Listen, I’m personally fine with photo #1 existing on instagram. What I’m not fine with, is that photo #2 (swipe left to see) is deemed offensive and censored and erased. __ This double standard continuously sends messages that female anatomy is only acceptable when displayed in a sexually suggestive manner, when used to sell clothes/magazines/whatever, when presented as clean/tucked in/hairless, etc. This messaging is straight up harmful. __ It’s telling women their power to give birth is gross and obscene. It’s telling women they are only desirable as objects for pleasure and fantasy. It’s telling women they are best displayed for commercial purposes and consumption. __ Technically, instagram does not allow pornography on its platform, and it does work hard to censor it. But we all know instagram is full of soft core porn, nude models, porn stars, and just about every other type of sexually suggestive content you can imagine. And that stuff doesn’t get taken down. But a birth photo? Gone within hours. Maybe days if you’re lucky. __ Well guess what, it’s 2017 and I’ve had enough of this bullshit. I’m not campaigning against sexually suggestive content, i just want to end the double standard against women’s bodies. I want to see women free to celebrate all the other incredible things their bodies can do! __ If you agree with me, please sign & share the petition via link in my bio, and keep telling @instagram @nickyjcolaco how you feel about birth censorship. Because they keep deleting my posts with all of your wonderful, supportive comments. __ Big thanks to mama @eliseknowles for allowing me to share her birth photo! I’m still accepting submissions; thank you to all you badass mamas who have shared with me __ Love, @katievigos __ #IGallowuncensoredbirth #empoweredbirthproject
*Warning: sensitive images below.
I’m a mama of two and don’t even get me started on natural birth unless you want to hear me preach.
It’s not because I’m some kind of push-or-nothing Nazi. Medical births are an amazing and life-saving thing—when necessary.
Though sadly, these days, in the U.S. and many other countries, including South Africa, where I live, they’re performed at an astonishing rate, routinely when it’s just not necessary, largely to benefit gynaecologists’ (who aren’t even needed at most natural, healthy births) pockets and schedules.
And there’s evidence that this approach is neither easier nor better than the way nature intended babies to be born.
But the reason I am so passionate about this is that I’ve experienced first-hand how mind-blowing and empowering natural birth can be—educated and supported natural birth that is.
I’ve also heard the flip side: so many horror stories from women whose plans to give birth naturally have gone terribly awry, through no fault of their own. But I’m convinced that if we all weren’t so terrified of birth in the first place, many more of us would succeed at having more peaceful, empowered natural births.
Yes, it’s hard, but it’s something we women are strong and powerful enough to do. Many of us just don’t believe that, because we haven’t been taught to believe it, or shown that it’s possible.
This is what Katie Vigos is trying to do: educate women about the reality (not the exaggerated, hyperbolic Hollywood version) of natural birth via social media, chiefly on Instagram. Katie is a registered nurse and doula whose mission is “reminding birthing people of their power and healing through story telling.”
But Instagram is labelling her images as offensive and has been repeatedly removing them for not following their community guidelines.
This week, Katie launched a petition to Instagram to rethink their policy on birth images.
I contacted Katie about her campaign. She told me:
“Since starting my page @empoweredbirthproject in 2014, I’ve been posting birth related content while dancing around the fine print of Instagram’s censorship policies. I’ve seen dozens of birth accounts get shut down and countless photos removed. To Instagram’s credit, they have eventually restored these accounts, even going as far as to add extra layers of protection to many birth pages to prevent it from happening again. However, Instagram continues to categorize physiological birth as offensive material alongside violence, pornography, profanity, and other subject matter it believes is inappropriate for the public eye.
This is the heart of the problem, and an extension of the social taboo that still surrounds birth and affects our ability to provide accurate representation of it in the media. Instagram is a powerful platform that can provide free information, education, and resources to the masses, and thus far the feedback to my petition #IGallowuncensoredbirth has been overwhelmingly positive. So many women have commented that they had no idea what vaginal birth actually looks like, that these types of photos inspired and informed them in their preparations for birth, and so forth.
Photos of physiological birth show women in an ultimate moment of power and surrender. I think this is an important message to send to women… Remember that you are powerful! You can do hard things. A large baby exiting a vagina may seem impossible at first. And then it happens, the baby comes out, and new life is born. And if women trust and believe they can do that, then they can trust and believe that anything and everything is possible. This is how birth empowers women, and why it is so important not to classify this power as offensive material.
I believe this petition strikes a happy medium between those who want to see more graphic content, and those who may feel triggered by it or not want to see it at all. By having blurred photos appear on the feed, users would have to intentionally choose to see the images by tapping on them in order to reveal the content. The beauty of this proposition is that it gives the users of Instagram more freedom and control at the same time.
Two of my favorite accounts on Instagram are @mrs_angemi and @medicaltalks. After I put my kids to bed I love to catch up with these pages, which showcase a lot of shocking medical and pathological content, including murder, suicide, and abuse related death and injuries, advanced illnesses such as metastatic cancer, surgical videos, and so forth. Their most graphic images are initially blurred as well. Finally it dawned on me: ‘Wait a minute, why can the medical community post all this stuff and the birth community continues to be censored?!’
As promised, i will be posting one uncensored birth photo each day (swipe left to see for now) until @instagram @nickyjcolaco responds to my #IGallowuncensoredbirth petition. I am simply asking for the same courtesy and privilege to be extended to the birth community that the medical community on instagram currently enjoys. See @mrs_angemi @medicaltalks as examples (and i love their pages!). Super graphic and often disturbing content which is at first blurred, and then the user has the choice whether to view it. __ Swipe left to see a gorgeous photo by @brittfohto if (when) instagram changes its outdated policies, this is how the image would first appear then the user can either keep scrolling, or tap to reveal the content. __ Are you as sick of birth censorship as i am??? Go to the link in my bio to sign the petition and then share it!!! We have to work together on this. Instagram needs to know how its users feel and the changes they want to see. __ #IGallowuncensoredbirth #updateyourpolicies #birthisnotobscene #empoweredbirthproject
All I am asking is for the same courtesy and privilege the medical community currently enjoys be extended to the birth community on Instagram. It is a glaring inconsistency that needs to change. And so far, a lot of people seem to agree.”
Here’s the original series of photos Katie is petitioning with:
Please sign my petition to @instagram to allow uncensored birth images! __ This beautiful photo series above is now the most liked and engaged media EVER on the history of this page @empoweredbirthproject. It is clear there is a huge audience that appreciates this content. However, @instagram censorship policies have thus far inhibited our work in sharing uncensored, educational images of physiological birth. __ I believe we can change this and find a more productive solution than censorship. I’ve written a petition to @nickyjcolaco, Instagram’s Director of Public Policy (and someone i have met personally and worked with over the last 2 years to restore birth accounts that have been taken down). Nicky has been a huge advocate for the birth community and i believe she can assist us to further our cause. This is what I propose: __ 1. Recategorize all birth related content as educational material, in its own unique category if necessary __ 2. Allow our community to post graphic images of physiological birth with the images blurred or greyed out, so users can tap to see the images and choose whether to view them. This gives the birth community the freedom to share more meaningful content, and the users of Instagram control over what they see. __ 3. Continue to provide additional layers of protection to birth related accounts and work with influencers and users to restore content and accounts as needed __ The only way we can begin to change the way society views and appreciates birth, is to stop categorizing it as offensive material and start allowing our community the freedom to share uncensored images and information. Birth does not belong in the same category as pornography, graphic violence, profanity, etc. __ Click link in bio to join this cause! Share this post and the petition all over the Internet! Let’s do this! __ Love, @katievigos __ #IGallowuncensoredbirth #empoweredbirthproject
Just some of the comments on Katie’s posts:
@lerachaface already a fan! Pages like this are what helped me have two vaginal water births without any interventions. Not ‘normal’, not ‘special’, just lots of getting educated and knowing my rights and worthiness, and then the luck of it actually turning out how I wanted.
@dabbbbbbin This stems from ignorance.a photo is usually reported, causing removal. It’s definitely a huge example of how birth has become medicalized. Something gross, private, for doctors and professionals eyes only. It says a lot about how our society views and treats birth! We need an overhaul.
@_kelseeonthesunshineroad_ Signed .. It’s amazing because I am doing a homebirth soon and at first averted my eyes when I seen the original photos.. why?! And then I made myself LOOK and I almost started weeping because not only did those photos actually make me less scared they also made me feel empowered, it defitnely does not look as ‘scary’ or ‘as bad’ as my brain imagined it to look like.. I can do that! This is what’s missing for women, informed photos and decisions about the birth of their dreams ! It’s not scary, it’s magical! Thank you for sharing and always advocating.
The mama behind the natural birth images going viral, Lauren Archer, @loveofalittleone, also feels passionately about this campaign. When I contacted her, too, she said,
“I am so incredibly proud that these beautiful photos have inspired Katie to stay this petition. Having Silas was such a profound moment that even seven months later I am still processing the emotions surrounding it.
I so truly hope that this petition inspires Instagram to change its policy. The amount of women commenting that they have never seen what a vaginal birth looks like was astounding but the amount that saw that picture and it made them feel empowered is exactly why I was so happy to allow Katie and now you, to show those photos.”
Read more of Lauren’s inspiring birth story, here.
And yet, Instagram has once again removed her original photos since the launch of the campaign:
Third Times the Charm? Is this what it’s come to Instagram? Once more, my birth photos have been removed, the second time being when someone scrolled back weeks to report it, I assume after they saw the uncensored photos on the @empoweredbirthproject page To the people who don’t like it, unfollow, scroll past. Stop reporting and ruining it for the rest of us! BIRTH IS NOT PORNOGRAPHY, MY BODY IS NOT YOURS TO SEXUALIZE, MY BIRTH EXPERIENCE IS NOT YOURS TO DIMINISH.To those of you who keep liking and commenting, thank you. I will never stop reposting or being an advocate!#birtheducation …………………………………………………………………. Between Two Worlds. To me, this is the most beautiful photo I’ve ever seen. The look of struggle on my babe’s face as he is thrust into this world just as he was thrust from the stars into my womb. The moment that he left the only home he has ever known to come Earthside. The moment he allowed me to become his guide, his new world, his mama. . . . . . #letthembelittle #pregnancy #happiness #pumpingmom #birth #baby #empoweredbirthproject #normalizebreastfeeding #love #breastfeeding #fedisbest #birthwithoutfear #birthingwithoutfear #6monthsold #6monthspostpartum #homebirth #bornathome #newmom #momswithcameras #parenting #momlife #lifewithbaby #vegan #family #plantbased #whatveganslooklike #happiness #motherhood #motherhoodrising
The petition to allow natural birth images on Instagram has now reached nearly 12,000 signatures and is still growing. Katie promises, “This campaign will continue until I receive a response and collaboration for a better solution than censorship.”
If you want to support the uncensored education and empowerment of women and mothers to be everywhere, you can sign the petition here.
Natural birth is not pornographic, offensive, or disgusting. It’s majestic, it’s powerful, and it’s a testament to how f*cking amazing women are. We have the right to be shown this side of the story.
Author: Khara-Jade Warren
Image credit: with kind permission Lauren Archer; Photographer: Brian Archer
Copy: Sara Kärpänen