It’s easy to see why pregnancy announcement videos go viral: the over-the-top excitement, the celebration of love and new life, the fun, creative ways parents share their big news. It’s the ultimate feel-good experience in our social media feeds.
Christian families in particular have taken to this trend. For them, such announcements (directly or indirectly) reflect the great value we set on life and family and on thanking God for his blessings. The expectant couples who had their few minutes of fame singing a parody of “Shut Up and Dance,” doing their best Miley Cyrus impression, and revealing “Mom” and “Dad” on Diet Coke cans were all involved in ministry.
Then came the Christian vloggers who recently posted a pregnancy announcement video… only to follow days later with news of their miscarriage. Even when a pregnancy ends tragically, Sam and Nia seemed to demonstrate how these videos can honor God and encourage others to draw near to him.
Yet despite the millions of views they’ve received, not everyone is a fan. Gawker recently critiqued faithful vloggers who use their YouTube channels to play up family news and essentially profit off their pregnancies. Their criticism, in this case, may be worth paying attention to.
Gawker’s Allie Jones notes Sam and Nia’s “tendency to talk about their unborn child in terms of views and social media engagement, and Sam’s announcement, directly after the videos went viral, that he quit his job due to the success of their YouTube channel.” Jones goes on to explore the Christian vlogging subculture in general: Are these families truly sharing their lives with the world to bring people to Christ, or are they more interested in fame and fortune?
It’s a fair question, as several couples conflate getting more viewers for God and getting more viewers for themselves. With pregnancy as clickbait, many play up announcements and details about baby-related news… even when they’re not actually pregnant. Sam—a dad so excited to share the news about his wife’s pregnancy that he sneaked a sample of her pee to test—confessed to Buzzfeed he’s always wanted to be famous. According to Jones, “a production company is ‘very interested’ in turning their lives into a reality TV show.”
Another successful vlogger, Mormon dad Shay Butler, calls family “our greatest source of happiness” and believes his family’s mission is to bring hope to their millions of viewers. There’s some truth to that; anyone who’s spent time with a genuinely happy, healthy family knows how fun, even how inspirational, it can be—despite the runny noses, poopy diapers, and shoving matches. If some couples have managed to pass along that positive feeling through the Internet, what’s the matter with that?
As nearly every person with a Facebook account knows, there’s a fine line between sharing our blessings and showing off. Add the lure of earning viewers and money, and the temptation to sell ourselves and our lifestyle swells. Evangelism no longer becomes a motivation, but a justification for fame. Though YouTube feels much more “authentic” and grassroots than the shiny world of celebrity pastors and famous Christian authors, these vloggers can fall into the same skewed beliefs. Writer Mary DeMuth warns:
We may convince ourselves we're about God's work, so we do everything we can to build that empire, forgetting the servant nature of Jesus…. While it's not inherently wrong to attain fame or to gain thousands of followers, it is shortsighted to think that only famous people can “make Jesus famous.”
Even well-intentioned efforts can backfire. While Christ is perfect, our families are not. And what about the people who come to admire the wholesome Christian families they see on YouTube, only to realize that they won’t get the chance to achieve that dream, or they’ve watched that dream fall apart?
Writer Micha Boyett, announcing her third pregnancy on her blog last year, thoughtfully explored the paradoxes of sharing such news online. Having miscarried before, she wrote:
I’m not saying women shouldn’t share their beautiful, life-changing experiences online. Of course they should instagram pictures of their growing bellies! Of course they should write about their experiences! I just understand a tiny bit more how difficult it is to watch those stories unfold when yours [is] painful.
Every couple has to handle painful situations in their own way. But I can’t help noticing that while Boyett’s approach focused primarily on empathy for those who have suffered as she has, Sam and Nia’s remained focused on their growing social media footprint.
Jones cites one tweet from the couple that begins: “Our tiny baby brought 10M views to her video & 100k new people into our lives.” Perhaps these stats genuinely bring them comfort. But what does that have to do with pointing people to God as the source of all comfort?
I write this with humility and hesitation, not wanting to pile on a couple who’s already had a difficult time. Still, it’s tremendously important that we grasp the difference between living in a way that draws people to Christ and selling the Christian life—our Christian life—like a product.
Perhaps Paul puts it best in 1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” While families are a great blessing and a joy to share with others, we would do well to carry in mind that no vision of family life, however blissful or popular or viral, can eclipse the beauty and power of our knowledge of Christ.