Monthly Archives: December 2015

Get Your Metrics Right

I know it’s controversial, but I’m actually a fan of targeted advertising.  I had an experience last year when I was shopping for a jacket.  I had the one I wanted all picked out, but it was $200 in the stores, so I started googling in search of a discount website.  I found it for $150, and decided to wait just a few weeks to be sure I didn’t find anything better.  Only days later an ad on my Facebook page caught my eye with a picture of the exact jacket on sale for $99!  Thank you Facebook ads for saving me some significant cash!

I’m not an expert, but the metrics seems pretty simple to me.  They take your browsing and search history and tailor ads to your interests.  Great, then I get to see ads relevant to me, I’m fine with that.  Sometimes the metrics are a bit comical, like when my husband changed his Facebook status to “engaged” and suddenly started seeing ads for prenup attorneys.  We had a good laugh.  But sometimes the metric doesn’t truly understand the station.  And sometimes the mistakes are not funny, they’re hurtful.

My search history tells a very true story of my thoughts over the last few years.  From searching “infertility drugs” and “IVF”, “how to know you’re pregnant” and “how to know if it’s twins.”  “How early did you start to show” turned into “what to do after a bad ultrasound” and then became “what will happen when I miscarry.”  Finally it turned into “how to adopt a baby” and “what to expect during your home study”.  The bottom line is that anyone with half a brain could look at my data at any point in time and instantly know what ads to show me, and more importantly what ads not to show me.  Only it’s not a person looking at my data, it’s a computer.  And that computer doesn’t realize that the maternity clothing you’re showing me because I searched “pregnant with twins” is going to make me want to punch you once I’ve googled “how to handle a miscarriage”.

The ad targeting computers are even more confused by my current searches.  “What’s the best car seat for small cars” is mixed with “where to advertise my adoption search”, and there isn’t a single search for maternity symptoms. And for the most part all the ads I’m seeing are for cribs and daycare.  But Facebook can’t quite figure out which targeted articles to put into my newsfeed, and I keep getting NPR stories about nutrition studies during pregnancy popping up.  I often scroll past the pictures of smiling women rubbing their baby bumps as fast as possible to avoid tears.

I get it that a computer can only be so smart, and the algorithm is only programmed to identify the most mainstream of situations.  Hurtful and upsetting as the ads can sometimes be, I can’t really be mad at anyone for them.  What I can’t handle is when the more specific situations are overlooked by websites that should know better.  A friend told me recently that she sought comfort on a message board of a popular pregnancy website after a recent miscarriage.  As she was reading posts about pregnancy loss an ad popped up with a 5 month ultrasound picture prominently displayed!  This definitely was not the comfort she was looking for.

Maybe it’s time to upgrade the algorithms.  Life is more complicated the we’ve programmed computers to understand.  I know there are so many specific situations, and it takes time to teach a machine each and every one.  But maybe that’s time worth taking if the advertising community doesn’t want to continue to offend its audience during fragile times. I know I for one would appreciate it.


“Normal” and Pop Culture

I’ve always had this specific image of what I wanted my life to be.  I wanted the classic high school experience, going to football rallies with my friends and ridding a limo to prom.  In college I wanted to cram into a tiny dorm room with a roommate I had just met, stuff my face in the dinning hall, and wear my pjs to early classes.  I envisioned the classic white wedding dress, my husband carrying me over the threshold, and one day giving birth to our children.  I’ve had a vision of what I wanted my life to be at each point, and wherever possible I made it happen.  “Wherever possible” is a key phrase there. Sometimes it’s just not possible.

Recently I’ve wondered, where did this vision come from? I didn’t have an older sibling going to those high school rallies before me, and my parents both lived at home when they were in college, so I didn’t grow up hearing stories about dorm life.  As much as I’d like to think that I’m an independent and free thinking person there’s no denying that my image of what my life should be comes directly from popular culture, and my childhood addiction to TV.  I wanted to go to Bayside or West Beverly High, then to Pennbrook with Cory and Topanga!  After my ratings grabbing sweeps wedding my life would mirror the classic sitcom family with pivotal moments underscored by the perfect emotion inducing music.  Most importantly, everything should proceed down the classic formulaic path that every Hollywood life takes.

The problem is that, though TV shows increasingly take on more and more of life’s big issues, there are some that still remain untouched, or at least not accurately so.  Infertility is one such issue.  Adoption is another.   When they’re addressed it’s often glossed over as a small subtext in the character’s lives (Gray’s Anatomy) or very inaccurate and oversimplified (Friends).  Let’s not even discuss the Lifetime movies that grab on to the most unlikely turn of events and blow them up into a two hour tear jerker.  In the end we’re left feeling like these issues are not an acceptable, normal part of life.

But both are remarkably common, and are perfectly reasonable ways to build a family.  What’s interesting is that I find myself unsure of how to model my emotions without a Hollywood model to guide me. I’ve found myself craving an imagined map to help me navigate my real world.

Maybe one day Hollywood will catch up with modern adoption practices.  Maybe They’ll begin to portray adoption as more than trivialized subtext without turning it into sensationalized drama.  For now I’ll accept that my life exists outside of that box in my living room, and start painting a new image.

The Casual Acquaintance

December means holidays, and holiday’s mean holiday parties.  Parties mean fun and laughter with close friends, catching up with more distant friends, and making small talk with casual acquaintances.  I distinctly remember my feelings one year ago, as we were swimming in the seas of infertility treatments.  Being a social person I looked forward to the fun and merriment that parties bring, but I also dreaded the inevitable question.  At some point, chatting with someone I don’t know very well, they would ask “So, what have you been up to?”  It’s such a simple question that can usually spur plenty of things to talk about.  But at that point the largest, all-consuming thing in my life was not something you shared with a casual acquaintance over cocktails and finger food.  Even if I had felt comfortable sharing my reproductive challenges with this distant soul, chances are they would not have been comfortable on the receiving end of the conversation.

But this year could be different.  This year the topic on the forefront of my mind is socially acceptable to discuss.  We’ve slowly been sharing our journey with a wider circle of friends.  Going into the holiday party season my husband and I agreed that, should the subject come up, we are now comfortable sharing our news with whomever happens to be on the receiving end of the conversation.  I would not stammer when asked the inevitable question.  Instead I would simply respond with “Life’s exciting.  My husband and I are waiting to adopt a baby!”

But old habits die hard, and when you’re used to hiding in the shadows it can be hard to stand in the sun.  Last night I found myself at a holiday party surrounded by a mix of close friends and more distant acquaintances.  Chatting with friends who know our story is easy.  Terms like “adoption wait”, “birthmother outreach”, and “when you get your baby” flow freely, and I don’t feel the need to hold back at all any more.  But casually bringing it up to those who don’t already know… I found it wasn’t as easy as I thought.  When faced with the question that I thought would be so easy to answer now, I surprised myself by responding as I had before, “um, not much.”

But then it got worse.  The party in questions was at my parents’ house, and many of the acquaintances in attendance were friends of theirs.  I found myself faced multiple times with some form of the dreaded “So, when will you be having babies?”  If you don’t know already, this is the worst question you can ever ask someone you don’t know well.  Imagine, if you will, that you are dealing with some form of infertility.  That you want nothing more than to have a baby, but you can’t.  How do you respond to that question?  Do you break down in tears to this person you only marginally know and hysterically cry out that you can’t have a baby, you want to, but you can’t?!  As this is the only honest response you could give, you instead must lie.  I usually mumble something about “someday” and get away from this person as fast as I can.

Again, this person should be a bit easier to address in our current adoption mindset.  I should simply respond with “I’m hoping it will be soon.  We’re waiting to adopt!”  Instead I found myself filling up with anger.  I wanted to shout “It’s not that easy!  Not everyone can just decide to be parents and have it happen, just like that!”  I didn’t of course.  Instead I snapped back with a simple “Not yet.” Then I allowed myself to seek asylum with the closer friends in attendance, avoiding the small talk.

It’s one step at a time down this road.  Even the simple things can prove more difficult than you might think.  There is no societal map to follow.  Few elements of popular culture talk about adoption at all, and when they do it’s often unrealistic and overly dramatized.  Not only do we have to chart the course for ourselves, but we must educate everyone in our lives at the same time.  Educating the casual acquaintance is a bit daunting, but it also won’t go away.  We’ll be educating those around us every step of the way, in some form or another. The holiday party is only the beginning.