I was married for about five days the first time my body gave me an inkling that something might be up with my reproductive system. Four months later, after extensive testing, I listened to my doctor talk to me about my diagnosis. These were the words that stuck with me: “It will be difficult for you to have children.”
Five years later, our daughter was born.
She was born during the rise of social media. My mom was in town the first time we planned to take our baby to church, and she was horrified that we would expose her to all those people and all those germs. It was important to us to go because of how we see our daughter: as a gift. Not knowing if a baby would ever come changed how we think and pray about parenting. When we first learned I was expecting, we told no one; there was too much risk. My husband I wondered about if this pregnancy made it to birth, how would we parent? Breastfeeding? Day care? Formula? Stay at home? I have said she is a gift from God (I hesitate to say that these days because I have so many sisters and brothers who are waiting for that gift and have no reasonable explanation for why I received it and they have not.) Seeing her as a gift from God led us down a path to sharing her. We wanted to share the joy she brought as much as we could. To not share this gift with the world would be like not using our spiritual gifts to serve our Creator.
When the toddler years came, the three of us moved as I began seminary. Social media became how we shared the joy of her growing up with family around the country. Of course, I have never had public accounts and I limit who can my posts, but social media has been a way to share our joy and challenges. It has been a way to share in life with loved ones near and far and keep in touch with people who have invested in our lives — especially her life. Her former babysitters, the youth group I was leading when she was born, her teachers, neighbors, the congregation that made promises on her baptism day — all get to see glimpses of our life together.
For all the good social media offers us, it is not without challenges. There are two big dangers this blog will cover. The first is safety: Even though I limit access to my personal social media accounts, I know that in the vastness of the internet anything can get out there. There are some things I just will not post like school names, where we live, the places where we regularly attend activities and her given name. The second danger is the perception of a perfect life. As a leader in a community of faith it is particularly important to be balanced in how I post about family life. We take trips, enjoy ice cream and act silly together. Yet, family life is challenging. Taking into consideration what might be embarrassing in the years to come, avoiding the airing of grievances and focusing on honesty, I share the challenges of this adventure we call life together. One of those challenges has been our own struggle to give her a sibling. I posted on social media once about one moment in that journey, and the response we received in private messages told us that many people were not only also struggling, but feeling isolated in that struggle. If sharing honestly about such a personal struggle could help one person feel less alone, I am all for it. Community can happen through social media and we not only long for community, we are called to community.
The gift I hope social media brings our future generations is memory. My dad died when I was 18 from a long-term illness. I did not get to know him well; his friends have helped me know him through telling me stories about him. I kept an amazing scrapbook of our daughter’s first year of life. After that I have shoved things in boxes with the hope that one day I will catch up. There is a part of me that hopes someday when I am long gone from this world, be it far too soon or in satisfied old age, she will have my social media accounts to comb through, my blog, my journals and she will know with out a doubt how much I loved her, how proud I am to be her mom, how she tested me with her wit, how tired I was at times and how I tried to live life. I have a chance to tell her our story in my own words. Social media has its challenges, but it will perhaps allow us to leave digital footprints, a scrapbook, if you will, of our lives and our love.
REBECCA J. GRESHAM-KESNER is pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey. Outside of church and family life, you can find her in nature, finding fun ways to be creative or asking awkwardly deep questions of people she just met.