Analysis & Comment

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

Credit…Greg Kahn for The New York Times

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By Amanda Makulec

Ms. Makulec is a health data visualization designer, speaker and instructor based in Washington, D.C.

I was one of many women who had a pandemic baby. Few people saw me pregnant, and even fewer met my second-born son, or ever will. In September 2021, just shy of 3 months of age, my son died. He was one of the most bright-eyed, happiest babies I’ve met and spent every day of his short life loved and adored.

The day it happened, I shared news of his loss in a short Twitter post. The impulse to share was a protective one. As someone active on social media, I wanted to avoid the inevitable question from friends and acquaintances: How’s your baby?

Within a day, a stranger had gone through my old tweets and found confirmation that I had been vaccinated against Covid-19 during my pregnancy. That person created an image of my tweets side-by-side: one from July where I shared my relief at being vaccinated while pregnant and another from September with the story of my loss. A stranger had written “safe … and effective” alongside the screenshots, implying that my being vaccinated in pregnancy had caused my son’s death. The implication captured in this image, which lives on in various corners of the internet, is a lie: The autopsy showed no connection between our son’s death and any vaccinations.

Losing a child is one of parents’ greatest fears; it seems unfathomable until you find yourself in that awful statistical minority. Yet the immediate response from many people to the false framing of our story was often not comfort but questions over what I did to cause such a terrible tragedy.

I did not expect the moment of my deepest grief and pain to be weaponized against pregnant women and vaccines that could protect them from the worst consequences of Covid-19. The juxtaposition of the two images felt like a violation of the space my husband and I needed to grieve. Mixed into the emails with condolences were subject lines like, “Did you know you’re on Reddit?” The misappropriation of our loss made me angry. The realization that people may still see bits of my story and have it influence their health choices hurt, both as a mother and as a public health professional. The human toll of this misinformation continues.

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