Pregnancy apps and online spaces fail to support those grieving over pregnancy loss – here’s what to do about it

In the United States, about 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss. Pregnancy loss, also known as miscarriage, is a common complication of reproductive health.

Many experience this loss as an important life event, with a “before” and an “after”. It can cause depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet society stigmatizes and widely rejects her by not treating her as a loss worth mourning.

I research the social implications of technology. Over the past few years, I have investigated the intersection of pregnancy loss and social technologies. Search engines, social media, online support groups, and pregnancy and fertility tracking apps are some of the technologies used to manage pregnancies, share experiences, or exchange social support.

My recent research shows that these technologies often ignore pregnancy loss and, as a result, can cause further trauma and distress.

Harmful designs and algorithms

In a recent study, I conducted in-depth interviews with women in the United States who had recently suffered a miscarriage. I found that pregnancy tracking apps failed miserably to take pregnancy loss into account.

“Oh, please stop. “
Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision via Getty Images

One participant told me, “There is no way you can tell your app, ‘I had a miscarriage. Please stop sending me these updates, ”like“ This week your baby is the size of a banana or something. ”There’s no stopping them.

Likewise, advertising algorithms assume that all pregnancies lead to the birth of a live, healthy baby. Another participant told me, “I was getting advertisements for maternity clothes. I was just like, ‘Oh, please stop.’ “

The design of mobile applications tells a similar story. I performed an analysis of 166 pregnancy-related apps and found that 72% ignore pregnancy loss at all, 18% offer an option to report a loss without providing any assistance, and the 10 % remaining passively connect to external sources.

Online support groups are another tool that people use during pregnancy and loss journeys. While groups dedicated to loss can be sources of social support where people can find emotional validation, connect with others, and feel seen and less alone, I have found that they can also foster disabling experiences. and harmful.

One participant said she saw questions ‘like’ Can you eat this certain thing while pregnant? “Some people say,” Yes, I ate that throughout the pregnancy. Then there are people who say, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this to your body, it’s harmful for you.’ ”

Overall, the design features and algorithms behind the content and interactions do real damage by perpetuating a single idea of ​​what constitutes pregnancy – an idea that runs smoothly and leads to a happy ending. . By disregarding the pregnancy loss, I claim they are contributing to her further stigma.

My work shows how technological design reinforces stereotypes about experiences such as pregnancy loss – and sustains social inequalities such as marginalization and stigma. This, in turn, makes it difficult for those who experience loss to find the resources and support they need.

A more human approach

If you are someone who has experienced pregnancy loss, I am sorry for your loss. Know that you are not alone. Hope this article helps you validate and make visible some of your frustrating experiences.

If you know someone who has suffered a miscarriage, please know that the harms and challenges I have outlined above are just a few of the frustrations they may face. Acknowledge their loss. Ask how you could support them. Offer them meals, offer to keep animals or to keep for themselves, listen to them, sit in their grief with them. Be aware that holidays and birthdays tend to be difficult. Don’t say “you are going to get pregnant again”. Finally, remember that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people also experience pregnancy and loss.

If you are a designer, developer, or someone who makes decisions about products and advertising algorithms, I hope this research illustrates some of the real harms that users can experience as a result of using products to manage business. intimate personal experiences such as pregnancy. Please consider designing products that take into account the full range of pregnancy and other human experiences. Remember that viewing pregnancy loss as an outcome doesn’t mean finding other ways to benefit from the loss and grief of your users.

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About Christopher Johnson

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