A 23-year-old mother drew both praise and criticism from the Internet last month when she shared an honest Instagram post about her struggles as a young mother. Despite the backlash, the mom of two says she’s glad she spoke out in hopes that women everywhere would be empowered to speak their truths too.
“I really thought, ‘Maybe this will help somebody,’ ” Olivyah Bowens, a Baltimore-born virtual doula who now lives in Puerto Rico, tells PEOPLE of her viral post. “I didn’t know what I was going through back when I had my first child. I didn’t know how to express it. So, I thought maybe there’s another mother who is experiencing this and she doesn’t know what it is.”
On July 29, Bowens shared a photo of herself sporting a tired expression as her daughter, 2-year-old Ozara, is shown crying. She began the lengthy post simply: “No one teaches you how to love a child you didn’t plan to have.” She opened up about her time as a new mom, in which she worried about how she and her husband, 24-year-old Toddrick Bowens, would care for the little girl.
No one teaches you how to love a child you didn't plan to have. 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. ... It's confusing. When the same people who told you that you pretty much ruined your life are smiling ear to ear at your baby shower a few months later. It's hard.. Looking at a beautiful baby and being bogged down by the thoughts of how you will take care of them and how much life will change. It's so easy.. To project the pain of your wounded inner child onto your baby. It is the lethal cycle of undealth with trauma. ... This stage of motherhood has forced me to look at my reflection in my daughter's eyes and realize that no I don't enjoy being a mother all the time, but this child has been the catalyst for major growth. She is the mirror that allows me to look into my past and see the fears still controlling me now. ... When we heal our deepest pains we are speaking to our ancestors across the space time illusion and holding a cross-generational conversation within our dna that heals old wounds and rectifies long lost problems. Motherhood hasn't just healed me it's healed the mother's that came before me. ... The reality is I don't want to be a mother everyday. I don't want to feel held back from chasing my dreams and goals. I don't want to be exhausted. 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. ... 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 it's mothers at the perfect time. 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. ????#takebackpostpartum #thefourthtrimester #motherhoodunplugged #birthofamama #blackmomsblog #milenialmom
A post shared by Olivyah (@herholisticpath) on Jul 29, 2018 at 3:51am PDT
“The first year, it was difficult because I was finishing my degree, which meant I’d stay up and nurse and change diapers. Then I’d spend the day doing homework. There was definitely a layer of difficulty as far as managing my time and my energy,” Bowens tells PEOPLE. “There were points where I felt like I needed space from my baby, because I was with her every single day.
“I wasn’t getting that much of a break. There were definitely times … it was hard to attach because I was frustrated and so tired.”
Bowens encouraged mothers going through unplanned pregnancy to keep their heads high, as she candidly declared, “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.” As the post made its way around the Internet, many social media users weighed in, with some criticizing Bowens for her words. One Instagram user called Bowens “selfish” and another declared, “Why didn’t you consider adoption? No I don’t agree with nor do I feel empathy for you!”
Bowens became pregnant at 21 years old and, although she and Toddrick (who have been together for 10 years) had always wanted children, the pregnancy came as a surprise.
Bowens says she struggled with feelings of guilt and shame due to becoming pregnant before “the right time.” After Ozara, she and Toddrick welcomed another daughter, 10-month-old Oniyah.
Bowens says it was difficult for her to see people accuse her of not loving her children. But, she says, she knew her words wouldn’t go over too well with some.
“I was not expecting the amount of negative comments … It wasn’t shocking because of what I said. It’s my truth. 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,” she tells 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.”
We got married in August but i feel this day holds much more significance. This was the day you made my heart pitter patter in the staircase between the third and fourth floor of BSA. You walked me to algebra class and before I could walk away you said "hold up" you brought me close and asked me to be your girl. It damn near felt like a marriage proposal. Never looked back since. It's been hard times, miscommunication, pain, heartache, tears but it was that day I knew I'd be stuck with you for a long long forever. The past few months (more like year *cough cough*) I've contemplated if I should have walked away that day. If I should have declined your offer but I now know that on that day my feet were cemented into your heart, I couldn't move if I wanted to. We had each other's heart on lock, like we knew each other in another life, like we agreed to come here to this place called earth together #iloveyouspaceboy #heybooboo #nextlifetimeletsgotoasia OCTOBER 12Th ????HAPPY ANNIVERSARY
A post shared by Olivyah (@herholisticpath) on Oct 12, 2017 at 8:21am PDT
The Instagram post has amassed more than 12,000 likes and nearly 2,000 comments. Her story was widely reported, and many gave their input on the mother’s words. Still, Bowens says she doesn’t regret penning the poignant post.
“I’m definitely glad I did it. Because I know for every negative comment there was somebody who got something from it. I’ve had so many people send me messages, like, ‘This is something I’ve always wanted to say but could never say it.’ A couple people said their boyfriend or their husband saw the post and they sent it to their wife or their girlfriends. That made me feel really happy.”
Bowens says she never expected her post to garner so much attention, but she’s learned a major lesson from the ordeal.
“I’m glad I went against my fear and posted it. I’ve learned that a message is gonna reach exactly who it needs to reach. When you’re putting something out on the Internet, everybody may not love it, or understand it. But even if it reaches one or two people, that’s still important. It’s helping those people.”