Needles, pineapple and rainbow babies

Visualization of in vitro fertilization journey on Instagram


Keywords: personal experience narratives, IVF journey, participatory storytelling, online communities, visualization patterns, symbols

The aim of the study was to examine: (1) What aspects of their stories about in vitro fertilization (IVF) journey do women visualize on Instagram? (2) How do they present their IVF experience on Instagram? (3) What role do visuals play in conveying meanings and messages? and (4) How do the above mentioned questions reveal the functions and motives of the women’s IVF community on Instagram?

Three groups of visuals came up with the help of multimodal discourse analysis (the topics, meanings and messages of the visuals were analysed in the context of the other modalities of a particular IVF story – hashtags, verbal story in the commentaries section etc). These groups were: (1) self-help (including, e.g., images about food that promotes fertility; trainings and relaxing;textual messages with coloured backgrounds such as God is always on time. Let go of the worry. Trust His timing!; paths and roads as symbols of the IVF journey; and pineapple as a symbol of hope, strength and the IVF community), (2) sufferings (e.g. images of needles as symbols of physical suffering, mourning candles and other visual expressions of psychological suffering and sadness, such as black heart emojis, tears, napkins and fallen leaves; and text messages with a coloured background, such as I’m so sad or Nope, still not pregnant. Thanks for asking though!), and (3) success (e.g. images of hearts or circles made of the needles that a woman has used on her journey, with a baby, ultrasound images, positive pregnancy tests or baby clothes placed inside these shapes; rainbow babies – the babies that were born after IVF loss or miscarriage and who are presented with the rainbow motif; and text messages with coloured backgrounds, such as You are worth it!).

On the basis of this study women visualize their stories with two possible goals: (1) to raise awareness among the general public about the nature of IVF treatment and the challenges and emotions that women have to undergo during their journey, and (2) to promote community interaction based on mutual information exchange and support. In doing so, visualization acts as a universal language of communication that transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries. On the other hand, visualization acts as a kind of symbol-based secret language for the IVF community in Instagram, allowing women to send hidden messages which may remain inaccessible for the outsiders (e.g. the visual of pineapple as the message Be strong! or Don’t lose hope! or an image of a chicken egg with a sad face on it used to intimate that the IVF failed).


Maili Pilt (b. 1979), MA, University of Tartu, Institute of Cultural Research, doctoral ­student (Ülikooli 16, 51014 Tartu), maili.pilt@ut.ee



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