Amazon knows you are pregnant. Of course it does. Why else would you be buying cotton muslins and a hi-tech nappy bin at 3 o’clock in the morning? And when Amazon knows you are pregnant, there is no way back.
Once your baby arrives, the emails will also start arriving in your inbox. “Hello Lara Prendergast. Amazon has new recommendations for you based on your browsing history.” Last week, it was a “Hinwo Baby Diaper Caddy 3-Compartment Infant Nursery Tote Storage Bin Portable Car Organiser Newborn Shower Gift Basket with Detachable Divider and 10 Invisible Pockets for Diapers & Wipes”. I managed to resist, just.
From cradle to grave, life is now lived in coexistence with the internet. It is up to you how much you tune in or out, but it is hard to ignore it completely. I am not going to complain about the ability to order large quantities of baby wipes and nappies via my phone; this is obviously a great benefit for stressed mothers, of which I am now one. But the pressure to live your life online isn’t necessarily something to be celebrated. Baby pictures are adorable, but do you really know who is looking at them? And in years to come, will your DD (darling daughter – in Mumsnet speak) really thank you for posting all those details about her life online, while she was blissfully unaware of what was going on? Motherhood had been commodified before the internet.
In her book, Dream Babies: Childcare advice from John Locke to Gina Ford, Christina Hardyment looks at the products that have been sold to trepidatious mothers over the years. She writes about everything from mahogany cradles to rainbow-coloured potties that “play tunes as you tinkle”. It is reassuring to realise that we are not the first generation foolish enough to believe we need all of this.
Can you live without it?
The childcare industry, which wants not only to sell you products but also to sell you advice about how to raise your child, is not a new phenomenon then, but – and this will come as no surprise – it is now flourishing thanks to social media. How did anyone ever survive without dummies approved by orthodontic dentists, IQ-stimulating toys, specially designed sleeping cocoons and Ewan The Dream Sheep, a toy which plays the sound of a heartbeat in the womb? I suspect our grandmothers would know the answer.
Motherhood is riddled with anxiety.
Never mind that we have more stuff than previous generations could have dreamt of. It keeps piling up because we are made to think it is all necessary. The fear is that if you haven’t bought the latest item, your child will somehow be left behind. It is obviously a fallacy.
The backlash against all this rampant consumerism is equally fierce. For every yummy mummy selling you a pram/cot/toy on her Instagram page, there is another eco mummy telling you that towel nappies, vegan baby food and certified organic products are the way forward (and here is a link should you wish to buy them).
Even if you are not on Instagram, other mothers will send you screenshots of useful – or sometimes not-souseful – advice from the new breed of doctor influencers who offer tips on how best to approach motherhood. Some of this advice is helpful, but most of it is best ignored, if only to preserve one’s sanity. Why is it so hard to resist social media? It’s almost as if the tech gurus in Silicon Valley have deliberately designed their apps to feed into the enduring formulation of the worst of human failures. It is easy to experience all of them while scrolling through one’s Instagram’s feed.
Pride: Isn’t my baby divine? Wrath: Why didn’t this cute photograph get enough likes? Envy: Why does her baby have better outfits? Sloth: Now I’m exhausted and can’t be bothered to wash my hair.
The best and most effective antidote is real life. I have found great solace in a group I joined before I gave birth, which brought together other women with babies due around the same time as mine. The pandemic has forced us to communicate via WhatsApp during the periods of lockdown, but where possible, we try to meet up in nearby parks. And it is during those moments that you realise that motherhood as viewed through an iPhone screen is a chimera: a perfect scene which is hoped for but impossible to achieve.