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Facebook Tried to Ban This Mom’s Childbirth Photo, And Here’s What Happened

Photograph by Leonardo Mayorga

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."

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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 photo.

"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.

As Francie's 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 nipples.

Francie finds this encouraging, but she would also like to focus on the bigger picture: How can we fundamentally change the way we think about birth?

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"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."

In other words: Get over it.

You can find Francie on Twitter and Instagram or on Facebook.

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