‘Extremely Artificial’

YouTube Stars Use ‘Miscarriage’ to Push for Jesus

First came the viral pregnancy video announcement, followed swiftly by the miscarriage post. Now these vloggers are telling thousands of new followers ‘you need Christ in your life.’

08.11.15 6:20 AM ET

One week ago, Sam Rader was a registered nurse and wedding photographer supporting a family of four in Terrell, Texas, with his wife, Nia. Now Sam says he’s quit his day job to pursue his photography and his career as a Christian YouTube vlogger. Here’s what happened in between:

1. Seven days ago, the Raders uploaded a video to their YouTube channel Sam and Nia called “HUSBAND SHOCKS WIFE WITH PREGNANCY ANNOUNCEMENT!” in which Sam appears to discover that his wife is pregnant by dropping some of her diluted urine—left overnight in a toilet bowl—into a home pregnancy test. After the test comes back positive, he announces Nia’s pregnancy to her in front of their two children and captures the whole family’s reaction.

The video went viral instantly, received coverage on hundreds of media outlets, and now has more than 11 million views. Prior to its release, the Raders, who regularly vlog about their family life, had around 150,000 subscribers, and their only taste of viral success was a video of them singing the Frozen soundtrack. Now they have more than 300,000 subscribers.

2. Three days ago, the Raders uploaded a follow-up video in which they announced that Nia had miscarried.

“We’re so hurt but we’re so thankful that God used us like this,” Sam says, as the couple appears to choke back tears.

“I just hope this video continues to be a way for God to shine his light to the world through us,” he added.

Sam then makes an allusion to the current state of U.S. politics, saying, “This is a time when especially the U.S. needs that light, and God knew that.”

The couple gave the video a title that recalls a popular pro-life talking point: “Our Baby Had a Heartbeat.”

3. Two days ago, Sam told Nia on a family trip to LEGOLAND that he had quit his job as an ER nurse. In the video of the trip, he insists he didn’t quit “because of everything that’s going on” and says he put his two-week notice in “over a week ago.”

4. On Monday, as the Raders announced their first TV interview on their Facebook page, they also released another video in which Sam delivered a special greeting to the channel’s new post-pregnancy announcement subscribers:

“We’re so glad to have you guys. Thank you for coming over, checking us out. I see all you guys are new viewers, as the people that our little girl [referring to the miscarried child] brought into our family. I’m just so proud of her, just so thankful for her that she did this. She just changed our life.”

Then he notifies his viewers that he will refer to them as “fanBASIC”—a portmanteau of “fan base” and the acronym for Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Sam says he and Nia are on “a mission for God” and preaches to his new audience that “in order to have the most filling life possible, you need Christ in your life.”

At the end of the video, Sam says he’s excited to “start focusing on my photography and on the [YouTube] channel.” And then Nia seems to suggest that the family would not have been able to give up Sam’s nursing income without YouTube: “If you guys weren’t watching our videos and invested in our lives with us, we would not be able to do this.”

This all seems like an implausible series of events to commenters on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the hundreds of news posts on Sam and Nia’s story.

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“This feels extremely artificial,” reads one YouTube comment with more than 700 upvotes.

“[T]his feels really like a pro-life stunt,” says another. “My sincerest apologies if it isn’t, maybe I’m too cynical.”

Gawker was similarly cautious in its approach to the story, raising questions about the couple’s claim that the fetus could have had a heartbeat if Nia was only “two weeks late,” as Sam said in the pregnancy announcement video. But so far the Raders have had answers for all the queries they have received about the authenticity of their milestone-a-day tale.

Why didn’t Nia flush the toilet the night before Sam sampled her urine? She’s afraid to wake up their youngest child, Sam says in the first video.

Why didn’t they vlog about any doctor’s visits? The couple told The Washington Post they did not need to see a doctor after the miscarriage because it was not abnormal.

If Sam put in his two weeks’ notice “over a week ago” but not exactly two weeks ago, why isn’t he still working as a nurse? In the third video, Sam tells Nia his supervisor was willing to let him skip his final week of work entirely.

But no explanation seems to be enough to shake off the widespread impression that there is something off about the videos, a certain self-conscious performative quality that has some commenters insisting the Raders are hoaxsters while others defend their reputation as longtime family vloggers. The accelerated timeline of viral pregnancy announcement, miscarriage video, and sudden career change also has raised eyebrows.

And between the ongoing Planned Parenthood controversy and Mark Zuckerberg’s widely shared announcement that his wife, Priscilla Chan, is expecting after suffering three miscarriages, the Raders’ religiously inflected celebration of their virality certainly comes at an interesting time for Internet discourse.

If the couple is hoping to defuse the accusations that they appear more fame-hungry than heartbroken, they did not help matters by boasting on Twitter about the number of views and subscribers the incident has brought to their YouTube channel:

Some on Twitter suggested it was inappropriate to measure the miscarriage in YouTube views—especially one day after announcing it:

The couple responded to the outcry with two more tweets using less quantifiable language but still maintaining that “God turned something so tragic into something so great for our family.”

The Raders did not immediately respond to a request for comment made through their very popular YouTube channel.