Here’s something I don’t want to see in my Facebook feed: your vagina. That’s why I cannot embrace the idea that Facebook should change its policy and allow naked or graphic birth photos to be posted to the site.
Milli Hill, founder of the Positive Birth Movement is currently having a barney with the social media site after she posted this awe-inspiring image of a woman giving birth (we have cropped it on this page but you can see it in full here [NSFW]) and Facebook suspended her account until she took it down.
I am one of the thousands who have criticised Facebook for applying this same approach to images of women breastfeeding (a policy they seem to be in the process of rightly dismantling after widespread protests) but I think the social media giant have it right with this particular rule.
Explicit birth photos can be beautiful and powerful to look at but they do not belong in my feed. I’m not talking about those taken immediately after the birth. Those are fairly standard (even though I know many people who are uncomfortably squeamish about any photo showing a newborn still coated in its mother’s bodily fluids). Facebook’s ban doesn’t apply to them – it’s about explicit photos taken DURING the birth.
The hard truth: as miraculous as it is, not all your Facebook friends want to see a baby emerge from your body. Those loved ones who do want to see the details were probably either at the birth itself or can ask for a private viewing. They can even watch the video of the birth some new parents proudly brandish on their phones. I looked at a friend’s birth video like that once. It was amazing and a privilege to see it. But she didn’t say, “Hey, wanna see a funny video of a cat?” and then spring her vagina on me. She offered to show me and I said yes. There was consent involved.
I would confidently argue that nobody wants a surprise viewing of their friend’s vagina.
Giving birth is a lot of things. It’s incredible and life-changing and the times I’ve done it have been the most exhilerating, joyful days of my life. Off the richter scale intense. But birth is also graphic and messy. There is always blood and in many cases there is also poo. No, I know that’s not in the brochure but if you give birth vaginally, all that straining can push out things that aren’t a baby.
It happens. Which, frankly, is one of the reasons I’ve never been tempted to have a water birth. Think about it.
Of the birthing image she posted and her reasons for sharing it, Hill writes:
We just don’t normally get to see images like this. The woman, whose name is Natalia, is smiling and watching with awe as her baby emerges into her own hands. She looks strong, confident, powerful, and the picture of health. And there is poo in the water. Poo! That most feared element of the birth process for the modern woman, the ultimate symbol of the loss of control involved in bringing forth new life – and Natalia, quite rightly, is oblivious – or just doesn’t give a…monkey’s.
I’m happy for Natalia. Truly. The image was taken by birthing photographer Jane McCrae and today I spent quite some time looking at the other photos on her site [NSFW] and I recommend you do too if you’re interested. They are quite simply stunning. But to appreciate this kind of imagery beyond shock value, I think you need to make a choice to look, not just have it sprung upon you.
I’m definitely not suggesting we sanitise birth by pretending such things don’t happen. The more info we share about the reality of giving birth the better. Poo and all. But to me, context is important.
Milli Hill maintains that as women, we NEED to see these images “before we forget that giving birth like this is even possible” and she insists it doesn’t matter if such photos shock or upset the viewer. She says that just like breastfeeding images “help to normalise nursing in public and empower women to make choices free from cultural constraints, pictures like McCrae’s speak to a generation of women who have become distanced from their bodies and what they can do.”
While Hill is clearly well-intentioned and a passionate advocate for positive birth experiences, it’s important to remember that at the birth itself, everyone except the mother is there by choice. Popping birth photos into your feed so they’re seared into the eyes of all your friends (and hey, it’s Facebook, so ‘friend’ undoubtedly includes people you went to primary school with, your uncle and half a dozen co-workers) is not something Facebook needs to facilitate.
When I make or accept a friend request, I don’t sign up to be inspired or empowered by pictures of your vagina, your penis or your bodily fluids. I know that giving birth is a beautiful thing but genitals and excrement cross social media boundaries that I really want to remain intact. Don’t you?
Of course, the decision about who you invite to watch or support you during birth is one every woman makes for herself and to be honest, the actual birthing part is such a sensorily overwhelming experience that I couldn’t have cared who the hell was in the room. Pushing a small person through your ‘lady hole’ (as Mila Kunis describes it) is remarkably effective in lowering your inhibitions to Miley Cyrus levels of nothing.
My doctor could have made my vagina into live webinar and in those magic moments, I wouldn’t have cared.
But witnessing a birth is not something to be done lightly and it’s certainly not for everyone. I have attended one birth that wasn’t mine and it is impossible to find words to accurately express the experience or the emotions. Miracle is the best I’ve got. But I was prepared. I choose to be there. I wasn’t just flicking through my phone looking to kill some time in the queue at Woolies.
Because you know, this is about as much of your birth as I want to see on social media:
In case you missed that image link – the one Hill wants allowed on Facebook – you can view it here.