A photo of Molly Lensing, taken without her permission, first went viral years ago. Still, the Illinois mom-of-three says the image continues to haunt her.
The photo was captured in a Colorado airport in 2016, where Lensing and her youngest daughter, Anastasia, then 2 months old, were attempting to return home after visiting family. In the image, Lensing looks at her cell-phone screen while her infant rests on a blanket on the airport floor.
Lensing was quickly mocked online as a woman who found her cell phone more interesting than her infant, and the photo was passed around with various judgmental quotes attached to it.
"Albert Einstein said, 'I fear the day that technology will take on our humanity ... the world will be populated by a generation of idiots,'" one version of the photo reads.
But Lensing says not only her privacy was violated by the sharing of the image, but there is a great deal more to the story than the photo shows.
"We had the unfortunate luck of being stuck in the middle of the Delta computer shut-down," Lensing told TODAY Parents. Her flights were delayed and re-booked so many times that she spent more than 20 hours sitting in airports — with a two-month-old.
"Anastasia had been held or in her carrier for many hours. My arms were tired. She needed to stretch," said Lensing. "And I had to communicate with all the family members wondering where the heck we were."
A few months after her stressful travel experience, Lensing began seeing the image of herself circulating online. Once a few viewers identified her by name, she began receiving messages on Facebook. Some stood up for her, but others berated her for being a "terrible parent."
"I absolutely feel as though my privacy was violated," said Lensing, who works part-time as a pediatric nurse. "I had recently started working on a labor floor, and I was terrified of my co-workers or boss seeing the photo and comments and believing that I should no longer work with infants. Thankfully, this never happened."
Mary Katherine Backstrom, who blogs at Mom Babble, shared the image in her Facebook community recently, with a message of support for Lensing and all mothers who have been unfairly judged.
"No. Just no," Backstrom wrote in the post. "We do not snap photos of exhausted mothers in the airport and shame them publicly. This is gross and needs to stop. I've been this woman. My flight delayed, running on zero sleep, fearful that my baby might slip straight from my arms and onto the floor if I nodded off ... I wish she knew that there are mamas who understand exhaustion and imperfection and don't choose to pounce someone in their weakest moment."
Lensing says most days, the photo does not cross her mind. But, on the occasions when the image makes another viral round on the internet, she turns her focus to what's important.
"I ignore the photos and the comments and lean on those close to me who know the real me," said Lensing. "I am powerless compared to the internet, and I know that I am the best momma to my girls and I know that I cherish them and am raising them the best I can."
Editor's note: This story was originally published in September 2017.