When TikTok creator and then-new mom Sarah Biggers-Stewart opened up about her postpartum experience and difficult pregnancy in a video last year, one viewer’s comment caught her eye: “Where’s the girl with the list?”
In recent months, the phrase has become a common response to videos about pregnancy and birth on TikTok.
The “list” refers to one crowdsourced file titled “Yuni’s List of Pros and Cons of Having Children”, in which the arguments against getting pregnant far outweigh the reasons for having children. The cons range from common pregnancy symptoms like nausea and bloating to lesser-known issues like “their little foot can get stuck in your ribs and you can break a rib.”
While some critics say the list fuels fear mongering and misinformation, other creators have praised the list for inspiring more honest discussions about pregnancy and birth. Regardless of its reception, the list marks a shift in how pregnancy is discussed online and reveals a need for more comprehensive health education. The list’s rising popularity also ties in with the push to preserve reproductive rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.
Biggers-Stewart, who is now pregnant with her second child, described the listing videos as “a powerful tool for standing up for herself.”
“I was totally shocked by all the things that could happen to you. And that’s even in today’s modern world, which is shocking with the amount of research and access we have at our fingertips,” Biggers-Stewart said. “There are so many different kinds of complications, and it can be very brutal for women. So I was like, this is empowering.
Biggers-Stewart, who works in the beauty industry, noted that platforms like TikTok and Reddit offer an alternative perspective to the highly curated pregnancies traditionally portrayed on social media and parenting blogs. Authenticity, even if fabricated, is highly valued on TikTok.
“What people expect is that those with complications got sick during pregnancy. That’s why you had complications, or you didn’t take care of yourself, or you smoked, or you didn’t eat right,” said Dr. Shannon Clark, an obstetrician-gynecologist who specializes in treating high-risk pregnancies. “It was always kind of victim-blaming, that people with pregnancy complications probably did something to cause it. But what we now realize is that that is not always the case.”
Who’s the girl with the list?
The list went viral for the first time in February 2022 when TikTok creator yuniquethoughts posted a screenshot of her Apple Notes app list in response to a video about postpartum physical changes. In the months since, the creator, also known as Yuni, has updated the list in TikToks and merged other videos about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Viewers regularly tagged Yuni in other creators’ videos, which grew into the viral phrase “Where’s the girl with the frame?”
Yuni stopped posting to TikTok around August and did not respond to requests for comment. Before she stopped posting, she published the full list of 35 “pros” and 350 “cons” on her website. Her list inspired copycat accounts and similar Notes app lists.
In a video under the trend, a creator showed off her “Pac-Man” ear, which was permanently torn after her daughter tore off her earring. Another maker using the #pregnancylist tag, said her son “almost didn’t live” her — a common TikTok euphemism to refer to death — during his birth despite her relatively healthy pregnancy. Others using the #girlwiththelist tag have posted about the health issues they’ve had, from debilitating joint pain to heart failure. Some said they didn’t expect postpartum depression to hit so hard.
Many TikTok users, whether they are pregnant or have no children, say that they were not aware of the various complications that can arise during pregnancy until they saw the viral list videos. In response to Biggers-Stewart’s recent video on the list, one TikTok user commented, “I wish I had that pregnancy list before I got pregnant. I was NOT prepared for what happened to me and the school system didn’t tell me either.”
I do believe that when women think they are the only people experiencing this particular aspect of pregnancy, they are less likely to talk to their doctor and less likely to stand up for themselves because they feel stupid.
TIkTOk creator Sarah Biggers-Stewart
Motherhood has been glorified throughout history, but that reverence can overshadow conversations about the unpleasant and sometimes dangerous aspects of pregnancy. Experiencing such a difficult pregnancy can be isolating, Biggers-Stewart said, and the conversations accompanying the listing can educate viewers about “things that might go wrong.” She said that during her first pregnancy she developed gestational diabetes, severe insomnia and a slew of other health issues that she was unprepared for, despite considering herself well-examined.
“All the girlfriends I’d had who were pregnant had magical, beautiful, beautiful pregnancies. I was sick from the day I found out I was pregnant until the day I gave birth,” she said of her first pregnancy. “I do believe that when women think they are the only people experiencing this particular aspect of pregnancy, they are less likely to talk to their doctor and less likely to stand up for themselves because they feel stupid.”
Beware of disinformation
While the conversations surrounding the list may be empowering, experts warn against it misinformation is rife on TikTok, and some who post videos may be missing the reproductive health education needed to provide pregnant people with proper guidance. Some viral videos on the list have also been criticized by medical professionals for sensationalizing pregnancy complications and providing no context.
Absurd claims loosely based on real health issues repeatedly circulate on TikTok. For example, a viral addition to many list videos claims that pregnancy can cause tooth loss because the fetus needs the mother’s bone marrow and calcium.
Clark said pregnancy can exacerbate oral problems a patient already had before becoming pregnant, and that many dentists choose to delay certain procedures until after the patient has given birth. Vomiting can also erode teeth, she said, and high hormone levels can make gingivitis worse, which can lead to bleeding gums and loose teeth if left untreated. But if you tell viewers that babies bleed off their mother’s bones to grow their own bones, it’s likely to elicit more engagement.
Patients often turn to the Internet because “providers don’t explain” what’s really happening to their bodies, Clark said. For a doctor, terms like “placental abruption” and “cervical incompetence” are “routine”. For an expectant parent, it can be terrifying.
“It’s not a routine for the average person. We have to respect that and talk to them about that,” Clark said. “Because if we don’t, they’ll go straight to social media. … Hopefully they go to an account that does provide accurate information like mine, but often they don’t and they go to an account that doesn’t. What does that make them think? That you are not doing your job as a healthcare provider, which widens the gap in the doctor-patient relationship when it comes to healthcare.”
It’s a “fine line” between informative and insensitive
Content on the list differs from Yuni’s, leading to debate over whether or not the trend is insensitive. Numerous accounts imitating Yuni’s original list format have gone viral and gained their own following, creating confusion over who “the girl with the list” really is.
Some TikTok users were offended by “pregnancy nose” videos, in which creators showed viewers how much their faces changed during pregnancy. Others chastised TikTok users for flooding every pregnancy and birth video with comments on the list. Parents who fool themselves by asking about “the girl with the list” in their videos are happy to join the trend. But TikTok users also bombard creators who post vulnerable content, such as expressing insecurity about their postpartum body or discussing birth trauma, with comments on the list.
The list started out as a “crowdsourced informed consent tool,” Biggers-Stewart said, but it has “transitioned” over time and “people don’t always use common sense.”
“They’re commenting on very sensitive videos where someone talks about something traumatic that happened to them, and it’s very clear that they’re emotionally disturbed by it,” Biggers-Stewart said. “And someone will say, ‘Where’s the girl with the list?’ I think some people on TikTok, like anything else, are taking it out of proportion and not using their brains to name the list.
Abigail Porter, a TikTok creator known for her Series “Free Contraception”. about fighting baby fever by discussing reasons not to have kids is often mistaken for “the girl with the list.” Porter started her series in 2021 and said she befriended Yuni before going offline as their content was similar.
Porter made multiple videos to educate viewers about Yuni’s original listing, and she said she was frustrated with how Yuni’s idea has been used to humiliate new mothers. Unlike many videos on the list, which typically go viral for reacting to an unsuspecting creator’s video, Porter said her series only uses content with the original creator’s permission. She added that many moms tag her directly in videos for her series.
“It’s a fine line because these things that can happen to your body during pregnancy can be traumatic and they’re a perfectly valid reason not to want kids,” she said. “If I’m going to make a video about bodies in particular and show someone’s body, I make sure I get that mom’s permission first — for example, if she posted a video and she made this acknowledgment, like, ‘This is my body. It’s pretty crazy. The things that have happened in my body are pretty wild.'”
The list and similar content such as Porter’s “Free Birth Control” series can be a helpful start in preparing for “all possibilities” during pregnancy, Biggers-Stewart said. For Porter, however, the candid videos about pregnancy and birth further cemented her decision not to have children.
Despite its flaws, the list reminds viewers of the power of choice, Porter said. Women have been expected to bear and raise children for centuries. Porter said she hopes her content and other videos on the list encourage viewers to think critically about all aspects of parenting before having children, rather than making a decision they feel compelled to make.
“I have such respect and reverence and admiration for the people who choose to go through with this because it’s a huge choice,” Porter said. “I hope people will stop treating children like an impulsive decision that everyone else does. I think that’s better for us and for the kids too, because if every child ever born had parents they really, really wanted, I think the world would be a better place.”