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NOVEMBER Dotters Pick

Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes


If you are pregnant, a mother, daughter, son, father, grandparent, or any person, this book is relevant.  Despite all our perceived differences, we all got here the same way.  So why is it that most of us non-medical professionals don’t know much about the process of pregnancy and birth?  It is the most natural thing, but mothers are literally and figuratively kept behind a curtain for the whole process.  Garbes makes it her mission to draw back the curtain, researching and sharing how we got to our current pregnancy culture of rules, expectations, and still so many unknowns.  Her thorough, witty, and honest book makes sense of so many of the negative cultural aspects of pregnancy and asks us important questions for moving forward for the good of all.  

Despite their complex and vital role, pregnancy and childbirth have been oversimplified to the point of many dangerous binaries.  I say “dangerous” because Garbes notes that 20-30% of moms describe their births as “traumatic.” Tracing back through the pregnancy process, it’s not hard to see why this number is so high.  Garbes takes us back to the time of Louis the XIV who commissioned a birthing table for women so that he could get the best angle possible to watch. So, since then, the standard birthing table where women presumably lie on their back for the birthing process, was created by and for a rich white man.

Fast forward to 1974 - the year of the Cleveland Board of Ed. vs. LaFleur.  As a result of this court case, women now have the right to guarantee their job security after coming back from maternity leave. With all the anxiety about career and motherhood, no wonder birth is fraught with extra tension.

Additionally, so many do’s and don’ts have seeped into the everyday expectations on pregnant women, but Garbes asks why this is the one aspect of our lives where there is little nuance in the decisions we make. She explains how the strict no-alcohol “rule” during pregnancy came to be as extreme as it is today (spoiler: an ineffective paternalistic strategy from the 1970s is still being reinforced as recently as 2016).

Garbes also emphasizes the role of motherhood and maternal health as opposed to the very baby-centric post-birth medical system we operate in.  She notes that all new mothers in France are provided with physical therapy sessions to help prevent prolapse and other issues that could cost more to the government later on down the road.  In addition to the physical recovery that mothers need, they need the emotional support of peers and professionals, yet there exists a stigma about post-partum depression and seeking help.

I can’t even begin to list the additional medical knowledge explored in the book involving DNA, the clitoris, the pelvic floor, the placenta, and so much more. She drops so much knowledge in such an entertaining, thoughtful, and non-judgemental way, considering the heaviness of the subject matter. One of her main points is that “our resources have to catch up to our reality,” and that more conversations need to happen with, for, and by mothers.

I can’t wait to talk with more people about this book. I hope that it starts the conversation for more people to open about the pregnancy and childbirth process.  I loved it!