It’s not something you think about, really, to have a family picture go viral. I mean, you probably imagine that best case scenario, if it comes out ok, you’ll want to share it with friends and family. But hundreds of thousands of people?
Two years ago we had just lost our 6th child, a baby girl. My husband and I struggle with what is best known as “unexplained secondary infertility”. We have an amazing, perfect, healthy son. But since giving birth to him we have lost a child by miscarriage every year we’ve been trying.
One of my close friends is an amazingly talented photographer. I asked her if she could create a picture for us that captured our whole family, including the children we’d lost. I gave my friend permission to share it on her photography page with hope that it would help raise awareness for something too many women feel scared to talk about – losing a child. I mean, if anyone would know it would be me, right?
Our hope was to get people talking about miscarriage and child-loss. Did we ever. Over 19K comments and 166K shares later our picture had officially gone “viral”. It was insane. Overnight my tiny little family and years of tragedy we’d endured were everywhere I looked when I turned on my computer.
I started getting messages from complete strangers. Hundreds of them. So did our photographer. She had to get help just responding to them all. I tried handling mine on my own but I could only get through a few at a time before breaking down. Most of the messages were encouraging and kind. Some were not. A few mocked us for continuing to try to have children despite so many losses. A handful were obscene. Too many of them were people who give us “advice” on how to have a baby – probably the worst thing you can try to do to an infertile couple is question everything they’re trying with their doctors.
And the hardest of all were the people who reached out to share their own stories. Imagine waking up to hundreds of messages from strangers telling you their own tragedies – a few even sending pictures of the children they had lost. It was so overwhelmingly heartbreaking I could barely handle it.
And it wasn’t like it went away after a day or two. Months later we were still getting contacted. Even two years later and I still see my family’s precious, vulnerable picture pop up in unexpected places. It’s all over FB and Pintrest still. Last week it showed up in a photography group where someone was heartlessly using it as an editing lesson on how to create shadows. Imagine that – the saddest, hardest struggle of your life being used by total strangers for personal gain. It’s sickening that people can be so callous.
We need to be more cautious with how we handle images of others on social media. Too often we don’t often think about the people in the pictures or stories that go viral. They are real people with real emotions. They can read your comments. They can see your shares. And yes, they might even be in the same FB groups you’re posting their pictures in. I think very little is done today to educate people about how important it is to be sensitive with “viral” stories. If I can educate even a few people with this, then it’s worth it to share our experience.
Here’s what I wish I could say to everyone sharing and commenting on pictures like ours:
1) Don’t forget that those are real people. They matter. Their stories matter. Their feelings matter. Please respect that.
2) Remember that they may see what you’re writing about them. They can see your shares. They can read your comments. Don’t write anything that will cause them more pain.
3) Think before you contact them. Yes, you may relate to their story but so might thousands of others. Don’t overwhelm somebody in a time of grief.
4) Be kind. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
5) Put yourself in their shoes. What if you were in that picture? What if it was your story shared for the world to see?
Last year the same photographer updated the picture for us when our seventh pregnancy ended in loss. We didn’t share it publically and I won’t share it in here now. Because truly the point of my blog isn’t to make our family “go viral” again. It’s to help the next family that finds themselves in our shoes.
***Thank you to Deanndra Xaynhachack for your kindness to my family to take our picture, and for letting me share our story here. It may be our story, but it’s your artwork too and I know this story has had a big impact on your own life as well. ***