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Scrolling through Instagram recently, I noticed that my feed featured fewer photos of stylish women standing in front of graffitied walls, laughing (at what, we’ll never know) and more—how do I put this?—uh, births. Water births. Hospital births. All kinds of births.

Perhaps it’s the perfect storm of my reproductive age and my intense curiosity regarding all things female form. (Let’s just say The Period Book my mom bought me to supplement my middle school sex-ed questions was dog-eared on the “here’s what a vagina looks like” page.) But I can’t be the only one unabashedly intrigued by pregnancy and birth, because doula accounts on Instagram are huge. They’re real influencers in how they change the discussion about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Their followers are not just engaged, but enrapt. Well, I am, at least. No, I’m not pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant right this very second (put your phone down, Mom). But as my peers start this journey, my perspective has changed. It’s gone from diagramming mitosis for biology class to the mind-blowing epiphany that, um, someone I KNOW MADE—THEY MADE—A PERSON! And these accounts show elements of that process that are not explained in my Period Book or even in conversations with dear friends. 

The first doula account I came across was Britt Fohrman. A photographer, yoga instructor and doula in San Francisco, she also happens to be my friend’s cousin, which is how I stumbled upon this world of digital childbirth. Her beautiful photos of nude, laboring women and their partners entangled in tubs just moments before their baby is born are inherently some of the most compelling content out there—puppies and ASMR tutorials aside, of course. They’re intimate, highly visual and emotionally striking, but the captions are also educational and mind-opening. Fohrman talks about labor and delivery, yes, but also what it means to be a doula.

I do not know whether the other doulas and midwives in my feed came to me through my own volition or through the omnipotent algorithms that power my social media (probably both), but now this community is a regular part of my social media experience, informing me at once that women are warriors and that toilets are a great place to labor. Through transparency and frequency my brain takes notes, “This is wild. This is normal.”

So, who am I following? To name a few, there’s Emily of Wise and Wild Wellness, a doula with 6K followers; Sumayyah Franklin, a midwife who leads POC doula training with over 14K followers; Anne Margolis, a holistic nurse midwife with nearly 87K followers; Monet Nicole, a birth photographer with 141K followers.

The more than often lengthy, wordsmithed captions go well beyond “Meet Aiden Aydan McAidyn born at 6/6/2019!” You learn (and see) so much more about different prenatal and postpartum practices as well as other cultures and traditions—ever heard of cerrada? It’s a Mexican closing ceremony for the birther. Sure, it might seem at first like something your woo-woo friend in L.A. would throw a bucket of money at, but when I think of all the mothers who have struggled with postpartum depression and told me they felt completely ignored as soon as baby came, a ceremony that offers emotional (and potentially physical) closure to a traumatic event doesn’t seem so silly.

Crowning heads, placentas, engorged nipples and all—seeing these images has normalized it for me. There’s the cinematic version of giving birth, Taxi! My wife’s in labor!!! The wife is usually yelling profanities as water gushes out from between her legs. Maybe the husband faints or cracks a joke about seeing a vagina during birth. What I saw on-screen growing up was that giving birth is painful, disgusting and almost always the same. What I see on Instagram is that birth is sublime. It’s beauty and terror.

I used to think women don’t talk enough about childbirth because it’s taboo. And while I’m sure that’s the case for many people, now that I scroll through photos of naked new moms, chalky newborns and blue umbilical cords like they’re another #OOTD, it all seems so much more…inexplicable. How do you explain to someone how an everyday thing such as childbirth is awful (in its, like, 1800s definition of that word) and paradigm-shifting? I don’t think you can.

But as I scroll and scroll through my own digital museum of the agony and the ecstasy—a mother buckled over a tub in anguish, a bare-chested father teary-eyed and stunned at the baby he holds, brows furrowed, mouths open, I can hear the screams and I can feel the joy.

It is out of this-world, but it’s also just another double tap in my feed.

RELATED: 7 Real Women on Why They Hired Doulas for Childbirth (and Whether They’d Do It Again)

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