Meet Katie Vigos, nurse and founder of Empowered Birth Project, an online-based project and Instagram movement that promotes education on childbirth and motherhood. Since launching the project, Vigos managed to terminate Facebook and Instagram’s censorship on birth content. We spoke with Vigos about why she started Empowered Birth Project, technology’s impact on birth and motherhood, and how she’s advocating for women’s rights one Instagram post at a time.
1. What pushed you to start Empowered Birth Project, and in which ways did your experiences, as both a nurse and a mother, influence this decision?
I started Empowered Birth Project in 2014 because, during the beginning of my childbearing years, it was still difficult to find accessible online resources for people seeking to know and understand more about birth. I realised very quickly how important community and support is during pregnancy, postpartum, and parenthood, and I realised that social media could allow me to create that. My platform was originally intended to document the birth of my third and last child, who was born very dramatically via emergency cesarean at 43 weeks gestation. I processed my healing and recovery very publicly, and a wonderful, supportive community grew around me during that time. The platform eventually evolved to include stories from people of all walks of life, as well as information and education about birth in general. As a nurse, I use my background as a healthcare professional to inform my writing and critical thinking. Additionally, working on the other end of the life spectrum as a critical care nurse has actually taught me a great deal about birth. They can be understood, honoured, and celebrated in very similar ways.
2. Throughout the years you’ve managed to build an impressive online community. In which ways is this community taking place outside the internet?
Empowered Birth Project is still primarily an online initiative, though I have started hosting and speaking at events. I’m working on a lot of exciting things that will launch within the next year.
3. You’ve been battling with web giants to take down censorship on birth images and videos. What has been the hardest challenge you faced since you started this campaign?
Ironically, the greatest difficulties have come after the policy changes within Facebook and Instagram to allow uncensored birth content. The initial petition actually won pretty quickly, and since then, while we’ve been able to share so many wonderful uncensored images of birth, Facebook and Instagram still manage to find ways to limit the birth community. Accounts and photos still get taken down occasionally due to error, their filters and ‘safety features’ make birth accounts more difficult to find and/or prevent various hashtags from working properly, and so forth. Furthermore, their ad policies are much more restrictive, so businesses posting birth-related images on their landing pages often have difficulties publishing advertising and reaching other social media users. So, we won a major victory, but we are still fighting for visibility in many ways.
4. What are the biggest lies that are still sold to women about giving birth and how can we challenge them?
I think the biggest lies sold to women and birthing people is that they cannot trust their intuition or their bodies. They are told to give their power to an external figure, such as a healthcare provider or the medical institution as a whole. Birth should always be centred around the birthing person and their comfort, safety, and well being. Their voice should always be the most important and respected in the room.
5. What are the upcoming objectives for Empowered birth Project?
I’d like to expand my initiative across more social platforms, as well as continue to use my voice for advocacy and social change. I want to see policy changes happening on a grander scale—such as state and federal governments—to make birth safer and better for everyone.
6. Despite the many fights for women’s reproductive rights, today’s scenario looks threatening. How is the Empowered Birth Project addressing this issue and how dangerous are the pro-life movements for women’s rights?
I will continue to address this issue by speaking out about the importance of reproductive choice and freedom. Restricting access to medical procedures such as abortion actually leads to worse maternal and neonatal outcomes. In my opinion, the pro-life movement is really just anti-choice and anti-abortion. In order to truly protect the lives of birthing people, we need to ensure they have medically accurate information, access to healthcare, and support in their decision-making process. We certainly have a very long way to go in this regard. It’s only been recently that I’ve spoken out about this, because for many years I have been processing and healing from the shame and secrecy of my own abortion experience. I no longer feel any need to remain silent about it and I’m very excited to continue this conversation on my platform.
7. From assisted reproductive technology (ART) to the controversy of CRISPR baby, and potentially artificial wombs, the future of childbirth is going to be massively impacted by technology. What’s your view on reproductive technology and when do you think, if at all, should these developments be restrained?
I actually hadn’t heard of the CRISPR baby! I guess despite the fact I’m a huge birth nerd, some current events still manage to escape me. But as for assisted reproductive technology, I think it’s ‘natural’ for humans to evolve in ways that give us more tools and capabilities to reproduce and advance our species. As long as participants are giving fully informed consent and are aware of the risks, like anything else, I personally think it’s a remarkable way to offer the experience of childbearing to those who previously could not experience it. Like all areas of medicine, it’s an experiment and always evolving through the scientific process. I don’t think it’s morally inferior or problematic; it’s just different. And we need to make sure people participating in ART are supported and respected just as much as people who conceive without the assistance of technology.
This month sees the launch of Enby, a new, gender-neutral sex toy. Wild Flower, an independent sex shop based in Brooklyn, has designed the toy in-house. Founded by Amy and Nick Boyajian, both of whom identify as non-binary, Enby is their first own-brand toy, named after the common shorthand for non-binary people, NB, pronounced ‘enby’.
As a retailer, Wild Flower is committed to inclusive and sensitive attitudes toward sex. The shop’s website has a blog with sections dedicated to “mindfulness & sex” and “non-monogamous relationships”, for example. On its Instagram, it features a gorgeous range of individuals—people of all ages, genders and sizes—as well as some hilarious memes. Wild Flower’s merchandise reads: “Trust Yourself, Feel Yourself, Touch Yourself, Please Yourself, Hear Yourself, Know Yourself, Fuck Yourself, Love Yourself”.
Much of the sex industry is still surprisingly gendered, often unnecessarily. Identical toys might be packaged and marketed entirely differently in order to appeal to women and men. Online, toys are generally categorised into ‘for him’ and ‘for her’, even though, to be blunt, a dildo is a dildo, regardless of the user’s gender.
Slowly but surely, however, more options are becoming available for trans and non-binary people, designed with diverse bodies and queer pleasure in mind. Amy and Nick consulted various members of the LGBTQ community while developing their toy. One trans friend of theirs complained about how she had thrown away all of her sex toys after her surgery, because they were no longer compatible with her body. Other trans people have explained how they often resort to toys not marketed at their gender identity, which can worsen existing gender dysphoria.
Enby looks somewhat unusual, unlike any other toy on the market, but this just demonstrates its innovation. It is something different and new. It’s available in black and deep purple, colours chosen for being gender-neutral, especially compared to the pinks and reds that dominate the market. The Enby can be humped, used to masturbate, tucked into a harness. “Hump it, stroke it, tuck it, share it”, reads the product page—it’s like a dirty Bop It.
Enby might not be the first toy to claim the title of being gender-neutral. PicoBong launched the Transformer in 2014, offering “millions of sex toys in one” with its product description listing the sex toy’s possibilities, “It’s a rabbit vibe, a clitoral massager, a cock-ring, a G-spot stimulator, a prostate massager, a double-ended vibe, and much more”. However, its success was debatable. One review summarised, “In trying to create a sex toy that can be used by everyone, PicoBong made a sex toy that is useful to no one”.
The Enby, meanwhile, has received stellar reviews so far, with an average of 4.89 stars out of 5 and comments such as “A game changer” and “Super validating”. Enby is available to pre-order and ships from the U.S. at the end of July. I discovered it myself last month at a community market in Manhattan. I now regret not investigating further at the time.
An online review at Allure recommended the Enby to a transgender man, concluding with: “Overall, I’d recommend Enby for anyone, regardless of gender or genitalia. As with any other sex toy, you’ll have to play around with it to determine how it best works for your body, but it’s absolutely worth it once you find that sweet spot”.
Enby represents a new direction for the sex toy industry, one that is more open, diverse and inclusive. Just like in the porn industry, small, independent brands are inevitably leading the way, but with such positive results, hopefully bigger brands will follow suit. After all, everybody—and every body—deserves pleasure.