The new book from former Stranger staff writer Angela Garbes, Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy, blends investigative research with anecdotal accounts of Garbes's own experiences and those of fellow mothers in the trenches. Her style is reflective and informative, her conversational tone makes sometimes complicated scientific matters easy to digest, and the stories she shares are not only relatable but poignant.
As a new mother myself, I was struck by a few things—primarily Garbes's doggedness in digging up concrete answers to the questions prompted by her pregnancy.
She didn't just accept that her doctors were telling her everything she needed to know, and she wasn't content with simply following the advice in her pregnancy guidebooks (advice usually shaded in judgment), and she certainly wasn't satisfied with the conflicting info she found online. I wasn't as astute. Garbes's book made me wish I'd been more curious about the physical changes I endured and the lifestyle changes imposed on me when I was recently pregnant.
She examines preconceived ideas about pregnancy and the history of women's health from a critical standpoint, revealing the prejudices and politics so ingrained in our culture that they still affect the care (or lack thereof) pregnant women receive today. She also draws attention to subjects that are even now under-researched (like the fetal cells that remain in a mother's body decades after birth) or under-treated (such as prolapse and pelvic floor injuries) or still a mystery (like what exactly causes the body to go into labor).
She returns to two subjects she covered in The Stranger, miscarriages and breast milk, and further builds on and fleshes out the ideas explored in both pieces. In the case of the breast milk essay—which quickly became the Stranger's most-read story ever—she adds information about women who either choose to or have to use formula instead of nursing.
She addresses the identity shift of becoming a parent—not the postpartum depression you hear about so much, but the mental transformation that takes as much getting used to as the devastated body you're left with after birth. Everyone says having a child completely changes your life, but what they really mean is, it completely changes you.
She discusses things like the miraculousness of the placenta—an organ grown temporarily for the purpose of nourishing and doing all the important work for your fetus: "I wasn't just building a whole person out of nothing but also a fairly hefty new organ that was siphoning off my blood supply." And she elaborates on the importance of support and care when it comes to the amount of time you are in labor and feeling satisfied with your birthing experience afterward.
Like a Mother is a compelling read, informative without ever becoming tedious, occasionally humorous, and poetic without ever being flowery. It's intended for mothers, sure, but it can also be enjoyed by anyone interested in understanding the culture, science, adversities, and triumphs of becoming a mother.