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Dear new mom: Real life is better than the perfect pictures on Instagram

Everything you need is right where you are.
The author with Henry. They never did go on that picnic.
The author with Henry. They never did go on that picnic.Courtesy Doree Shafrir

You may know Doree Shafrir as co-host of the "Forever 35" podcast. In her new book, "Thanks for Waiting: The Joy (& Weirdness) of Being a Late Bloomer," she writes about growing up, fertility, work and motherhood. Here's an adapted excerpt.

Before I had Henry, my impression of motherhood was that babies were demanding little creatures, but it was no problem to, say, take a newborn to a restaurant and have them sleep in the stroller, or swing by someone’s house for dinner with baby asleep in the car seat, or hang out with friends with your baby strapped adorably to your body in a carrier. Once I had a newborn, though, I realized that this is only for a very small—let’s say, infinitesimally small—segment of parents, and it is these parents who are ruining things for the rest of us.

What no one tells you is that taking a small baby on a picnic, or to a happy hour, or really, anywhere outside your home is actually a huge pain in the ass. You wouldn’t know it, though, from following some new moms on Instagram. It’s not news that people present their “best” selves, or at least, their carefully curated selves, on social media, and that people’s Instagram feeds do not reflect reality. I knew this, and was occasionally guilty of it myself, and yet. AND. YET. I couldn’t help but look at these photos and not only think "Why am I not taking my week-old baby to that happy hour/picnic/beach day?" but also "Why do I have no desire to take my week-old baby to that happy hour/picnic/beach day?"

Because if you follow a certain kind of parent on Instagram with a small child, you would be forgiven if you thought that all new mothers (and some fathers) do is have picnics. You know the kinds of photos I’m talking about: a family lying on a blanket in a park, their babe cooing as the parents beam at their perfect spawn. Or the pictures of the moms sitting in a park wearing a long flowy dress while their baby sucks contentedly from their breast. Or a picnic on a beach with a baby, or a picnic on a magical roof deck at sunset with a baby, the city lights twinkling in the distance.

One mom I know posted a picture on Instagram literally one week after giving birth to her second child that said “Baby’s first happy hour!” with a Bon Appetit Test Kitchen-level cheese board in the background. I was in awe and slightly jealous: At one week postpartum I was still in mesh panties, taking painkillers, and barely getting out of bed. I was struggling to nurse and pump and was staring down the barrel of a schedule that went roughly like this: Baby wakes up, change baby’s diaper, feed baby, try to put baby down for another nap, start crying 45 minutes later because he will not sleep. Repeat ad nauseam. I was also lucky if I ate a gram of protein each day. The thought of leaving the house, and drinking wine and eating cheese, was not just completely outside the realm of possibility, but also seemed vaguely nauseating.

As I got used to having Henry around, I regarded the photos of moms picnicking at the park with their babies with even more skepticism. Who were these moms who were able to magically engineer their babies to be awake when they needed them to be, make sure they didn’t poop everywhere, and keep the baby generally content?

I had to wonder to what extent an influencer mom might feel like she needed to perform for her Instagram followers, to put on a show that she could still be the pretty, high-powered career woman balancing kids and an enviable social life. But maybe this particular photo was the only one she’d taken all day where the baby wasn’t screaming and the toddler wasn’t pouting. Maybe she had Facetuned her dark circles and her smile was fake. But none of that mattered, right? Because the end result projected I’ve got this, in a way that, at that point, I most certainly did not. And while I looked at it and was slightly envious, I more just thought: Wow, that seems exhausting.

One day, when Henry was around 5 weeks old, I stood in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom, a long, stretchy piece of fabric wrapped around my waist and over my shoulders. It was the first time since the C-section that I’d felt like my body was ready to have a baby strapped to me. I placed Henry in the wrap carefully, pulling fabric up over his legs and torso. He squirmed a bit, and I rubbed his back and whispered, “Shhh, it’s OK,” and he quieted.

I walked around the house, feeling the warmth of his body against mine, his little head turned to one side resting on my chest. He felt so snug and safe. I was making him feel snug and safe. Soon he fell asleep.

I was starting to feel more at ease with myself, and comfortable in the choices I was making, than I ever had when I was spending so much time—with men, at work, with friends—trying to be the “cool” girl, worrying that I was missing out on something. Now, I was doing what was right for me, what was right for Henry, what was right for us as a family. If ever there was a moment when I felt like I had grown, this was it.

Maybe the picnics and park hangs could wait, I thought. Maybe everything I needed was right here.

From the book THANKS FOR WAITING: The Joy (& Weirdness) of Being a Late Bloomer by Doree Shafrir. Copyright © 2021 by Doree Shafrir. Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.