Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Face.book: It's Complicated

I have found myself thinking several times over the course of this past year, "I wish I were on Face.book."

I miss my friends from graduate school, who have moved far away, some of whom I know read this blog and keep up with me, but I miss out on their updates and photos and I especially miss their funny quips and clever observations and interesting links.

A couple of businesses I've been interested in purchasing from have Face.book pages instead of websites and you have to "follow" them on FB to get their coupons and discounts.

Many of my BLM friends have connected through FB and even have a private group for general kvetching and encouragement.

Many of my blogging friends also do FB and I'd like to see what they're up to on the days they don't have time to type a novel about it.

Oh--and I have to admit this is a HUGE one--to get Target's Cartwheel app on your phone, you have to sign in through Face.book.  (I don't know when Target and FB got in bed together, but seriously.)

I had a FB profile before Eliza died.  I updated occasionally.  I "liked" stuff other people posted.  When I was bored, I used my phone app to scroll through and spy on people I knew from high school and was somewhat curious about but would never have wanted to have to actually talk to them.  (Just being honest.  You can probably see why I didn't win any popularity contests in high school.)

Deactivating my FB account was one of the first things I did in the early days after Eliza died.  I couldn't bear to post my loss on what was--for me--a superficial public forum.  I'd never taken FB seriously, and I felt uncomfortable when other people did.  I would "hide" political ranters (even if I agreed with them) because, DUDE, you're not going to convert anybody with your FB update.  I thought of FB as a shallow social network, a way to stay in touch but not connect deeply with anyone.

It was also a place to put forward an image of myself that was fun--lighter, easier, breezier than my real self.  It was like the abridged version of my reality, without any of the ugly or sad parts.

But when Eliza died, ugly and sad became my entire reality.

The day I got home from the hospital without Eliza, FB notified me that a friendly acquaintance from grad school who'd moved away the previous summer had sent me a message.  It said something like, "How are things going?  You're getting really close!  So excited for you!"

I went numb. I felt cold.  Then I started clicking frantically to deactivate my account.

Are you sure? FB wanted to know.

Yes, I'm fucking sure.

I'm sure I don't belong here anymore.  I'm sure I can't participate in a world of gleeful pregnancy announcements, what-I-had-for-lunch updates, unoriginal TGIF statements, vague song lyrics, chipper "I LOVE MY LIFE" statements (although, honestly, the more you say it, the less I believe you), smug I-ran-this-far-today reports, vacation photos, funny jokes, and general snark.  These things--all of which I had previously found at least unoffensive and at best amusing were suddenly hateful content, hitting me like a series of gut-punches without time to catch my breath in between.

Everything was about me and my grief and I had lost not only the desire but the ability to participate in a forum that couldn't acknowledge the depth and breadth of my loss.

I know a lot of people feel differently, but I've never been comfortable with FB as a place for sympathy or condolences.  Just like all the virtual strangers writing "Happy Birthday!" because FB told them it was my birthday, such comments felt meaningless to me, like people were putting on a show for someone else.

Maybe it was because I sometimes used FB in a snotty way--to roll my eyes or be judgy or feel lucky I wasn't in someone else's situation.  In my opinion, FB was a place to post silly things or funny things.  It wasn't a place to brag about serious accomplishments (I had a friend who wouldn't post about job interviews because she knew it might sting for other academics in the dismal job market) and it certainly wasn't a place to advertise your failures.

Pages dedicated to lost loved ones, RIP messages--they just felt out of place and inappropriate to me.  They made me uncomfortable because I didn't know how to respond to something so serious in a forum that I had never taken seriously.  (Do I "like" a comment about something sad?  Do I comment on it?  But I don't know what to say...  And I don't really "know" this person that well...  Why are they making me think about hard things when I'm just killing time on FB?)  Now I understood the desire in a way I never had before, and I know many people have found great comfort through communities on FB.  But I'd never thought of it that way, and I felt as though I'd gone from mingling at a party where we were all having fun to being cast out and marked as an object of pity--the only person in my friend list whose life had just been shattered.

(As for that well-meaning and friendly acquaintance who happened to send me a message on December 5th?  I'm assuming someone told her my baby died, but I never heard from her again.)

It wasn't like I was a total fake on FB, but it was a place where I put on my "public face."  There was nothing on FB that I wouldn't be comfortable sharing with my students or the dean of academics.  It was personal without being intimate.  It was a depiction of the surface of my life.  At its shiniest and most amusing.

Eliza's death wrecked the surface of my life and everything underneath it.  I couldn't put on a happy face with her gone, and I wasn't willing to share my most intimate grief with my FB "friends" either.

Also, there was this:  When Eliza died, lurking under my breathtaking grief and my gut-wrenching disappointment, I felt really ashamed.  Ashamed and embarrassed that something was wrong with me or with my baby and this pregnancy I had been so delighted in, so proud of, so happy about, had gone so wrong.  Something was wrong with me and my baby.  We never learned what that "something" was, but it wouldn't have made a difference.  I had failed.  I had failed to have a healthy baby.  I had been profoundly disappointed after being so smug and so sure that I would bring my baby home.  And I couldn't bear to post that failure on FB.

To be honest, there was also this:  I couldn't stand to see other people's success.  Pregnancy announcements, baby pictures, funny stories, potty-training complaints--oh, hell, complaints about anything related to kids--were suddenly too much for me.  I knew I couldn't take it.  And so I took myself out of it.  As much as I'd like the Target cartwheel app, I haven't regretted that decision.

But I've started to wonder...  Has it been enough time?  Could I handle it now?

I am pretty good at being able to celebrate other people's happiness with them.  I might grit my teeth as I smile, but I don't wish them ill.  My heart will always ache for my baby girl, but I don't begrudge my friends their healthy babies, and I was genuinely glad to hear recently that someone I know is expecting after struggling for a long time to get pregnant.  I could definitely deal with--and participate in--the superficial nonsense that makes FB fun.  And, as I mentioned before, I really would like to keep up with friends who are now far away.

But somehow, I'm not quite ready to get back on Facebook.  I'm not ready to reactivate an account that was frozen in time the day after my daughter died.  I'm not ready to look back at my timeline and see the person I used to be.

FB is not an accurate depiction of anyone's life.  It's certainly not a place to measure success and failure.  But for me, it's a measure of the difference between what I thought my life would be before December 6, 2010 and what it is now.

I have a good life now.  I'd go so far as to call myself lucky, even.  But I'm also a bereaved parent, broken-hearted and missing my first girl.  Most of the time, I'm starting to find myself resigned to this path, doing what I can to make the most of this life, and appreciating all the good things (and people) my life has in it.  It's just that FB throws into sharp relief the crushing disappointment of losing not only my baby but my entire future as I once believed it would be.

FB is a painful reminder of the moment that everything changed.  It's become more than it ought to be in my head.  It's taken on a larger significance than it deserves.  I'm kind of hoping that one day I'll get over myself and decide I want the cartwheel app more than I want to be freaked out by FB.  I know I can downsize my friends list and be selective and private and hide people and whatever.  I don't need to let it be bigger than it really is.  It doesn't have to be a metaphor.  It can just be what it is.  But... I'm still not quite ready for it.

It comes down to this:  I wish I could be the person I used to be on Face.book.  It's just that nothing is that simple for me anymore and as far as I'm concerned, FB is not a place where I can explain why It's Complicated.


  1. I was just talking about FB and your name came up the other day, I can't remember with who (probably Katie or Jackie since they are the two people who know you that I've talked to most recently.) They just asked if you were going to join again.

    Could you try a happy compromise and create a new account entirely? Only friend the people you want to deal with (or friend and hide people). I mean, the way people use instagram these days, I don't think it's a whole lot different from that...and you are on instagram...

    I get it though. There are some days when I wish I had done what you did.

  2. I didn't delete facebook after losing Cale, but had all the same feelings. People living these normal lives - talking about petty things, it killed me. But for me, the support was huge. I posted when he was born and what happened and little by little I realized how much I craved and needed those expressions of sympathy - even through social media. I regret that while we were in the hospital I asked a friend to take down the album of pregnancy pictures I posted. I wish I kept those up, but I ended up deleting all my albums anyway. Now the only pictures I have up are the occasional iPhone pictures I'll share. I'm fairly private on FB, I don't have my birthday posted and feel the same as you - if someone is going to wish me a happy birthday, I want it to be because they know it's my birthday on their own accord. I don't like or share much, but do from time to time. But our little BLM group? Oh, I just love it. I haven't announced my pregnancy on FB and in regards to most things going on, they don't need to be shared on FB - I'd rather just kind of let it be - if people know anything more personal about our lives it's because they read my blog or are my Instagram friend.

    Also, for me it's been nice to share facets of grief and baby loss - either through sharing a link to my blog or an article. I've had people contact me that said they were glad I shared that to not only give them a better understanding but because it helped them reach out to someone they knew who lost a baby.

    Also, I think I just kinda have accepted what FB has become in our society - not just social media for the most retarded posts (F you and your five mile run) but also, it IS a good tool to get important messages out there. While it seems odd and a little tacky, I guess it just works. It is what it is, I guess. When Daren was killed it was helpful to inform friends and family of funeral arrangements. We've lost a lot of classmates during the war and it's been nice to be kept informed of those tragic announcements - no matter how the message is communicated.

    I agree with Angie - if you decide you want to venture back to FB - I would just start fresh. I understand not wanting to go back, because it puts you back into a part of your life that you are just no longer living. So maybe just start with even a somewhat mystery name- "Maisie Dobbs perhaps?? Like what celebrities do when they stay at hotels. And you add what friends you want, you choose what you want to see, and what you want people to see, and just feel it out for a bit and see if it's a place you even want to spend any time. That way people don't even have to know you're on it if you don't want them too. And you can use Cartwheel! (Just got me some Nate Berkus sheets for 25% off today, just saying). If it's still not for you, no biggie, delete it.

    I think this reply is entirely too long, so I'm going to stop and go eat some ice cream.

  3. I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I need to have it because it is how I reach BLM's and the grief group that I run. I love that I can keep in touch with my friends that have moved away.

    I hate the happy, innocent, babies are born easily and safely crap. I also hate how I know people WANT to know info about me and will try and do so from my postings.

    Thus I rarely post. And if I do, it is stuff I would want on the front page of the paper. And I honour Ava. I always post her age on her birthday and will link to useful grief websites/ discussion topics. I think I have found my way of handling it but even still I frequently take long breaks. I walk away from Facebook very frequently for as long as I need to. I block people, block seeing them in my newsfeed. I control it. I use it on my own terms and I am sure if you ever decide to use it, you will too.

    Our BLM group is very fun!

  4. Wow, Caroline!

    Not much to say here as you know I agree with every single sentiment you wrote about above and for the very same reasons, I ended my superficial run with the book.

    I feel liberated, don't regret it, and don't intend on ever having a (real) profile again.

    What you said at the end... about re-activating and seeing the person you once were? It terrifies me. So much that it's enough to stay away. Probably forever. {Except my fake account that has no friends just to get that Cartwheel app. Nothing is standing between me and a Target deal. Hah}

  5. I have to have a work/admin account to post things on our firm website. I can use that to do the occasional things that require me to have a FB account. Outside of that I have no interest.

    One reason is a completely snobby reason - I think the look of FB completely sucks. I may miss out on some updates, but I probably don't need or have time for most of them anyway. I do love IG, but it's a much better looking format - I can see all the cute baby pics I want, or post my own "snobby" running pictures or dinner photographs. It took me awhile to get used to the like button - I'd be happy if there wasn't one on IG. And I don't like the thumbs up on FB.

    FB feels un-curated to me, and kind of lazy. Does that make sense? It's too easy to drop a bunch of crap in there that doesn't mean much. I'm much more drawn to blogs that have a higher level of editing.

    I do get it from a networking / group planning perspective, but again the format just looks too messy for me to even think it's still not information overload.

  6. I tried again after Kellan was born. I lasted a couple of months. Although I hid pregnant people (yes, still could not handle it, even though i initially thought i could), that news still snuck in. The past timeline was incredibly hard to see. I never did go all the way back bc I literally couldn't handle rereading it. And although I tried to be real and post about Hayes and grief links, support group stuff, etc., I didn't feel authentic. It hurt when 75 ppl would "like" pics of Kellan and 3 would "like" something about Hayes. So I bailed. Again. I want that damn cartwheel app but it's not worth it. :)

  7. I do FB. It's the only way I actually communicate with some of my friends bc I'm not in love with actual telephone convos, long emails, or even text messages. I like it for that.

    I have looked at my profile from time to time, and I post occasional photos of Grace, but mostly BLM links/articles/poems/etc.

  8. I remember the day I deactivated my FB account-too many babies and bellies. Once we had Abigail I got invited to a moms play group and they often posted things on FB so I decided to rejoin. But, I created a whole new account. Started fresh and it felt so good. It still makes me sick to think of having to go back to my old page and see my pregnancy pictures and updates. Now, I am able to pick my actual friends and sort of re-create myself. I often post stuff from the babyloss community just to get awareness out there. FB is hard, and Im glad you wrote about just how complicated it can be for us.


  9. The problem with FB baby and pregnancy announcements is that they usually aren't from good friends who finally got pregnant after a struggle. Because I don't mind those announcements. But it's all the other ones. Someone I barely knew, someone I thought I had blocked, but I am "friends" with her husband or cousin or whoever. The ones that come from people who I thought were "safe" from making such announcements, those sting the most. Why do that to yourself? I am on there, and I guess I do enjoy it on some level, and some good things happen because of FB posts (e.g. asking in a status update who wanted to go to the shore for the day and meeting up with my cousin and aunt and staying overnight). But I think if I just totally detached I would feel a lot better generally about my life and where I am in it. So, if you were asking my opinion, I say no. :)

  10. I think fb was like a sweet torture. Because of all those things you have talked about. I would go for weeks without logging in and then one, two, three little things or one big thing and I was done for another few weeks. I only just deleted my page a month ago. My blm group is non-existent so I no longer feel guilty about bailing on someone who might need me or my blm knowledge. And I just don't miss all the drama, because death makes drama. I promise you are missing nothing. ~M

  11. I agree with every single thing you said, up to date. The only difference in my FB odyssey was that after deactivating my page for 9 months I reactivated for about a few weeks when I was about 6 months pregnant with #2.
    The truth was, and IS though -- that I just hate who I am when it comes to FB. I hate that I can't handle it, I hate that I know I"d waste time lurking places, I hate that I'd think too hard about what I post...it would just take up so much brain space and even those few weeks I'd get off feeling unsatisfied or more unhappy than before.
    Not to mention there should be a whole separate entity called Mombook. I remember what prompted me to deactivate. It was logging in, seeing the old version of myself, and birth of someone else's baby followed by some complaint about sleep and wanting to post, "well my dead baby lets us sleep through the night." That's when I realized I needed to get out of there. Because that's just not ok!
    I've considered rejoining, but I just know I couldn't use it responsibly, and I envy those who can.
    Also, I just don't have the energy to start from scratch or cut people who would annoy me. Basically FB is too much maintenance and I've gotten used to life without. xo

  12. As a person who could theoretically go for days without seeing another human being outside my immediate family, fb is important to me. I don't share my shit procreational luck there. I get drunk and post random oddities from reddit. I use it as a way to hopefully put a smile on another person's face because I've needed just that more times than I can count.

    On the flip side, I received and appreciated so much love, support, and personal stories after recounting our first, and only loss acknowledged on that forum. And there have been a few times I've reached out and shared my story with a woman who was currently going through their own heartbreak. I hope they feel less alone. I hope it helps them heal. And for the rest of my friends list, here's hoping they find my kid as funny as I do, because that's my main subject for posting.

    I dig it for now. That's all that matters.

  13. I have a FB account, but I admit that it is grossly neglected most of the time. I can't handle the pregnancy updates, the whining about having two children under the age of 2 (ever heard of birth control???), and so on. So much of the time, I just stay away. Sadly, though- many of my friends have taken to sending out FB invites to parties, and so on- things I would have no clue are occurring if I didn't check in now and then. So, I begrudgingly keep the account... but I wouldn't be disappointed in the least if the whole thing went belly-up tomorrow. It can be an evil, evil thing for anyone who is grieving.

  14. Wow I can imagine why it's complicated for you. I know FB can be a painful place, do what you need to do to be kind to yourself!

  15. Wow. I read this ystdy when you first put it up, and was going to give a quick reply 'nods' and come back to it... But everyone said everything I was going to say!

    I still have my account. I went on days after Alexander died and closed my wall for comments, and made my name and info unsearchable. When word got out to my job that we lost the baby, I immediately removed all my work ppl. My account was inactive for like, 6ish months? Maybe 9 or 10? It wasn't until I went back to work while pregnant w Theo did I browse the book a bit. I removed over half of my "friends". Anybody who hadn't acknowledged my loss or delivered me some sort of condolence got removed. When Alexanders first birthday rolled around, and I got a shit sympathy card from my sister and she changed her profile pic to a candle on his day...but did nothing else...she got removed too. I was hacking through my list and realized I had ppl I HATED on there. I was liberating. I now have like 40 ppl, mostly family on Daniels side. But here's no one on there where I wouldn't feel comfortable posting about my dead baby.


    I don't. I don't use it for that. And I too don't know if I should "like" things that are said about my dead son and his absence. So... It's very minimally browsed in how I use it. But I feel almost exactly the same as you do as to what it represents forme.

  16. I also deleted FB after losing my son Miles. It took a few months, but massive breakdowns after every pregnancy announcement finally made me cut ties. It's been tough, and annoying that everyone assumes I'm on FB and therefore know everything about their lives, but its been worth it. I guess I keep secretly hoping that FB will just go away and I'll never have to get back on. There are days that I miss it, but overall I'm happy with my decision. I'm only a year out from my son's death...maybe by year 3 I'll be ready as well.

  17. I did not delete my FB page after losing Elias. I wanted to, and I thought about it. Instead, I just changed my settings so that people couldn't post on my wall. The private messages of sympathy still rolled in, and I didn't appreciate them for months, but after that point I went through them and made mental notes of the people who were nice enough to express sympathy privately to us. For a long time I didn't read posts from others. I thought with bitterness, "Must be freaking NICE to post about something so SUPERFICIAL!" Bit by bit though I came back to life and it was an awesome day that came where I found MYSELF caring about superficial things again and understanding why someone might want to post about snagging a great deal on some cute boots, etc. It didn't mean I didn't miss my son just because I was able to relate again to the masses a little and lose myself in laughter and lightness from time to time.
    That said, recently (and I'm on the same grief timetable as you are) I deleted over half of my friends (I had over 600 which is just dumb). I only wanted to keep REAL FRIENDS on there (not friends of friends of friends who have no business reading about personal things of mine!). I kept babylossmamas that I've made amazing connections with over FB. I'm involved in a loss forum that I absolutely love. And as an act of rebellion of sorts, I deliberately post serious things about grief and loss. I figure that if someone doesn't like that and deletes me, good riddance. I share to much of myself there to keep people around who aren't supportive, accepting, or inspiring to me in their own right. And, well, the sad truth is that my life is far too hectic for me to blog as much as I'd like and call as many people as I'd like, so FB helps me maintain many different relationships without pulling me away from my family and career. Bottom line - you CAN find that balance and use FB for what serves YOU. I know I did. : ) ~Linday

  18. I lost my Katie back when Mark Zuckerberg was probably still in high school. :p And in some ways, reading your post & some of the comments here, I am grateful for that.

    I was a FB holdout for a long, long time. I felt like I already waste -- errrr, spend -- enough time on the Internet as it is. But I was starting to feel like I was out of the loop on a lot of things. And while there are things I don't like about it, I enjoy it, for the most part. I like being in touch with my extended family, my cousins & their kids, dh's cousins, our nephews, some of my high school friends, friends from our pg loss support group, etc.

    Then I started getting friend requests from online friends (loss-related & otherwise), making some requests myself. I've always kept my life very compartmentalized... this group, this group, this group and seldom the twain shall meet. And I was very nervous at the prospect of bringing all these disparate parts of my life together.

    But there got to be a point where I realized that if I "liked" this infertility page or article about stillbirth, it might pop up on my FB feed, & what would people think about that?? And after awhile, I realized that I really didn't care. If they don't like or are uncomfortable about it, well, too bad (I don't always like some of the stuff that they post either.) I don't deliberately post a lot of stuff about Katie or related topics, and I would still prefer to keep my blog private if at all possible, so I take steps to try to ensure that -- but I don't run away from it these days. (Much.) ;)