October 18, 2018

Instagram Banned Birth Photos So This Nurse Started A Petition - It Went Viral

Instagram Banned Birth Photos So This Nurse Started A Petition - It Went Viral

By Chaunie Brusie

*The following post contains graphic images of live births. 

Once upon a time, social media avenues such as Instagram and Facebook took a firm stance on censoring images of birth and breastfeeding, but only recently, they have finally decided to take steps towards allowing photos containing nudity in the content of birth and/or breastfeeding. 

But just how did the social media giants finally decide to loosen their firm hold on birth censorship online? Well, largely in part to just one woman:

Katie Vigos, BSN, RN. 

Image via @empoweredbirthproject

Inspired by caregiving

Vigos, 33, currently a critical care nurse in the float pool at UCLA hospital and a home healthcare nurse, is a woman whose name you might not know, but as it would turn out, she’s one of the primary driving forces behind the movement to end birth censorship on social media.

In other words, you could say she’s kind of a big deal.

Describing herself as a “natural caregiver,” Vigos explains that she initially entered the medical field by taking a free CNA training class in high school, then became an LPN and working to eventually put herself through nursing school. Despite having a vast background in many different types of nursing, she has a special passion for the complexities and demands of critical care. 

“I like helping people in their most vulnerable moments,” she says. 

Given her natural affinity to the caregiving and medical worlds, it may come as no surprise that Vigos also found herself fascinated by the physiological process of birth and the world surrounding it. She tells Nurse.org that she’s “always been a birth nerd,” even as a child, and when she had her first baby at the age of 22 while finishing nurse school, she was disappointed in the hospital experience of birth. 

Image via @empoweredbirthproject

Hope for a better experience

Although her birth went well, she says that she wasn’t completely satisfied by the experience and care she received, so she decided to have her second child at home in 2010. Her home birth was everything she had hoped for and when she found herself pregnant a third time, she decided to document the process leading up to and giving birth. 

“I wanted to be able to show women and tell them what’s possible, [especially] because I had to figure it out myself the first time.”

In preparing for what she hoped would be an unassisted free birth, Vigos began documenting the process on Instagram, her favorite social media app, through The Empowered Birth Project, which she started in 2014. Since then, the account has grown to over 380K followers. 

When her birth ended up going completely the opposite of what she had expected, with an emergency C-section at 43 weeks, she decided to share that journey as well. To her surprise, Vigos found that as she shared her own truth about her birth plan changing so dramatically, along with her difficult postpartum recovery on Instagram, her following began to grow. 

“That turn of events made my story immediately relatable,” she describes. “There were so many people out there looking for the same thing, just support and inspiration and education around birth.”

Challenging social media policy

As her following grew, Vigos began to spend more time sharing that support, inspiration, and education through her own images and the photos of others in the birth community. Over time, The Empowered Birth project came to include the collective birth experiences of many individuals and grew to encompass both Instagram and Facebook. But there was one major problem:

The photos she shared through the account kept being removed due to Instagram’s nudity policy. 

Image via @empoweredbirthproject

At first, Vigos explains, she “played by the rules” and only posted discreet photos, blurring graphic areas and taking out nipples. But when a midwife texted her some photos of her friend giving birth, photos Vigos describes as “gorgeous,” she decided enough was enough. 

“In that moment I looked at it and thought, ‘I’m sick of the double standards, I’m sick of the censorship, this needs to be on the Internet,’” Vigos describes. “I announced that I’m done playing by the rules. Overnight, that became the most liked photo, that was validation that we were ready for this change.”

The push for the change towards social media accepting birth photos had been brewing for a while, with many in the birth community pushing against censorship. But Vigos helped to drastically take things to the next level. Thanks to some of her previous connections with the Director of Public Policy at Instagram (her work was chosen for special recognition at an LA event), Vigos was able to start a Change.org petition calling for the end of birth censorship on the platforms. 

Image via @empoweredbirthproject

The petition went onto garner over 23,000 signatures and a little over a month after she started, Vigos says Instagram reached out to her to inform her that her petition had tipped the scales of a conversation they’d been having already and that they would be changing their guidelines soon. At the moment, Instagram’s community guidelines state that they do not allow nudity at any time, aside from breastfeeding photos, while Facebook’s outline that visible genitalia “in the context of birth giving and after-birth moments or health-related situations” is allowed. 

Positive changes foster advocacy

Vigos, who is also a certified doula, calls the forthcoming changes for birth photos “so exciting” and notes that while is still a lot of work to do, she is up for the challenge. Although her busy schedule as a nurse, mother of three, and a wife prevents her from attending bedside births as often as she may like, these days, she is acting heavily in the role of a “digital doula” through her advocacy work.

She has big plans to lend her voice and visibility to specific measures to Congress especially in regards to the maternal mortality crisis, such as the current proposal to establish maternal mortality review committees in every state, a measure largely inspired by a father whose wife died hours after birth due to a hemorrhage. 

Image via @empoweredbirthproject

“In the wake of being able to change policy within corporate giants, I’d like to see this policy change extend to a national level,” she explains.

“Birthing people don’t have the support they need. I’d like to be able to use my influence on behalf of policy change that makes giving birth a better experience for everyone. I always want to keep a foot at the bedside, but I do see myself stepping more fully into my advocacy.” 

Vigos also wants to send the message to any of her fellow nurses who feel a calling to create change in the world, to not be afraid to use tools at their disposal, including social media, as an avenue to make that happen. 

Image via @empoweredbirthproject

“Anyone has the ability to elevate their voice for the cause or project of their choosing,” she says. “If you really feel passionate about something, don’t hesitate to share their truth with the world because you never know what will come from it.” 

Image via @empoweredbirthproject

Next Up: Nurse Moms: Breastfeeding While Nursing

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