Gillian Brockell gave birth to a stillborn son in November, but her nightmare didn't end there. In the days and weeks that followed, every time she got online, she was reminded of the baby she was supposed to have but didn't – all thanks to social media, digital advertisers, and their powerful algorithms that target pregnant women.
In a heartbreaking open letter to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, she called out the tech companies' cruel methods that forced her, after her 30-week stillbirth, to continue to see ads for Pea in the Pod, Motherhood Maternity, and even Etsy decor she had planned for the nursery.
"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."
"If you're smart enough to realise that I'm pregnant, that I've given birth, then surely you're smart enough to realise that my baby died."
She admitted that it likely began when she used Instagram hashtags about her #babybump or "clicked once or twice on the maternity-wear ads Facebook served up" during the first months of her pregnancy, but she rightfully wondered how they didn't catch on to searches beyond babysafe crib paint and Amazon registries.
"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? Is that not something you could track?"
Some sad personal news pic.twitter.com/ZkBOB7oqUq— Gillian Brockell (@gbrockell) November 30, 2018
For many of these ads, she said she would click the "I don't want to see this ad" button only to be asked why. Then she'd have to click the cruel-but-true "It's not relevant to me" response. The only problem, she painfully discovered, is that these companies then came to a very different conclusion.
"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)."
Then, in the worst blow of all, Experian sent her a spam email encourageing her to "finish registering your baby," something she'd never even begun, in order to track his credit "throughout the life he will never lead."
Her request of these companies is so heartbreaking yet so, so simple:
"If you're smart enough to realise that I'm pregnant, that I've given birth, then surely you're smart enough to realise that my baby died, and can advertise to me accordingly, or maybe, just maybe, not at all."