This Woman's Letter About What Happened on Social Media After Stillbirth Is Heartbreaking

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
April 20, 2024 at 1:37PM UTC
Gillian Brockell's open letter to tech companies makes an oft-neglected point about digital ads that use algorithms to target pregnant women. 

In the weeks following the birth of her stillborn son in November, she was relentlessly reminded of the baby she was preparing to have but didn't. 

Social media advertisements and digital ads across other online sites kept popping up to promote pregnancy and new-parent products. 

In an open letter to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, she explained her 30-week journey that culminated in giving birth to her stillborn baby. 

While she and her husband were already grieving during that time, she was forced to see ads for Pea in the Pod, Motherhood Maternity and Etsy decor she'd planned for the baby's nursery. To make it worse, when she would cancel the ads, she'd be asked why, and she'd have to select the "it's not relevant to me" response — which was even more heartbreaking.
"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've spent days sobbing in bed, and pick up your phone for a couple minutes of distraction before the next wail," she wrote. "It's exactly, crushingly, the same as it was when your baby was still alive."
Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

Brockell says she believes that using Instagram hashtags like #babybump or clicking once or twice on maternity-wear ads on Facebook during the first few months of her pregnancy probably triggered the targeted ads. 

"But didn't you also see me googling, 'Is this Braxton Hicks?' and 'baby not moving?'" she asked. "Did you not see the three days of silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me? And then the announcement with keywords like 'heartbroken' and 'problem' and 'stillborn' and the 200 teardrop emoticons from my friends?"

Surely, if tech companies are tracking online users' pregnancy searches up until giving birth, they can be tracking online searches in the days thereafter.

"It decides you've given birth, assumes a happy result, and deluges you with ads for the best nursing bras (I have cabbage leaves only breasts because that is the best medical science has to offer turn your milk off), tricks to get the baby to sleep through the night (I would give anything to hear him cry at all), and the best strollers to grow with your baby (mine will forever be 4 pounds, 1 ounce)."
Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

Brockell's request is heartbreakingly true: If tech companies are going to be using their powers to target pregnant women, they should take the step to make sure that the pregnancy was happy and healthy, too.

"If you're smart enough to realize that I'm pregnant, that I've given birth, then surely you're smart enough to realize that my baby died, and can advertise to me accordingly, or maybe, just maybe, not at all," she wrote.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog,, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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