Yesterday was April Fool's Day, and with it came a somewhat unexpected campaign. Unlike the typical corporate marketing campaigns that get rolled out from big brands hoping to go viral with stupid internet pranks, this one was rooted in seriousness and conducted by thousands of women who struggle with infertility and loss. It started last week with a widely-shared poster and an unrelated-but-comparable blog post written by a mom who runs the site Scissortail Silk. Both the poster and the blog post were intended to boost awareness, although I'm not sure anyone realized just how much awareness they'd wind up creating. As of now, the post on Scissortail Silk has been "Liked" 180k+ times, and countless people have shared the poster and similar messaging across social media. As with any campaign-gone-viral, no platform went unused, and the content sharing lasted the duration of the day.
So what was all the hoopla about? Well, according to those involved, there's an unease surrounding a particular April Fool's Day prank that's been upsetting certain communities for years. Although the holiday is a celebration of hoaxes and practical jokes and has been around since medieval times, some people find joking about pregnancy to be insensitive, thoughtless, and even cruel to those who have had trouble conceiving or who have lost a baby. Other jokes, presumably, are fine, but jokes about expecting a baby are now considered passé. At least, they sure were yesterday. Predictably, not everyone took to this new "rule" very well.
When I received this tweet (with the aforementioned poster attached) at 9AM, my initial reaction was that we've officially entered a new era of online April Fool's Day celebration. Over the past few years, there's been a noticeable shift in how parents treat the flow of information and the ways people communicate, and to me, this new set of April Fool's Day "rules" fits the bill. Parents no longer quietly harbor feelings of sadness or resentment toward their friends; instead, they take to the internet with no reservation about laying out various rules and lots of "do's and don'ts" lists. Newborn visitation rules have become so common, one list even made it into Dear Abby's column last Sunday. Telling people what to do (and what NOT to do) has pretty much become the norm.
There's a culture of thinking that says, "Be the change you wish to see," and for parents, that means voicing every opinion they have. For some parents, profanity on Facebook is a no-no, and yes, they will tell you to fudge off if you plan on using foul language in your updates (which their children might read over their their shoulders). For others, it's about inappropriate photos, offensive news stories their friends have "Liked" that show up in their newsfeed, or something else that goes against their moral code. And for the women who have a problem with April Fool's Day pregnancy jokes, the problem lies in the nature of the joke itself. Why joke about something so serious and emotional, especially when there are millions of people dealing with pregnancy complications and loss? Why pull a prank that could unintentionally offend a small percentage of one's friends and family? To the women speaking out against the joke, it's anything but funny.
What surprised me about this April Fool's Day campaign is that it got so much response. Even the most vocal (you might say rabid) breastfeeding lactivists haven't achieved what these April 1st posters and blog posts did in terms of share numbers and drumming up sincere sympathy from the masses. And yet, there's still a strong tradition of pregnancy pranks that can't be denied, and yesterday's holiday was no exception. Even Mommyish's own Rebecca Eckler got in on the action:
Is it really so hurtful to make this claim? The women who oppose it -- and I say women because I've yet to see any comments from men who oppose the joke -- say that it is. Despite, or perhaps because of, the joke's popularity, social media users been asked to quit cold turkey. But should we really stop playing a decades-old prank just because some people think it's insensitive? One could make the argument that the majority of jokes are insulting to someone's sensibilities, and it'd be impossible to try to please everyone.
F.'s comment, much like Sarah's comment to Rebecca's post, speaks to the overall popularity of the prank. It's tradition. It's expected (no pun intended). But in 2014, it is evidently not harmless. I asked the members of the STFUP Facebook page what they thought about the campaign, and the post drew more than 400 comments. Non-parents, parents, and hopeful parents chimed in with their perspectives, which ranged from pro-pregnancy pranks to anti-pranks in general. The most popular comment by far, made by Sarah Shipley, said, "If I took a moment to think about all the comments I make that "might" upset someone, I would never speak or type again." And commenter Amy Martinez said, "Unless someone is specifically joking about your inability to conceive, get over yourself. Not everything is about you, believe it or not."
But Nicole Pitzer wrote, "It's heartbreaking for some people to see everyone around them having babies when they can't. So...be original if you want to do an April Fool's Day joke," and April Jones added, "I'm just not interested in making jokes that I am fully aware will cause pain in other people. If it makes Random Strangers on the Internet want to call me names like PC police and sanctimommy, fine by me. I value the feelings of my loved ones more than I do a bunch of anonymous people. Sorry-not-sorry for not being all cool and edgy."
I consider comments like April's to be the foundational thinking behind the April Fool's Day pregnancy jokes campaign, and they're why I have a hard time taking it seriously. No one makes fake pregnancy jokes to be cool or edgy, and no one who continues to make that joke in 2015 is doing so to be cool and edgy. Some people just take April Fool's Day for what it is -- a day of pranks, and the more shocking the prank is, the more successful it is. Sure, temporarily pretending to be pregnant is arguably unfunny, dated, and unoriginal, but those who do are just participating in the nature of the day. In fact, sometimes already-pregnant women torment their loved ones just for sheer amusement.
Jennifer wasn't concerned about hurting her husband's feelings, or anyone else's feelings for that matter. She was just having some fun at his expense. And isn't that the point of April Fool's Day? In her house it is.
Whether the anti-pregnancy joke campaign has worked is something that really can't be measured, but there's no question that its effectiveness in terms of raising awareness was a great success. Ultimately, though, April Fool's is just one day, so if you can't handle the fake baby buns that are fake-cooking in the oven, it might be best to simply stay out of the kitchen. Er, off the internet.
And as STFUP Facebook commenter Beth Biester says, "Having lost a baby myself, I would say that it wouldn't hurt my feelings if someone posted this [fake pregnancy] April Fool's joke. What I do hate is when people post the "if I didn't have my children, my life would be meaningless and empty and I would have no reason to live" type of posts. I could do without those." Ah, yes. Couldn't we all?