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Trigger Warnings

Back when I started in the IF blogosphere 10 years ago, people would write “Children Mentioned” at the top of a post if children were mentioned.  Some people thought this was silly and there were a lot of comments or posts about how people should assume that parenting after infertility blogs might mention children.  Some people thought this was good practice; if people weren’t up to reading a post about teething, they could click away.

I was in the latter category, and I put up “Children Mentioned” before posts that mentioned the twins.  Over time, everyone stopped doing it, myself included.  Most people knew how much I spoke about the twins, and either they weren’t bothered and would put up with the occasional post, or they were bothered and wouldn’t read my blog at all.

Plus, I realized that there were ways to give people a heads up about trigger warnings that fit naturally into the flow of the post.  If you look at the Roundup each week, I try to mention a child in the description if there is a child in the post.  If no child (or parenting itself) is mentioned in the blurb, it’s a pretty safe bet that you can click over and not encounter a story about a baby.

When I can’t figure out a way to weave it into the blurb, I write the words “trigger warning,” as I did for one of the posts last Friday.

While I am not upset when a post or movie or book or game comes without a trigger warning, I appreciate the creator taking the time to give consumers a warning before they dive into the experience.  I think it shows a sign of respect between the creator and the audience, and it sends a clear message that the audience’s experience with the piece is important to the creator.  It’s not that the opposite is true: that people who don’t post warnings don’t care about their audience.  But I do see the inclusion of the word “trigger warning” to be a concrete way of saying, “I care.”

I care that my piece adds to your life instead of detracts from it.

I care that you can ready yourself if you need to ready yourself.

I care about what you’re going through, and I appreciate you taking the time to read my words or watch my film or play my game.

I care that you are a human being and not a bot, so I treat you like a human being with feelings and thoughts and baggage you may carry into an experience with what I created.

There are universal moments that need trigger warnings such as rape or hate speech.  And then, within communities, there are specific moments that need trigger warnings.  In our community, I think it’s loss as it is happening (as opposed to generally discussing the concept of loss) and babies.  The absence of someone who was once here, and the existence of someone who is here.

I don’t know if we need to slap “Children Mentioned” at the top of every post on a parenting after infertility blog.  I tend to agree at this point that the network is such that people generally know what they’re getting before they click over to read.  (As opposed to when the community was so new that you were meeting new bloggers on a regular basis.)  But I still support the idea of giving people a “trigger warning.”  Just as a sign of respect.  Because I care how they feel after they read a post.

Where do you fall on the spectrum of giving trigger warnings?  Do you wish posts in the community still came with a “Children Mentioned” note at the top?

16 comments

1 Lavonne @ *Our Wish* { 05.10.16 at 8:52 am }

I noticed you did that in the post about my blog. It definitely made me stop and think I should go back to the post and do the same at the top. I guess for me loss and dealing with people who talk about their kids is so “normal” now that it doesn’t bother me, but I forget that there are people who are new in their journeys that aren’t in the same place. Over all, I always appreciate when I see people posting warnings but I don’t get upset if they don’t. It’s a nice sentiment but not one that I expect. Unfortunately, life doesn’t come with warnings and we can be confronted with something like that in life and I have chosen to use it as a learning experience. I do want people who read my blog to feel safe, and inspired, and not to be on edge that I might post something that makes them upset, so it’s definitely not a bad idea.

2 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.10.16 at 9:22 am }

I used to do that, too (offer trigger warnings), when my kids were little, which was also when I wrote more about infertility relative to writing about adoption. But over the years both my focus and my audience has changed and since I write mostly about adoptive parenting and parenting in general, I no longer think to give the trigger warning. I’ll be interested to see what people say in response to your question.

3 Lori Shandle-Fox { 05.10.16 at 9:25 am }

I always like to give a heads up. I had a friend years ago, way before my infertility days, who was a psychiatrist who never kept pictures of her son in her office. Back then, I thought it was strange but she explained that it might be upsetting for some of her patients. I try to always consider the possibility that time away from fertility treatments might have dulled my senses to how insensitive it feels. I want to always make my humor blog a safe place for infertile people to go. I’m in the process of making different departments on my blog so I can still write about my family somewhere else where they don’t have to see it if they don’t want to. Even when I write to my subscribers about my new eBook which is mainly for parents (and teachers) about the time from when one school year ends and back-to-school begins, I put a huge warning on my correspondences in case they want to skip over the details altogether.

4 nonsequiturchica { 05.10.16 at 10:55 am }

I agree with Lavonne that life comes without warnings and you are not going to get trigger warnings in other places so you do have to learn how to deal with the trauma/experience. I don’t wish to be harsh but I sort of figure that if someone starts to read a blog post and decides that they can’t handle it, then they can click away. Often times you can’t just “click away” when you are someplace other than the internet so you need to figure out another way to handle the situation. I do say this as someone who continued to read blogs of people who got pregnant and/or were parenting while I was going through surgery/treatment.

I thought that this was an interesting article on trigger warnings and other issues popping up on college campuses: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/.

5 torthuil { 05.10.16 at 10:26 pm }

Really interesting article, thanks for sharing.

6 Cristy { 05.10.16 at 10:57 am }

I use to do trigger warnings, especially when I was pregnant with the Beats. It’s not that I no longer care, but I’ve been following the trend that you spoke of of people parenting after infertility talking about their kids. Still, for anything that I think would put people over the edge, I would still post a trigger warning. And I did appreciate the one you posted, as well as *Our Wish.* It allows for a decision to read on vs being blind-sided.

But now you have me thinking about triggers for others. Do I need a “Children Mentioned” warning or some sort of indicator early on in my posts? I don’t want to be insensitive.

7 Justine { 05.10.16 at 11:11 am }

I’ve waffled about trigger warnings over the years. I think that in case where you know your audience might be upset by what you write, and that audience has a choice about reading (in the case of blogging, for example), it’s kind to warn them in subtle ways; I think it requires a certain skill in writing, though, to do so without the obvious (and sometimes offputting) TRIGGER WARNING in big bold letters. I’m less sure how I feel about them in academe, though: I think that learning does require confrontation of sensitive topics, and that confrontation requires teachers who are willing to have empathy. Perhaps the trigger warnings are more necessary when professors don’t have empathy?

8 a { 05.10.16 at 11:26 am }

I am so conflicted about trigger warnings. Like others, I think that life gives plenty of unpleasant surprises, and gaining the ability to deal with them is beneficial in the long run. I also don’t think it’s healthy to pretend that things don’t exist because they’re traumatic for you. I understand how people can get upset when they encounter something they weren’t equipped to deal with right then, though.

I look at it this way: I don’t expect people to stop celebrating their parents or grandparents, just because mine are all dead. I don’t expect dogs to be banned because I got bit by one once. Traumatic things happen to everyone and it’s up to the individual to learn to deal with the fallout. Avoidance isn’t really the most effective strategy. (But I’m conflicted because I know that, sometimes, avoidance is the only strategy someone has.)

9 Mel { 05.10.16 at 11:28 am }

But wait — why does trigger warning = avoidance? I would think that people would be MORE likely to read/participate/listen if they got a heads up beforehand than if they were worried they may be triggered. To me, trigger warning lets the person know what is coming so they can prepare themselves AND plow through (or avoid if they need to avoid, but I’m going to guess that more people plow through).

10 a { 05.10.16 at 4:59 pm }

That’s not been my experience of people and trigger warnings – for the most part, I’ve seen people use the “triggering” idea as a way to shut down conversation, so that’s how I perceive it. Also, as you said yourself, the Children Mentioned can be a signal for someone to click away.

Maybe there are some people who wish to prepare themselves to forge ahead, but I think they are the minority. I get the impression that if something is going to be a trigger, then it’s only courteous to not mention the topic at all.

11 Beth { 05.10.16 at 7:19 pm }

I appreciate trigger warnings when a blogger is talking about a child dying or loss. Depending on my mood I can decide if I’m emotionally ready to deal.

12 torthuil { 05.10.16 at 9:06 pm }

I’m not a big fan of trigger warnings. Although I do see the purpose and I probably would use them if discussing a topic I know may cause strong feelings. It’s something I know is desired by people in the community and I respect that.

Why I don’t like:

1) feels off key to blurt out “trigger warning”. Aesthetic objection. What can I say, I’m sensitive to tone.
2) “trigger warning” is a …..trigger? If I see that on a blog my reaction is “oh no wtf happened.” And I go and read it anyway, imagining a ton of scenarios.
3) despite the opinions above, I really don’t mind saying trigger warning anyway, especially for the reasons you state. But how can I possibly know everything that’s a trigger on my blog. There’s so many possible situations where I might trigger people. I’ll end up constantly censoring myself. In the end, I figure i as the writer am taking the bigger risk and I just have to own it or not write, or not share.
4) I think there are other ways to warn people. I try to be as obvious in the description of the blog as I can with regards to my background and what I’m writing about. I trust people to not read if it’s going to not be enjoloyable.

But, I think in the end it’s hard to have a black and white position on this.

13 Mali { 05.11.16 at 2:10 am }

An interesting discussion. I’m also conflicted on trigger warnings. I realise, reading your post, that I will occasionally talk about my losses, but have never issued a trigger warning. I guess I assume that anyone reading my blog – one that’s about living life without kids after infertility – might have read my “About Me” and noticed that I had losses. But I am very careful about what I say, and what I think might hurt others. I’ll never get it right, and neither will anyone, and that’s okay. But I do make an effort to be sensitive, thinking about the general experiences of most of my readers.

I’ve also never really felt that people who are parenting after infertility need to issue trigger warnings. To me they become parenting blogs more than infertility blogs, and I’m prepared for that if I visit them. I actually think that pregnancy and breastfeeding are often much more likely to trigger someone who has for years tried to achieve these. Or is that just me? Sometimes too, the things that trigger are the little, throw-away comments that hurt, and often the writer has no idea that these might trigger.

I’ll admit that I have a post drafted for a couple of years about going to a blog and feeling as if I’d been punched in the face. Maybe now is a good time to publish it.

I can accept some of these things in real life, but I think we do hold infertility bloggers to a higher standard, hoping that they will be sensitive. Or that they will just think about how it would have felt to them if they’d read the words or seen the photos in their own posts when they were going through infertility.

14 Aly @ Breathe Gently { 05.11.16 at 4:12 am }

I’m torn on them, to be honest. I feel like we can’t always avoid things like this, particularly on Facebook or heck, even on a walk to the shops. In my darkest times, I did find it tough reading blogs discussing pregnancy and/or babies/parenting, but it also gave me hope. Hope that maybe there IS light at the end of the tunnel.

I never shied away from sharing our story of infertility. I never shied away from sharing our story of loss. And I won’t shy away from sharing our story of pregnancy after IF/Loss, and hopefully (all going well) birthing a rainbow baby in the long run.

That said, I ABSOLUTELY understand if people aren’t in the right space to read – and that’s ok. I’ve been there. I understand. <3

15 St. E { 05.11.16 at 4:59 am }

I have a friend I have had since school (primary section to be exact). We have “grown together”, and I can tell you her hurts the way she can tell you mine.

Initially, when a hot new turn happened in our life, we always asked permission to share, especially if the other person was in a sensitive spot.

And now? We may talk after months, but we just pick off from where we left – no holds barred, no warnings.

My point? It is a bit like what I feel here. I have been here for a while and seem to have progressed with my tribe. I still post TMI warning, but not on children.

16 Geochick { 05.11.16 at 10:48 pm }

I don’t feel conflicted about trigger warnings, although I’m not sure I’ve used them on my
blog much although I don’t blog a whole lot about kids I don’t think. I like that bloggers use them and generally understand when they don’t. For the most part though, once I’ve figured out a blogger after a few posts I don’t need them. But others might and I appreciate people taking the time to be cognizant.

p.s. Maybe I blog about kids more than I realize but I also think my title and blurb at the top pretty much tells you where I am in the journey.

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