For the last two weeks, a 23-year-old mom's words have touched the lives of many women. Olivyah Bowens' Instagram post has been read and reread and shared throughout the country for its honest take on what it's like to be a young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy.
"No one teaches you how to love a child you didn't plan to have," wrote the mom of two and virtual doula, who now lives in Puerto Rico. In the photo, her 2-year-old daughter, Ozara, is wailing next to her. Bowens herself has a burned-out expression—the kind many tired moms just looking for a break understand too well. "No one shows you how to traverse the emotional complexity of loving a child you weren't happy about being pregnant with. It's even more difficult at those times when they're having tantrums and pushing you to a point of emotional exhaustion."
Bowens became pregnant when she was 21. Her pregnancy came as a surprise to her and her now 24-year-old husband, Toddrick Bowens. She heard and felt it all—the guilt, fear, shame and how much life would change—as she looked at her beautiful baby.
Being a new and young mom meant she was knee-deep in changing diapers and staying up to nurse her baby while she finished her degree. That first year made things even more confusing. Her desire for space from her baby—to be something other than "mother" all the time—is one even moms of planned children can relate to.
"The reality is I don't want to be a mother every day. I don't want to feel held back from chasing my dreams and goals. I don't want to be exhausted," Bowens wrote. "But I KNOW this little girl has brought me face to face with things that would have otherwise been ignored in my bubble of childless freedom."
I never said I didn’t love my child, I said it was a process to learn to love.
While many women who read her post responded in support and gratitude for verbalizing what they have felt, but were too afraid to say, some criticized her for being selfish.
"There were two types of comments that really frustrated me. One was in reference to the idea that I’m a single mother and I’m bitter. That’s just not factual. My partner does so much to support me … I didn’t like him being misrepresented,” Bowens told People. "The other comment that was hurtful was people saying I’m a bad mother or that I don’t love my child. That was hurtful on one end, but on the other, it was frustrating. I never said I didn’t love my child, I said it was a process to learn to love. I believe love is an action, it’s not just about butterflies in your belly."
Despite the criticism, the mom doesn't regret posting her thoughts on the hard realities of motherhood. It's all worth it when she thinks about the people her message has reached and helped.
"Dear mama, who is going through an unplanned pregnancy, don't feel guilty, don't feel afraid, don't feel ashamed. That baby chose YOU to be its mother at the perfect time," Bowens wrote. "Surrender to the journey of unpredictability and let this new being show you a whole new part of yourself you didn't know was there."