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A Complicated Question with a Complicated Answer

I started listening to a new podcast, Note to Self, which is produced by WNYC and hosted by Manoush Zomorodi.  It’s about the Internet.  It’s nice to hear a fellow Internet naval gazer talk about the way we comport ourselves online.  Sometimes, I pretend Manoush and I are just chatting in the car; two girls, talking about the Internet.  Except that it’s a one-sided conversation.

As I am wont to do, I focused on entirely the wrong thing in a recent episode titled, “Should You Post Pictures of Your Kids Online?”  I already know how I feel about that, so maybe that is why I focused on this one, passing line. It begins at 5:50.

Marcia from Austin admits that she is very hesitant to post pictures of her kids online because she has friends experiencing infertility, and she knows those pictures are salt in the wound.  So she mindfully limits how often she shares, finding a balance between paying attention to her audience and sharing her life.

Very nice, right?

Then a woman (I believe it’s Jen Poyant) responds to it with a story about a friend who miscarried twins, and her inclination right after the death was to not post as much, though she has never asked her friend if she is bothered by the numerous photos she posts of her child on Instagram.

The emphasis is obviously mine.

So the first thing that struck me is that her impulse was to be sensitive only immediately after the event.  I don’t know what your experience with loss has been like, but for me, my feelings linger long after people stop asking about the loss.  In fact, right after a loss, I’m so numb that I’m not sure I would notice anything online.  But six months after the fact, a year after the fact?  It’s a different, but certainly no less relevant type of pain.

So the first thing I thought about is does sensitivity have an expiration date?  Or once we’ve made the choice to be thoughtful, should we continue in that vein indefinitely?  I don’t think it’s possible to never upset anyone else online, but it’s interesting that she had the impulse but it disappeared.

The second thing that struck me is that she says she never asked the woman if the baby pictures bothered her.  She mentions that they’re not close, but they’re close enough to know facts about one another and interact online.  And I wondered why she didn’t ask, and whether that was too forward a question: “do the pictures that I post bother you?”  We’re not talking about asking a general question to her entire list of friends, but instead reaching out to this one woman and asking her a straightforward question, admitting that the reason for doing so is to be sensitive.

I tried to imagine how I would feel if someone asked me if their baby pictures bothered me.  I guess it’s a very complicated answer.  Sometimes they do.  And sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes I seek out baby photos, wanting the cuteness.  And sometimes I scroll past any picture of a child younger than the twins.

This isn’t a judgment on the woman speaking — I think all of us could give some variation of her statement admitting that we know something but haven’t really reached out properly — but I thought it was an interesting moment in an always interesting podcast.

Would you be upset to be on the receiving end of that question?  Or would you welcome it if the person was asking because they were trying to be thoughtful?


1 Charlotte { 09.16.15 at 7:58 am }

I don’t know if that question is ever the right one to ask. In the midst of one’s pain, asking that question tends to make it all about YOU and not them. Instead of a question such as “how are you doing, is there anything I can do for you?” type of question. Also, because of the way people tend to present themselves online, I don’t think you’d even get a truly honest answer; few people are probably going to answer “yes your pictures bother me” to a fb message or what have you. If you are a close enough friend to talk in person, chances are you both already know the answers. Me, if I was in such a place that I was that upset about someone’s pictures, I would likely be dismissive of such a question and likely not respond.

2 fifi { 09.16.15 at 9:29 am }

It’s such an “it depends” question. I did unfollow a friend (more acquaintances really) because he was posting 10 pics a day of his newborn daughter. And someone else because she had her ultrasound pic as her avatar. Luckily, my close friends and family have been more restrained when posting pictures. But I see it as up to me to censor my own feed, rather than ask others to do it for me.

3 Nicoleandmaggie { 09.16.15 at 10:05 am }

I would not like to have been asked that question. It feels like salt in a wound.

4 deathstar { 09.16.15 at 1:00 pm }

The question should have been more like hey, how are you doing? I am so sorry you lost your child. Something like that would have been better than just ignoring the event altogether, I think. But I think the focus is more about kid pictures online, not her capacity for empathy. I’m not in the habit of it, though, out of privacy concerns.

5 deathstar { 09.16.15 at 1:05 pm }

And no, I wouldn’t be upset if someone asked me that question, but my answer wouldn’t be a reflection of my grief.

6 Katherine A { 09.16.15 at 2:31 pm }

Mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’d be honored that they asked, meant it, and showed some sensitivity. On the other…stuff that triggers me is simply not obvious always. I mean, I know ultrasound pictures tend to do it, but the other day, a family member that just went through her 1st round (successful) of IVF posted something about being “so glad to be pregnant” and I started crying (much to my horror and surprise). I totally understood why she’d posted it, I didn’t begrudge her doing so (intellectually, at least), but that did not stop the strong feelings from surfacing. That’s the thing – I feel like at this point I should be over my IVF issues, if someone asked me the question, it’s not something I’d think to say “yeah, that bothers me”. To be fair, I suspect there may be times that others who know me IRL see me posting occasionally about my daughter may feel the same way…I try not to go overboard, but we all know how *any* baby picture at the wrong moment can be tough.

In the end, I feel like it’s my responsibility to take ownership of my emotional issues – especially as my triggers are *so* unpredictable. I think if someone asked me this, I’d probably tell them that they should post what they want, and quietly unfollow them until I was ready to deal.

7 Charlottte { 09.16.15 at 3:39 pm }

I’m sort of with Katerine. I do my best to take responsibility for my own emotions as well. I understand my triggers are also random and crop up at weird times, so sometimes I can be fine and ask all the questions relating to their child’s life and other days I don’t even want to look at it.

With that said, I have blocked so many people from my news feed when it comes to pregnancy news that I didn’t realize a friend of mine was expecting her 2nd…whoops.

If my close friends would ask me “does this bother you?”
I would respond with “Sometimes yes, but it’s a me issue, not a you issue.” Although I haven’t experienced that extreme of a loss, I might think differently if I had.

8 Mali { 09.17.15 at 1:43 am }

If I was asked by someone who knew me well enough to know that I had lost babies to ectopics, then I would reply honestly. “Your babies are okay, but not other people’s!” A woman I met because we both had ectopics has recently posted photos of the baby of a daughter-in-law, and it seems other miscellaneous babies. (I learned belatedly she had a part-time photography business, which explained all these random babies.) I could have done without all the babies I didn’t know! For me, personally, scan photos are worse. If I know the person well enough to be my friend on Fb (because I’m picky!), then I want to see photos of their children too.

9 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.18.15 at 8:59 am }

I would not like a friend making assumptions about me, and I would welcome the question for that reason. I would take it as a sign of care and concern and compassion.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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