Hadley Freeman: The Confessions Of An “Insta-Mum” (Hateful)
I was never a rebel. When I was a teenager and all my friends were out having bad sex and taking worse drugs at raves, my idea of a great Saturday night was staying in and watching, in order, Beverly Hills 90210, Baywatch, Blind Date and Gladiators.
There were bonus points if my parents were in and I could watch with them. (I rarely got bonus points because my parents were almost always out on a Saturday night, as they had, and continue to have, a better social life than me.) At university, when all my friends were taking slightly better drugs but still having terrible sex, I spent my evenings in the student-newspaper office, writing impassioned pieces about scandals in the student union. You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that I managed to retain my virginity until I was about 27 (a slight exaggeration). (But not much.)
Even in my twenties, when I was occasionally torn away from watching Frasier reruns to take drugs, I treated hedonism more like a job than recreational fun. While holidaying on Ibiza with friends, they happily lolled around on the beach, while I, face super-serious, would head into town and seek out people to give me recommendations for the best weed dealers around. After spending about three days doing this research, I would then go off, find the dealer with the best reviews, and then, back at the villa, solemnly divide up the goods so everyone had exactly the same amount, carefully apportioned to last them the rest of the holiday, fair’s fair. Don’t you wish you went on holidays with me?
Instead of living in a fun and grimy bit of east London, like young people are supposed to, I opted for a tiny flat in a neighbourhood populated by the elderly. I never got edgy fashion and couldn’t understand why all designers didn’t just make pretty clothes like Chanel did. I hated staying out after 11pm and believed (and still believe) anyone who claims otherwise is lying to make themselves sound cool. Even my hair resisted rebellion: I blagged free haircuts from some of the most expensive stylists in the world and, no matter what they did, it always looked like that same half- hearted shoulder-length bob I’ve had since I was nine.
But something weird happened when I was 37. Actually, to be specific, two weird things: the first was that I got pregnant, which is a totally weird state of affairs and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Suddenly, you have a literal PERSON literally GROWING literally INSIDE of you – or, if you’re me, literal PEOPLE, because I’m such a fucking goody two-shoes I obviously ended up getting knocked up with twins. Twin boys, to be precise. So there I was, age 37, walking around with two tiny penises inside of me, and I don’t mean in the spit-roast sense (although that was how I ended up pregnant with twins). (JOKE, OBVIOUSLY.) (As if I’d ever have a spit roast.) (Did you miss the previous revelation about my long- term virginity?)
So that was weird. The second weird thing was I was suddenly determined to rebel. Against motherhood, to be specific. Now, the phrase “rebel mum” brings to mind disgusting images involving AllSaints biker boots and Zara leather jackets, and I definitely don’t mean that. I also don’t mean that I didn’t want to be a mother, because I absolutely did – I just didn’t want all the bullshit that went with it. People kept telling me how motherhood would “change” me, and while you might think, after reading the above paragraphs, that I could do with some changing, I was determined this would not happen to me. I wanted to stay exactly the same, which is to say, the lazy, selfish, self-centred person I’d always been. I’d seen once seemingly normal friends have meltdowns about being perfect mothers and this looked completely appalling to me. Some friends told me they’d not had a night out since the baby was born, and that baby was now seven years old. And they all – every single one of them – put photos of their children on social media. Where once their Facebook feeds were filled with pictures of them knocking back flaming sambucas, now it was, “Noah’s first smile!!!!!!” What was UP with that, I wondered, quitting Facebook forever. Are they so unsure of their babies’ cuteness they need external validation? If they didn’t get enough likes, would they stuff those babies back up their vaginas? No way was I going to bore people with photos of my kids. No goddamn way.
“Ha ha!” laughed friends and my mother, like zombies advancing on me, undead hands outstretched. “You’ll see! You’ll become JUST LIKE US.” It was terrifying. Fortunately they couldn’t get too near me during the final stages of pregnancy as I was the size of a truck, thanks to the 12lb of baby inside me, but still – ominous.
So then the babies arrived and, incredibly, it turned out I was pretty good at this rebellion thing, if by “rebellion” you mean “staying completely selfish”. I quit breast-feeding as early as my doctor said I could (two months, and I maintain I deserve a medal for that), because I realised that the babies sleep better with formula, and more sleep = more free time for me me me. Also, no breast-feeding = going out and getting drunk for me me me, which I did exactly two months and one day after giving birth. All around me I heard women worrying about whether it was cruel to sleep-train their baby/go back to work/leave the baby in a nursery. I listened to their concerns and I listened well. I thought about them and what I decided was this: they were completely insane. I sleep-trained my boys at three months, went back to work when they were four months and, a few months after that, left them with the childminder and went with my boyfriend to Ibiza for a long weekend.
There is a quite odd genre of blogs and, worse, books around at the moment consisting of women boasting about what crap mothers they are. You know the kind of thing: “Ooh, I’m such a slummy mummy! I love my white wine! Forgot the baby on the bus! Hahaha slurp oops ha!” I hate this cliché only marginally less than I hate the “breast-feeding for three years, staying up until 3am every night making your own baby food and entirely subsuming yourself into the baby” cliché of motherhood. If I wasn’t Bridget Jones when I was single, why would I become her when I have kids? So no, I am not like that. I don’t think I’m a crap/slummy/ drunk mummy: I just still care about work, having fun with my friends, porning over Gucci clothes on Net-A-Porter and spending time with my boyfriend alone pretty much just as much as I did before the boys turned up. Women are told over and over that spewing a baby through their vaginas will suddenly morph them into deranged/saintly hippies, or white- wine fanatics who think Get Lucky is “a tune”. But there isn’t much talk about those of us who stay exactly the same shallow, narcissistic cows we always were, just with a new room in our hearts where a small baby, or babies, live. So here I am, rectifying that.
Ha ha, look at me, I would smugly think, balancing a baby on my lap, holding another in my left arm and Googling the reservations number for Es Torrent with my right. I really rebel against all the motherhood clichés! But inside, a small voice whispers: “You failed, Freeman. What about your secret shame?” And then, a part of my soul dies.
Because yes, I have mainly stayed the same, except in one crucial aspect: I post photos of my kids. On social media. All. The goddamn. Time. I’d rather eat my hair than rejoin Facebook, but I joined Instagram shortly before having the kids and that’s where I’d post pictures of my latest Net-A-Porter purchases, my dog and favourite photos of Freja Beha – you know, the essentials of life. Now, however, it is just one big wall of baby. I started off thinking, “Oh, they’re newborns, that makes it OK, right?” And then, once they were most definitely not newborns, I’d say to myself, “Oh, they’re twins, that makes it OK, right?” And then I’d say, “Oh, as long as I post just once a week, that’s OK, right?” And then I’d Instagram three photos in one day. “They’ve got new sunhats, so that’s OK, right?”
And of course it’s not OK. None of it. It’s nauseating and I know it. But dammit, I can’t help it! I don’t need external validation of my kids, I know they’re cute – I just love it when people tell me how cute they are. Oh God. What have I become?
What I’ve become, I’m afraid, is a mother. And it doesn’t matter how many smug pronouncements I make about rebelling against motherhood bollocks, that essential truth is unchangeable. Well, I never was much good at rebelling anyway. Would you like to see 17,738 photos of my children?
Text by Hadley Freeman
Illustration by Stephen Doherty
Taken from the latest issue of 10 Magazine, REBEL HEART, on newsstands now…