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Angela Garbes has that new mom glow: slightly tired but very excited about the new baby in her family. She gave birth to her second daughter just a few months ago. In a way, she’s also become a mom to her long-gestating book,"Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy.”
“I had a million questions from my pregnancy, from miscarriage to the fact that I feel fundamentally different,” she says during our interview at a nearly empty restaurant in Lower Manhattan. It’s just the right kind of open and relaxed space to have an unfiltered conversation about motherhood.
Garbes talks quickly and excitedly about her book, her research and how she chose to reveal so much of her personal story as a Filipina American mom, including a miscarriage before her first child, troubles breastfeeding and loneliness.
While reading “Like a Mother,” I found myself calling my mom to ask her about what pregnancy and early motherhood was like for her.
Personal yet wildly informative, Garbes’s book is about all the things you didn’t know about pregnancy. Along the way, I realized just how little we know about the process of carrying a child until it happens to us, if it does.
“The biggest lie anyone could tell themselves is that they know what’s going to happen,” Garbes says. “That’s just not how it works. No matter how well prepared you are, it’s just not going to go the way you think it is.”
Despite having a well-thought-out plan on how she wanted to give birth vaginally, a medical complication took the choice out of her hands. She needed to have an emergency C-section. She felt depressed by the experience, and began to question why something that wasn’t her fault bothered her.
“A lot of pregnancy is isolating,” she says. “You’re drawn into your body, and if you feel like you’re doing things differently than how other people are doing it or how the books are telling you to do it, then you feel very alone.”
Through her candid stories and interviews, Garbes does a remarkable job of centering a new mom’s psychological experiences under section titles “One of You,” “Two of You” and “A New You.”
The first step is the mom-to-be’s experiences that she goes through on her own, like the social awkwardness of your changing body shape or the isolation that can follow a miscarriage. The next, is the feeling of getting used to your new baby and the different physical and mental demands of caring for a newborn. Lastly, the book closes on what it’s like to recover from giving birth and how your relationships may change when you have a baby.
Ahead of her first child, Garbes did as much research as she could. She found pregnancy books were not as helpful as she needed them to be.
“There’s a huge gap about the research being done and the four-plus million people having babies,” says Garbes.
Almost everything during pregnancy and early motherhood was a discovery for her. During one incident, she learned human nipples have multiple holes that can shoot out milk. “I didn’t know until it happened to me,” she says.
The book also explores the science behind breastfeeding, including how it can reduce the risk of certain diseases in women, like Type 2 diabetes; why only about 5 percent of moms have their baby on their due date; or how 1.3 million of the 4 million women who give birth in America per year will suffer some sort of pelvic floor disorder, which are varying kinds of injuries to the muscles holding those vital bottom organs in place.
“One of my hopes for the book is that it creates a bridge between people on the front lines and people locked away in laboratories,” Garbes says.
Garbes didn’t see her experience reflected in pregnancy books, which she felt were largely aimed at white women. “We need more books by people of color who are outside the dominant experience,” she says. “The most meaningful messages I’ve received have been from four different Filipina women telling me, ‘I started weeping when I realized you were Filipina.’”
“I’m writing about my lola, I’m writing about never having a doctor that looked like me,” she says. “You’re just so used to as a woman of color, when they say ‘we,’ they don’t mean ‘me.’”
Her book includes a chapter where she argues against the policing of pregnant women’s behavior.
Most notably, Garbes makes an interesting case for allowing pregnant women to drink the occasional glass of wine if they so choose.
With all the focus on pregnancy and childhood, Garbes found she was ill-equipped by her research for what comes next. “You don’t prepare for what actually taking care of a baby looks like. You take it home and you’re like, ‘I don’t know how to keep this thing alive.’”
“The baby sleeps, and the whole time, you’re hovering above it,” she says of her experience.
When her elder daughter began sleeping through the night, Garbes found herself staying up to stare at the monitor.
In researching the book, Garbes found comfort in knowing she wasn’t the only one dealing with sleep deprivation, a miscarriage or the sadness of having her delivery plan changed after a health scare.
She hopes her readers – moms, aspiring moms and those with moms – will come away with a new appreciation for the experience of motherhood.