Sat. May 28th, 2022

About 1 in 4 pregnancies in the United States end in loss. Pregnancy loss, also called abortion, is a common reproductive health complication.

Many people experience this loss as a significant life event with a “before” and an “after”. It can cause depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet society stigmatizes and rejects it to a great extent by not treating it as a loss that deserves to be mourned over.

I research the social implications of technology. For the past many years, I have been researching the intersection between pregnancy loss and social technologies. Search engines, social media, online support groups, and pregnancy and fertility tracking apps are some of the technologies people use to manage pregnancies, share experiences, or exchange social support.

My recent research shows that these technologies often do not take into account pregnancy loss and as a result can cause re-traumatization and distress.

Malicious designs and algorithms

In a recent study, I conducted in-depth interviews with women in the United States who had recently experienced pregnancy loss. I found that pregnancy tracking applications failed profoundly by considering pregnancy loss.

Woman facing her laptop with her head in her hands.
“Oh, please stop.”
Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision via Getty Images

One participant told me, “There’s no way to tell your app, ‘I had an abortion. Do not send me these updates, ‘like,’ This week your baby is the size of a banana or whatever. ‘ There is no way to stop them. “

Similarly, advertising algorithms assumed that all pregnancies lead to the birth of a living and healthy baby. Another participant told me, “I got ads for maternity clothes. I was just like, ‘Oh, please stop.'”

The design of mobile apps tells a similar story. I did an analysis of 166 pregnancy-related apps and found that 72% do not account for pregnancy loss at all, 18% offer an option to report a loss without providing support, and the remaining 10% passively link to external sources.

Another tool people use during pregnancy and loss travel is online support groups. 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 found that they can also promote disabling and harmful experiences.

One participant reported seeing questions such as ‘Can you eat this particular thing while you are pregnant?’ You get some people saying, ‘Yeah, I’ve eaten that throughout my pregnancy.’ Then you get some people saying, ‘I can not believe you’re doing this to your body, it’s harmful to you’ ‘.

Overall, the design features and algorithms that support content and interactions do real harm by maintaining a single idea of ​​what constitutes a pregnancy – one that is smooth and leads to a happy ending. By not taking into account the loss of pregnancy, I argue that they contribute to its further stigma.

My work shows how technology design reinforces stereotypes about experiences such as pregnancy loss – and maintains social inequalities such as marginalization and stigma. This in turn makes it difficult for those experiencing losses to find the resources and support they need.

A more humane approach

If you are a person who has experienced pregnancy loss, I am sorry for your loss. Please know that you are not alone. I hope this article helps validate and highlight some of your frustrating experiences.

If you know someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss, you should know that the injuries and challenges I described above are just some of the frustrations they may face. Acknowledge their loss. Ask how you might be able to support them. Get them meals, offer to pet or babysit for them, listen to them, sit in their grief with them. Know that holidays and anniversaries tend to be tough. Do not say “you will 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 person making decisions about products and advertising algorithms, I hope this research illustrates some of the real harms that users may experience as a result of using products to handle intimate personal experiences such as eg. pregnancies. Please consider designing products that take into account the full range of pregnancy and other human experiences. Remember that considering pregnancy loss as a result does not mean that you will find other ways to take advantage of your users’ loss and grief.

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