Natalia Sánchez Querubín, Karmijn van de Oudeweetering, and Gabriele Colombo persons


After experiencing stillbirth and miscarriage thousands of women are making public their stories of bereavement on Instagram. Their use of the platform sustains a form of resistance against the notion that their experience as mothers ‘doesn't count’ and the taboo around stillbirth. In all, Instagram has become a tool for women to perform (still)motherhood, while in connection with others.

In this project we repurposed Instagram’s hashtags and images to map how grief is expressed, tagged, and navigated. We move from #stillbirth, to a network of co-hashtags, to thematic communities created by modularity functions, and finally to collective networked stories. The challenge was to animate the networks and re-humanized the data.

In Instagram hashtags and images enable the circulation of a coded-language that makes visible and reframes ‘motherhood after loss’. Instagram connects parents with charities and with an industry of makers specialized in remembrance. It sustains processes of memorialization and ritualization, for example, with campaigns such as #captureyourgrief and #saytheirnames. It creates community. And, as remembering and ‘saying their names’ are important, inscription is distributed amounts users and made digital.



  • What is Instagram affording grieving mothers of stillborn children?

  • How is grieving sustained by platform vernaculars?

  • How can network features of instagram data & visualization help us study grief?


Data capture:

Using the Instagram Hashtag Explorer tool, data for Instagram was search that contained the hashtag #stillbirth. The number of iterations in the data retrieval was set at 400. This yielded data for 7,432 posts. The posts were published in between February 27 2012 and July 4 2017 (date of the data collection). Apart from 83 posts, all posts were from the year 2017.

Data cleaning and analytical approach:

From network to clusters:

Cleaned our network by eliminated query node. The data was then filtered to represent only hashtags with a total count of 10 to 1,285, with edge weight of 10 to 1,000 and with a degree range of 4 to 4,719. Then the Force Atlas 2 layout algorithm was used to visualize the network based on gravity. Finally, ‘modularity’ feature was applied with a resolution of 1.0. Clusters of hashtags were explored through Gephi. The network was developed to visualize connections or combinations in the use of hashtags. Based on these settings, 14 modularities (0-13) or clusters were identified. The data is downloaded as a spreadsheet.

From clusters to representative posts:

The main themes of each of the clusters are identified according to the hashtags. Labels were developed to describe the communalities per modularity. Then in order to identify and capture posts representative of each cluster's theme for further analysis required a filtering of the ‘modularity’ spreadsheets. That is, based on this overarching label, combinations of hashtags that were specific to the modularity were used to develop an image plot.

  • Dominant # + specific#1
  • Dominant # + specific#2
  • Dominant # + specific#3


From clusters to networked-stories:

Hashtags were read aloud and recorded. In turn, the recordings were used to integrate in an animated video, where important nodes of the network of hashtags were highlighted and described by the human voice.

Modularity N. of # Dominant # Specific #1 + 2 + 3
0. Makers & Support 80    
1. Hope & Infertility 149 infertility depression, faith, hope
2. Grief rituals 260    
3. Motherhood in loss 65 motherhood angelbabies, stillamother, mothersday2017
4. Art & charity 135    
5. Grieving 87    
6. Medical support & pregnancy after loss 140    
7. Reality & blogging 72    
8. Identification & expression 32    
9. Connecting & communicating 26 youarenotalone compassion, passiton, charitysupport
10. Religion & inspiration 84    
11. Spanish 26    

12. Memories

13. Awareness



Instagram presentation.jpg



Reorganizing the dataset based on hashtag co-occurrence (that is, communities are composed of hashtags that user tend to employ together) represented for us a opportunity for studying Instagram grammar.





0. Makers & Support

Hashtags illustrated personal enterprises dedicated to support grieving parents or organizations to raise awareness or financial resources. Craft projects such as up-cycling wedding dresses to make newborn outfits or knitting are examples of such enterprises.

1. Hope & Infertility

The focus was on infertility issues in relation to mental health, like anxiety, depression and sadness. They were symbolized as a journey. Expressions of frustration were used (#infertilitysucks). Ways for recovery, like self-care and therapy were promoted.

2. Grief (visual) rituals and reflexivity

Healing and bereavement are central words. The platform offers a venue for celebration specific events such as #bereavedmothersday and further ritualize the process of grief. Other celebratory moments were included in the words, like birthdays, easter or babyshowers for rainbow babies (baby born after a stillbirth). Or activities were described such as beach visits, yoga, meditation and even marathons. Also one finds platform-specific rituals based on using photography to capture one’s grief and healing.

3. Motherhood in loss

Emphasis on being a mother or a father, despite the loss of the stillborn child was apparent in the hashtags. With hashtags are #stillamom #iamamother or #iamafather, the users were re-appropriating their parenthood. In addition, they emphasized they had a child #imissmydaughter #imissmyson.

4. Art & charity

The cluster of hashtags shows some overlap and is tightly connected with the ‘Makers and Support’ cluster. Activities with regards to arts, crafts, drawings and sewing clothes are integrated into the hashtags and related to charity purposes for medical and public support for women who grieve from stillbirth.

5. Grieving

In this cluster, grieving is appropriated as general terminology. Although it is therefore tightly related to the cluster of grief rituals, the network shows that its use has a more scattered pattern with regards to other hashtags. Moreover, users used these hashtags are more to identify as a grieving parent instead of describing the activities that were pertaining to grieving.

6. Medical support & pregnancy after loss

The hashtags were used to express issues that pertained to the pregnancy after a stillbirth. In a positive sense, words to track the pregnancy (#secondtrimester, #thirdtrimester) showed the excitement and anxiety. Also, the users expressed how they overcame the hard times and their feelings of strength. But also different medical conditions like #ptsd or #postpartum and different kinds of treatments were used in this cluster.

7. Unfiltered

Focusing on words like honesty, blogging and #momlife, the hashtags represented that the users wanted to give an (unfiltered) peek into their life. It was focused on the #raising #toddler #candidchildhood.

8. New identity formation & expression

Hashtags were used for self-identification, like #ihadamisscariage #iamthe1in4. In addition, words to characterize how they expressed their grief, like #grievingoutloud #writingaboutloss, were used.

9. Connecting & communicating

The feeling and vehicle for connectivity that Instagram provides to its users, and therewith its potential to provide support, was represented in the hashtags. #youarenotalone, #weunderstand #passiton, were statements to emphasize the sense of community on the platform. Also, words of support that can be circulated by #lifequotes and #lovequotes.

10. Religion & inspiration

Hashtags that were related to religion as well as to books, writers, and artistic forms of inspiration were used. In general, this can be seens as sources to find relief, comfort and insights to deal with the loss of the child. Artists, including writers and filmmakers, also used these hashtags to promote their artistic outlets that dealt with the issue of stillbirth and grief.

11. Spanish

This cluster was characterized by Spanish words that, quite generically, described grief and motherhood. The cluster also contained some general English words like #missingyou or #babyangel. This group of hashtags may therefore be expected to be used by the Spanish community of grieving mothers on Instagram.

12. Memorialization

Missing and remembering were part of the grammar in this cluster of hashtags. #tinyfeet was a strong symbol of the memory of the #angelbabies. Foreverbeds and cuttle cots were hashtagged as well. Within this cluster, commercial enterprises were also active to provide products for the memorialization of mourning, like personalised gifts or toy animals.

13. Awareness

This cluster contained a manageable amount of three hashtags: #stillaware, #awarenessforprevention and #educationforawareness. It shows how hashtags for raising awareness are tightly connected in the posts with regards to stillbirth on Instagram.




Cluster 1. Hope & Infertility. Hashtag network of the cluster and locatiomn of the cluster on the complete network.


Communication (storified it) go from individual to collective stories

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-- NataliaSanchez - 18 Jul 2017
Topic revision: r5 - 06 Apr 2018, NataliaSanchez
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