Haunted by algorithms
Having a miscarriage sucks, and it doesn’t get any better the second time around. There is a different energy to this one, and I am noticing more about how the patterns of the world around me change (or don’t) this time than I did in the shock of the first one.
In my first pregnancy, my pinterest feed was full of maternity clothes, baby crafts and nurseries. Facebook was full of friends announcing pregnancies or giving birth or showing images of their little ones doing neat thing that I liked with my heart full of secret camaraderie and hope. My search history was full of pregnancy life hacks, milestones and symptoms. I was excited, and when I am excited I do research. I obsess, I click on links and read articles, leaving a clear pattern that algorithms can see and advertisers love.
It made me cry to log in to most social platforms those first days after my diagnosis, with my algorithms on point to deliver relevant content based on my previous behavior. Babies are everywhere, they sell things to everyone, but demonstrate any interest in reproduction and your world becomes filled with a new level of images and sites and recommendations.
I performed the exact same level of obsessive research about pregnancy loss and what to expect when I decided to miscarry at home, finding invaluable resources and comfort online. For 9 days after I was diagnosed, I googled and pinned, setting up a new pattern that I imagine, with the rate of pregnancy loss due to miscarriage at 10–25%, is not as unique as some might think. It is like a digital personal trail of tears, looking through that history. The long path until my body let go, expressed through fear, curiosity and a need to know I am not alone.
During this pregnancy, I researched conceiving after loss support and information, images of embryos at each week and constipation remedies. This was a very skeptical pregnancy. Having that show up in my pinterest feed is still useful, as the pregnancy hormones are still fading and I am still dealing with many symptoms. I haven’t lost hope that I will one day carry a pregnancy to term, so the pregnancy after loss support system is still very relevant. I am not hurt, resentful or jealous of those on facebook with little ones, because I have felt the compassion from so many of those women and men and have learned to have compassion for all the different parenthood journeys.
I am back at work today for the first time since I found out about this miscarriage. My office mates are amazing humans that allow me space, and understand that creative working while grieving isn’t the easiest thing to do. I am returning to the world outside of facebook (it exists!) where I can’t hide posts or people that I can’t handle at the moment. I am doing some of the normal things I do in a work day. As I am traveling around the internet, I am noticing all of the ads presented to me are about maternity skirts, cord blood freezing or pregnancy sites. I understand that my previous internet trail implied pregnancy, but what happens when that trail needs to stop? Isn’t there a way to opt out? Let someone know?
Amazon is busy recommending lots of pregnancy and baby focused things, because I made the “mistake”*, as a way to demonstrate my hope and faith in this pregnancy, of resetting my baby registry from the previous pregnancy. There is no way to pause my baby registry, and I had a shock when I looked at my registries months after I lost the first pregnancy that Amazon was still counting down the weeks. Amazon requires I put in a due date, and if that due date needs to change or disappear it doesn’t have very compassionate options for what to do with the registry in the mean time.
I know stuff will change maybe by the time I am pregnant, or I might not ever be able to be pregnant. But I am not ready to let go of this vision of what I wanted for my babies and my family. I struggle with decision making already, I don’t want to re-choose things or remember things I found. I also don’t want what happened with the previous loss, probably due to this registry, to happen again.
About a month before the due date of the first lost pregnancy, some time in early March, Jose got the mail and there was a package for me. Luckily, it wasn’t hidden or disguised as to who it was from, so he hid it from me and let me know about it without me being surprised. It was from a formula company congratulating me on my upcoming birth, filled with free samples of their products.
I am not sure this is Amazon’s fault, it could be any of the other websites I logged into enthusiastically so I knew what piece of fruit to compare my growing embryo to. I don’t often give out my mailing address, so it seems to me the very private, not-even-shared-with-my-husband baby registry might be the right direction to start looking into. J’accuse, but it also doesn’t really matter who sold the information as much as what the company that buys it decides to do with it.
This isn’t just a pregnancy issue. I have heard of Facebook recommending former abusers to survivors as “Someone you might know” or showing photos of their relationship as a blast from the past. Or Tig Nataro’s story about the hospital sending a survey to her deceased mother.
I am not trying to say “Automation is bad, machines are assholes.” Algorithms aren’t necessarily programmed with compassion for trauma and loss, but honestly neither are people. People program machines with their own blind spots, and this all feels very human to me: wanting to carry on as if nothing changed and not thinking about the consequence of assumptions we make. I will still have to answer questions from people about not having kids, when am I going to have kids, listen to ideas on how to solve not having kids, and I will still get a rainbow of phrases that start with “At least…” in response to my story.
This experience has taught me to be compassionate in ways I couldn’t have imagined before, and I have a long road of understanding ahead of me. What I am grateful for, with people, is that I can have a conversation to help build new understanding. I don’t know how to have this conversation with an algorithm.
*It occurs to me some people MIGHT be thinking “She shouldn’t have set up a baby registry before 12 weeks, it is way too early for that.” Or whatever people think when they know what is right for someone else and right now I feel the need to explain why this registry is important to me, at the risk of being on a soap box. Hopefully we all grow in compassion together.
I have a disability, one of those pesky invisible ones that people still question whether it exists or not. Due to my disability, I need to practice intentional visualization in order to prepare in practical ways for the future. I need images to help me process what the future will be or it simply doesn’t exist in my mind. This list is part of that. I am ready with my list of books I want to read to my child, which parks are the best for swings, but thinking about everyday stuff like where they will sleep for the first 2 months and what they will throw up on is not where my imagination shines. Everyone has different ways of processing life changes, this helps me with that.
In the end, there is no way to protect myself or my loved ones from the pain of losing a pregnancy. Grief is the cost of love. I have decided to enjoy pregnancy as much as I can from the moment I know. I am an enthusiastic person, I value authenticity, and pretending I am not thrilled out of my mind at the possibility of a little person coming in to the world the moment I see that second line is not in the cards for me. It is possible this may be the only experience of motherhood and pregnancy I get, so I don’t plan on punishing myself by not expressing joy and hope and picking out onesies until some arbitrarily designated safe week. There really isn’t a safe time in pregnancy. Safer, but not safe.