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Opinion | I Lost My Baby. Then Antivaxxers Made My Pain Go Viral.

Stepping away from social media was the right choice at the time, but it also meant I missed directly experiencing the notes of support, love, condolences and empathy, particularly from other infant-loss parents.

Months after the ordeal, I read through more than 400 screenshots. While a large share of the comments called me a “murderer” or “dumbest mother ever,” many others contained questions about the details of our loss or affirmed that this story validated their vaccine skepticism.

This casting of blame to explain loss appears to have become more common over the past two years. In an April story for The Atlantic, Ed Yong wrote about the many Americans grieving loved ones lost to Covid. He observed one particular constant: Often when grievers would tell others about their loss, they were asked questions like, Were they vaccinated? Did they have a pre-existing condition?

In a time filled with unknowns, people seek explanations for why terrible things happen and also to assure themselves that one person’s tragedy couldn’t happen to them. But to do so with cruel disregard for the truth, as was done to my family, is an unacceptable new norm that’s reinforced when people demand and share information without thinking about it critically. If someone already has doubt about the safety of a medical intervention, like a vaccine, hearing about a woman vaccinated in pregnancy whose baby later dies can create a vicious cycle of unfounded confirmation bias.

I need to believe that the world isn’t full of people eager to create more pain for a bereaved parent, despite the evidence I’ve seen to the contrary. Perhaps people were looking to comfort themselves by directing fault at me, as though unexpected loss doesn’t happen every day. Perhaps they feel unsettled by the uncertainty surrounding changing pandemic recommendations so they want to cast an easy villain, like the vaccines or Big Pharma. Perhaps they felt that they were amplifying an untold story that people needed to hear, without considering whether the subject had any say in the story being told or whether it was true.

The internet and social media are spaces where many of us have found community and connection, both personally and professionally. As someone who thinks deeply about how people consume information, my advice to those who want to stop the spread of misinformation is to pause and assess before they engage and share. Ask: Who made this content and why? Anecdotes that fly in the face of hard data, particularly on volatile topics like vaccine safety, are often used to promote misinformation. It is even more important to read such stories with a critical lens.

In the context of global events, being a mindful reader and retweeter can slow the spread of that misinformation. Doing so might declutter our social feeds to make space for the truth and also save a bereaved family additional pain and suffering.

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