This picture is blurry because I’m not trying to call out this specific family. We are all this family, or have been. When I posted this picture of a mother entertaining her baby for hours while her family enjoyed their meal, I had no idea it would go viral. I just knew that for the first time in my twelve-year motherhood career, zooming out had made me see this problem clearly. I was eating lunch with a friend, nestled in the corner and watching this entire scene play out, my own mom responsibilities nowhere in sight. The isolation was finally visible. For hours, no one stepped in to let this mom enjoy being part of the group. Instead, she entertained her baby with bouncing, looking at all the art on the walls, more bouncing, and batting a balloon off to the side for the hundredth time.

I felt for her. And I also knew that I didn’t know the whole story. Perhaps she didn’t want anyone to intervene. Perhaps she was enjoying the time with her baby while her family ate, drank, and laughed nearby. But perhaps like many moms – namely the droves that liked, shared, and commented on the post on my motherhood-and-humor page, Adult Conversation – she wanted someone to help bring her back to the table. And she didn’t want to have to ask for it. Or, like many new moms in the trenches, maybe she couldn’t yet articulate what she needed. Maybe she didn’t even feel like she deserved a seat at the table. The shattering of self that happens when we become mothers can turn us inside out and twist our brain in ways that we never imagined. A vocal woman who always spoke up for herself might be rendered voiceless under the weight of sleep deprivation, inevitable marital shifts or anxiety that came with her new gig as “Mom.” Maybe she doesn’t yet know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a survival skill. Also, should she have to ask to be included while everyone else looks on? And what if these are the same people who are telling her, “Make sure to self-care?” 

The comments on my post were too real. It was as if no one had ever pointed out this divide before. One mom said, “I’ve never read anything so relatable until this post. This is real life revealed.” Another chimed in, “This mom probably also planned the date, invited the people, and bought the gift.” Others added, “It was probably even her birthday.” They spoke from experience and many detailed the numerous times they’d found themselves in this mom’s situation, feeling the isolation and invisibility and that unfortunately comes with modern motherhood. And then there was all the tagging of and gratitude for all the “offerers,” – the supportive friends and family that willingly and lovingly give up their spot to bring moms back to the table.

*Below is the Facebook post that struck such a chord with a wide audience of mothers.

“I’m not trying to put this specific family on blast, but I am trying to shine a light on these little moments of motherhood that can add up to feeling isolated and resentful, and this one captures it perfectly.

While at lunch yesterday, I watched this mom entertain her baby with a balloon, with walking around, with touching the art on the wall, etc. (we’ve all been there) the entire time her family enjoyed their birthday celebration with food and drinks and lively conversation. No one stepped in to let HER enjoy being part of the group. This image, with the mom in pink on the left (with her baby touching a balloon) is an accurate visual of the constant, UNSEEN care-taking of motherhood many moms do that leave us out of the group. Either no one noticed the subtle work she was doing, or no one wanted to give up their enjoyment to let her have a taste of it, too. I considered offering to hold her baby so she could rejoin her family for a bit, but I knew that was gonna be weird.

And people wonder why postpartum depression, rage, and resentment are a common part of modern motherhood. We don’t just need better diagnosis and doctors to help new moms – we need our families and friends to notice us, and to help bring us back to the table.

I vividly remember this stage and I remember writing in a journal that I never wanted to forget how isolating it felt at dinners and parties to be walking a baby around while everyone sips on wine and tickles the baby’s feet as I pass them instead of offering to help me eat without a human on me. I never wanted to forget it because I knew that “Gramnesia” would probably erase it from my brain. I wrote it down so I would remember to help my then grown-up kids and spouses in this department – especially the moms.

Please share this far and wide so that people in different phases of life and roles in families can see where these cracks form for us moms, and where they can easily step in and help us. Even if they can’t understand it because they haven’t lived it, this picture perfectly illustrates the divide that happens when no one steps in.”

After articles like this, where we talk about challenges modern mothers face, there’s an inclination to want to share the hotline number to a postpartum mental health group, or a link to some maternal wellness organization, but the truth is that moms aren’t the problem. We don’t need to do more, ask for more, reach out more. I’m not saying those things don’t have their place, but to put the blame on moms, as if it were their fault instead of a problem with the people who love and surround them, only invalidates mothers further, keeping them small and silent. Partners, families, communities, (and ideally, legislators) need to open their eyes and step up so that moms can do less, because many are breaking. And they can’t even see it.

Brandy Ferner is a mother of two, author, and host of the “Adult Conversation Podcast,” which strives to break down the façade of “perfect” parenting. In addition to writing and fulfilling her kids’ endless snack requests, she spent the past decade working as a doula, childbirth educator, and birth trauma mentor, ushering clients through the intense transition into motherhood. The insight gained from watching women crack wide open – literally and figuratively – and her own experience as an independent woman who suddenly traded autonomy for snuggles, led her to say the things about modern motherhood that no one is saying out loud. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s comedic. She currently lives in Southern California and her love language is sleep.