Dear News Outlets:
The last ten weeks of my pregnancy with Theory were spent on bed rest, watching NCIS and Criminal Minds and Investigation Discovery obsessively, inhaling every morbid detail as my brain tried to work out whodunit before Shemar Moore’s sexy ass.
After Theory was born, in those first sleepy weeks of maternity leave, I casually flipped on Netflix, ready to consume yet another horrific brain teaser as I nursed my snuggly, squally lump of brand new baby. The first few minutes of Criminal Minds unfolded, and it became clear that the victim in this episode was a child. A wave of something new washed over me. My stomach turned, and I quickly flicked the television off. I haven’t watched any of those shows since.
A switch flipped in me, there, in my new king size bed, holding a tiny person I had made. I suddenly couldn’t bear it, couldn’t imagine, didn’t want to be a part of a world in which such horrific things could happen to a child like mine. And when I realized that such things were damaging to my fragile postpartum psyche, I simply turned off the TV and expected that this new level of insulation would protect me from the constant bombardment of violent sensationalism. I was wrong.
If you have been on Facebook, CNN, or any purveyor of news [not even necessarily “news” news, even just the news of your social circle], you’ve seen them: clickbait-y links that attempt to draw people in with attention-grabbing headlines. There are those that give you no information at all [“You’ll Never Believe What This Mom Foun in Her Toddler’s Juice Box!”], and then there are those that give you way, way too much:
“2 Year Old Raped, Lit on Fire by Mother’s Boyfriend”
“Grandmother Indicted in Case of Infant Thrown, Dragged from Moving Truck for Three Miles”
“Child’s Bruised Body Found Rotting in Backyard Swing”
“Police: Malnourished Toddler Had Been Left Alone in Basement for Months Before Decapitation”
You get the picture. In fact, you get way too clear a picture. Without buying in to reading the article, you’re pummeled with graphic, traumatizing descriptions of its “juiciest” contents. This is the ticket to ride, it seems, the amusement that is the internet. Wanna post a noncommittal “HBD” [side note: don’t do this. Just don’t say anything. Writing “HBD” on someone’s wall is almost more insulting and takes less effort than just forgetting their birthday altogether] on your cousin’s Facebook wall? That’s fine, but you gotta pay the piper and scroll through a couple reposted news stories about child rape first.
Is it just me, or did news suddenly change? Didn’t the details used to be in the story itself? Why can’t the headlines still read “Father Charged in Hot Car Death” instead of “Toddler Begged Father for Help for 13 Minutes Before Succumbing in 130 Degree Car”? Why the horror? Are these the details that are making people click these posts? Have we all just become so desensitized to everything that we need such a detailed picture of pain and suffering painted for us to elicit some sort of human emotion in reponse? I would ask if I’m simply too sensitive, but, honestly, I’m okay with that if being too sensitive means being bothered by being assaulted with headlines about children being tortured when I’m just looking for the school closing list on a snow day.
There is horror, always, in the everyday motions of parenting. Tiny horrors, yes, but horror nonetheless: hundreds of tiny moments of terror. Is my newborn running a fever? Does my toddler have a speech impediment? What if she’s allergic to this new thing I’m about to give her? Do we have infant Tylenol? Is that blood in his diaper? Is she just being two or is her aversion to putting on a sweatshirt a sensory processing disorder? I don’t seek it out elsewhere because I have enough. Are they mostly inconsequential horrors? Yep. But they take so much mental and emotional energy that I try to avoid tried-and-true sources of additional awfulness. But when your social network, places you used to frequent for cat videos, for a quick moment of mindless relaxation in a sea of tiny terrors, becomes a harbinger of unavoidable links and shares that keep you up at night, where’s the outlet? Where’s the mental reprieve? Where can we go to escape the daily horror show, the countless worries, just for a minute? They’re everywhere. Any your rational brain, as you scroll past those headlines as quickly as possible, as you click the “Show Me Fewer Posts Like This” button yet again, tells you that these scare-tactic headlines like “Deadly Amoeba Eats Baby’s Brain, Organs, From Inside Out After Breast Pump Contamination” are only noteworthy because they’re so rare, the fact that you’re so overrun with them triggers the anxious mama brain into believing everything is dangerous, no one is to be trusted, and you are not the exception that gets the happy, tragedy-free life so you may as well just wait in terrified anticipation for the hammer to drop.
There are moms forcing themselves to read these stories, gagging as they go, holding them as a kind of talisman: knowledge is power, and if only I read all the stories about seemingly-innocuous symptoms that are actually indicative of rare, deadly diseases and all these other stories about the ways these pedophiles lured children into their murder-dens, then I can protect my family from these things, use the burden of knowledge to ward them off somehow. Then there are the moms that are isolated already, as we so often are, with no time or energy to socialize in real life, cutting themselves off from the only forms of interaction or news of the “real” world they had left because the emotional stress of another violent headline accompanied by a picture of an angelic, doe-eyed toddler is simply too much to bear.
So call me a snowflake. Tell me to just tune it out. Suggest I see a shrink for my obvious hypersensitivity and anxiety. Whatevs. But can a mama get a trigger warning? The world is horrific enough, whether you’re a parent or not, without the bloody imagery invoked in news headlines today. Save that for the story, if that’s what sells your ads. But at least give me the choice to assault my frazzled, sleep-deprived nerves with nightmare fuel or not.
I miss Shemar Moore solving crimes in tight-fitting FBI tees, but I don’t watch it. For me. For my peace of mind.
I miss news that focused on communicating information instead of spreading gore. So I won’t be clicking your link. For me. But how about you make that click-bait a little less detailed? For all of us.
A Formerly Steely-Nerved Mama Who Just Wants to Be Able to Share Some Memes Dammit
P.S. Pretty sure you’re all sociopaths. You may wanna get that checked out.