t happy for the new mothers of the IVF world, or happy for the infertile couples who had received their finally positive test. It didn’t mean that I was invalidating their journey. It meant I was protecting my own wellbeing, my own sanity, and protecting myself from not bursting into tears with every refresh of my feed.
On Twitter, you have the option of muting someone altogether, or muting certain words and phrases. For example, if you’re a rare breed of person who despises the Great British Bake Off, or Love Island, you are quite able to mute those specific phrases. Those tweets will then not appear on your timeline at all. If you mute a person, anything they post will not be on your timeline whether your friends retweet them or not. Now, in the case of people like Donald Trump, I have no issue unfollowing whatsoever – somehow, I don’t think the POTUS regularly sits on Twitter and cries that Mrs Izzo from Cambridgeshire, England, has unfollowed him. However, was Donald Trump a friend… I might think twice.
In the age of social media, unfollowing someone is a statement. They may just be a friend of a friend, but following someone has grown to be the equivalent of saying hello in the street, and so making the move to unfollow is a bit like acknowledging that you have no time for the person in question. If they found out, there is no denying this would trigger negative feelings. They would question what they did, and no doubt assume that you don’t like them. Dramatic? Maybe, but I don’t think there are many people who *really* don’t take it personally when someone unfollows them. By giving the option to mute, you can at any time unmute without the awkward need to re-follow, prompting the conversation of “you unfollowed me?”.
The mute button is healthy, and often very necessary. The resentment we feel towards another friend announcing her third pregnancy, or the happiness but ultimate jealousy we feel towards the woman who has finally got her positive test after 6 rounds of IVF, is simply terrible for our mental health. Forcing yourself to see it daily, every time you load up the app, just isn’t fair on your own mind. There is no shame in putting yourself first, there is no malice in muting the account until you feel ready to share it. If you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, or you’re struggling with the way you look; mute the person promoting diet products, talking about losing weight or not displaying any self-love. By comparing yourself to airbrushed images or listening to someone tell you how drinking some concoction of x, y and z is going to get rid of perfectly normal cellulite, you are not reinforcing your own self-worth. You are not looking after yourself by comparing yourself to others. You have the option to shut those ideals away.
It doesn’t even need to stop there; the excess photos your cousin posts of her new cat, or the colleagues 30 different photos of the same night out, or the posts from your childhood friend trying to sell some whacky new Juice Plus diet… mute, mute, mute, mute, mute. If it stops you screaming, if it stops you feeling bad about yourself, or getting a headache whenever you scroll through YOUR OWN DAMN FEED, then so bloody be it.
Your social media is your space.
Your head is your space.
Your mental health is more important.
I had no choice but to utilise Instagram’s mute button for the first time in 8 years. Infertility is a hard-enough game as it is. Whilst often seeing IVF couples finally graced with their bundles of joy can bring nothing but hope; sometimes, it is a stark reminder that despite all you have been through, it still is not your time. Sometimes, we need to do what is necessary to protect our own hearts. There is no place for guilt in practicing self-care and remembering to put yourself first.