It wasn't all that long ago that the world was talking about a controversial childbirth photo. In it, a woman named Francie held her newborn baby moments
after delivering her at home, on her own bed, completely unassisted. New
York Magazine broke the story on March 18, followed by articles about the
stunning image appearing everywhere from Cosmopolitan to Telemundo to
Brigitte (Germany) and Mamamia (Australia), all asking the same question: Why
did Facebook ban this photo of a mother and her newborn? Why was a beautiful,
emotional, and nearly bloodless image of birth, showing an inch of pubic hair
and one nipple, considered offensive and pornographic?
Francie originally posted the photo on a Facebook group
called NYC Birth on her baby's first birthday. The group is private and relatively
small, dedicated to "pregnant people, people trying to conceive, those who
have birthed their children in NYC, and adoptive parents." The caption she
included read: "Today it's been one year since this happened. Where do I
even begin? I am humbled. I am grateful. I am speechless. I am a badass. I am
so glad my baby is one-year-old. And I just can't believe it."
The response from the group was warm and enthusiastic. Members
were still posting comments when, less than an hour later, the photo—and
Francie—vanished. An unknown group member had reported the photo as violating Facebook's
anti-nudity rules. The site has a blanket policy forbidding genitalia or
exposed nipples, except in the case of breastfeeding or mastectomy images.
Facebook immediately removed the photo and blocked Francie's account until she
had confirmed that none of her other photos were "sexually explicit".
Francie's feelings about this have ranged from shock and
disbelief to amusement, but she doesn't have any regrets about posting the
"I was feeling so many things about my daughter turning
one," Francie says. "Her birth transformed my life so deeply that I felt
compelled to mark the one-year anniversary of that incredible event by reaching
out to others. I chose a group where I knew it was okay to talk about birth—a
community of women that had been recommended to me when I was looking for
answers to some of my questions about home birth. I figured that what I
needed to share that night was a good match for that space."
Women are badasses. It should be more normal to talk about the incredible things our bodies can do—the things WE can do.
In the media, opinions have varied from outrage at
Facebook's attempt to "shame" and "disempower" women by censoring the photo, to
questions about whether childbirth photos are "over-sharing" and should be kept
private. But the storm of commentary has highlighted an obvious fact: our
society is deeply uncomfortable with images that portray the reality of childbirth
and with the mothers who choose to share them in a public space.
story spreads, Facebook has become a target for women's frustration about this,
but there is no question that its policy reflects a general point of view about
the act of birth. Birth is hidden. Birth is messy, ugly, dangerous, even
life-threatening. We should conceal the pain and exertion that women's bodies endure,
because looking at them will only cause fear and revulsion. We should skip right
to the sanitized part when birth is over, mother and child are calm and covered
up, looking more pleasant, but far less truthful.
A social media campaign, The Human Birth Project (#humanbirth)
has already begun to urge Facebook to change its attitude toward childbirth
photos. Its eventual success seems likely given that the 2013 "Free the Nipple"
campaign led to Facebook lifting the ban on breastfeeding images with exposed
Francie finds this encouraging, but she would also like to
focus on the bigger picture: How can we fundamentally change the way we think
"I was definitely surprised that someone reported the
photo," Francie says. "But upon further thought, given our culture's feelings about birth and women's bodies, I'm not surprised. I do want Facebook to
change their policy on birth photos, and I hope that they will, soon. More
than anything, I'd like to help change the way we, as a culture, view and treat
birth. Women are badasses. It should be more normal to talk about
the incredible things our bodies can do—the things WE can do."
As a doula, Francie is already having a direct effect on
women's birth experiences. She also created a business, TheMilkinMama, to teach
mothers how to hand express breast milk. We can't yet gauge the impact of her
photo and the international discussion it has generated, but for Francie, the
goal was always to simply tell her own story and inspire other women to do the
incredible things they think they can't do. And many other woman want to do the
same, believing that they should have the right to tell the truth about birth —and a birth photo is a birth story.
The Human Birth Project recently posted an image on its
website with the following message: "Our photos are more than our vaginas and
nipples. They tell our birth stories."