Sunnybrook’s baby ad opt-out tool helps grieving parents block baby ads

The last thing anyone needs when mourning a miscarriage is the constant reminder of their loss every time they go online.

We’ve all searched a product online only to be targeted by similar ads for weeks to come, and while seeing the hair dryer you recently googled is annoying and creepy, it’s easy to gloss over. But if you’ve had a miscarriage, you know just how heartbreaking it can be when ads for cribs and onesies follow you around the internet for months after your loss. This is something that an important new initiative out of Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital is hoping to change.

Many expectant parents start researching and planning for their new arrival as soon as they find out they’re pregnant, with ad networks collecting data from each search in order to send ads of similar products for up to 540 days (the maximum amount of time an individual can be “remarketed”). This means baby ads can follow you for more than a year after a loss, which is not only extremely triggering but can also prolong the grieving process. To help protect parents, Sunnybrook’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) network introduced an ingenious new tool in mid-June as part of the #UnsilenceTheConversation campaign: the Baby Ad Opt-Out.

The opt-out tool is a browser plugin that can be installed on your computer and phone from the #UnsilenceTheConversation website. Once downloaded, you can open the browser extension to get instructions on how to update your advertising settings and unsubscribe from any parenting and baby-related ads. You can select which platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and/or email) you’d like the opt-out to apply to, but each platform must be done individually. Although this may sound tedious, it’s actually quite simple and only takes about a minute per platform. “This will hopefully give people the ability to start their grieving process more easily and gain support,” says Heather Ricard, a volunteer with PAIL and mother of two living and one deceased child. “Without it, you would be too scared to go online because you didn’t know what was going to pop up.”

And while the #UnsilenceTheConversation initiative hopes to shield bereaved parents from insensitive ads, it also hopes to make the subject of pregnancy loss less taboo. After all, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, but the fact that so few people talk about it makes it harder for those struggling to cope and grieve. According to PAIL program manager Michelle LaFontaine, the campaign is “a way to invite people into the conversation about pregnancy and infant loss.”

By normalizing this conversation, Ricard hopes that parents will be able to gain support earlier in their pregnancy and become more aware of the possibility of a loss. People tend to wait until their second trimester to share that they’re pregnant for fear of losing the baby and having to explain this to everyone they told. “It’s kind of become a new trend to hold off on your pregnancy announcement, which is super sad!” she says. “People should be excited from the get-go, but instead, we close that off to try and avoid the headache and pain of [having to reveal a pregnancy loss].”

Another tool in the #UnsilenceTheConversation initiative is an Unbirth Announcement that can be shared on social media for anyone who is grieving a pregnancy loss but unsure how to tell their friends and family. This short video, which can be downloaded on the PAIL website, is intended to normalize the conversation around loss while offering an easy way to share the sad news.

PAIL also offers resources for friends and family unsure of how to help a loved one going through a loss. “Something that we always talk about is just being there and that it’s about presence, not perfection,” says LaFontaine. “There are no perfect words for you to say that will take their pain away. There’s nothing that you can do that will change what’s happening to them. So, just showing up and not having expectations of the bereaved person… and giving some concrete steps that you plan to take with that person.”

Ricard adds that it’s really important to be mindful when supporting someone who is going through a loss. “From the second you find out you’re pregnant, you have all sorts of life plans started in your head,” she says. “What will my baby look like? Will my baby be a doctor? A professional skier? Will they like music like me or wear glasses like their dad? These parents are no different, and no matter if they have their loss at seven weeks or at full term, the baby is still their child. So, just let them know that you’re there anytime and that speaking with you is a safe place.”

Now, thanks to Sunnybrook’s innovative new opt-out tool, the internet can be a safer place for parents experiencing a loss.

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