This mother’s heartbreaking open letter to tech companies after delivering stillborn son is a must-read
When a parent endures the most devastating of all losses — the loss of a child — reminders of that loss can be incredibly painful. And, when it comes to the age of social media, those reminders can be unintentionally cruel and emotionally burdensome.
One mother is begging tech companies to address the issue after she received countless emails and ads about pregnancy and new motherhood — even after her son was born stillborn.
Gillian Brockell, a video editor at The Washington Post, issued an open letter on her Twitter account yesterday. Her heartbreaking words highlight just how pervasive the targeted ads can be to someone who has just recently suffered a loss. Brockell delivered her stillborn son at the end of November, about eight weeks before her due date. She says she’s been inundated with targeted ads since.
— Gillian Brockell is social distancing (@gbrockell) December 11, 2018
“Dear Tech Companies,” her letter begins. “I know you knew I was pregnant. It’s my fault, I just couldn’t resist those Instagram hashtags — #30weekspregnant, #babybump. And, silly me! I even clicked once or twice on the maternity-wear ads Facebook served up. What can I say, I am your ideal ‘engaged’ user.”
She addresses the algorithm for targeted ads directly, by saying she knows she received them while pregnant because of her own search history, social media photos, and the maternity and baby items she was shopping for. “And I bet Amazon even told you my due date, January 24th, when I created that Prime registry,” she writes. “But didn’t you also see me googling ‘braxton hicks vs. preterm labor‘ and ‘baby not moving?’ Did you not see my three days of social media silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me?”
While she was in labor on November 30th, she shared the news that her son would be stillborn.
Some sad personal news pic.twitter.com/ZkBOB7oqUq
— Gillian Brockell is social distancing (@gbrockell) November 30, 2018
When addressing tech companies in her letter, she implied that if they know about her searches for maternity clothes and baby supplies, they’re also aware of her devastating searches about “stillbirth” as well.
“You see, there are 24,000 stillbirths in the United States every year, and millions more among your worldwide users,” she writes. “And let me tell you what social media is like when you finally come home from the hospital with the emptiest arms in the world, after you and your husband have spent days sobbing in bed, and you pick up your phone for a few minutes of distraction before the next wail. It’s exactly, crushingly, the same as it was when your baby was still alive. A Pea in the Pod. Motherhood Maternity. Latched Mama. Every damn Etsy tchotchke I was considering for the nursery.”
And though there are options anyone can click, like “I don’t want to see this ad,” — that doesn’t solve the problem. Brockell says even though she’s done this, the algorithm assumed she’d given birth to a healthy baby. She’s been deluged with ads for nursing bras, sleep training, strollers, and the like.
Since it’s ridiculous and not at all helpful to tell brokenhearted mothers like Brockell to just “stay off social media,” we need tech companies to come up with a solution for this. Because, as she says, she’s not the only grieving parent on social media. And they most certainly have the ability to do it.
Plenty of people have shared their sorrow and support with Brockell, including parents who have faced similar heartache.
Facebook made me a very nice Year In Review video, compiling random pics I posted.
But this was NOT a very nice year for me. My son died unexpectedly in July. It still hurts to see him accepting his HS diploma in May. Some "commencement", sigh.
I feel for this lady. https://t.co/2348N8Xv4s
— Bobby Choquette (@youtalkfunny) December 12, 2018
I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost a little girl named Tessa during my 26th week of pregnancy. You are not alone. And your son mattered. Much love to you.— Amy Brewer (@WorldPeaceNPony) December 11, 2018
The same thing happened to me on @Pinterest after we lost our preemie. It was awful. I'm sorry you've joined this club, but so thankful you're using your voice to amplify this issue.— Maggie Myszka (@MaggieMyszka) December 11, 2018
Heartbreaking. I lost four pregnancies (although thankfully all much earlier) so I absolutely understand exactly how horrific these posts can be. So sorry and wishing you all the best in persuading them to tackle this.— Julia Hartley-Brewer (@JuliaHB1) December 11, 2018
This is the shit that keeps me in tech, even with all the [everything].
Single 20-something dudes are fucking stupid about the world, and this shit is too important to leave to their limited imaginations. https://t.co/35S0Te84gs
— Sarah Mei (@sarahmei) December 12, 2018
19 years ago, I handwrote dozens of notes letting family, friends & co-workers know our daughter Caroline was stillborn. Just the other day I was reflecting on the benefits of social media – in that would have saved me that heartbreaking task. Then I read this. ❤️ to @gbrockell https://t.co/zDN8NzsTQD
— Kristina Keneally (@KKeneally) December 12, 2018
Brockell concluded her letter with a final appeal to advertisers, marketers, and other companies that use this type of tracking to consider the human beings receiving the ads.
“Please, Tech Companies, I implore you: If your algorithms are smart enough to realize that I was pregnant, or that I’ve given birth, then surely they can be smart enough to realize that my baby died, and advertise to me accordingly — or maybe, just maybe, not at all.”