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.
“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.”
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.”