I didn’t consider myself a person who would like reading parenting and pregnancy books. But the concept of Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy caught my attention. Author Angela Garbes is a journalist who found herself questioning much of the conventional—and often contradictory—wisdom doled out about pregnancy and postpartum care, so she decided to investigate the latest studies and speak to both researchers and mothers around the world on the most up-to-date information we have about pregnancy and their personal pregnancy journeys.
When you are pregnant, you worry. And the information out there doesn’t do much to help allay your fears. Garbes found out she was pregnant with her daughter the morning after a night out drinking with her husband. Immediately, she thought “oh shit, have I hurt my baby? I didn’t even know I was pregnant!” Google searches yielded the following information from reputable sources like What to Expect When You’re Expecting or the Mayo Clinic: No amount of alcohol is safe to ingest while pregnant…BUT if you had a bunch of drinks before you knew you were pregnant, don’t worry about it! Your baby is fine!
Her reaction, and mine: Wait, what? How can both of those things be true? How can “no amount of alcohol be safe” be correct if you also “shouldn’t worry about a night of heavy drinking before you found out you were pregnant”? Those two things are opposites.
Navigating the twisting and often contradictory advice about pregnancy can be not just confusing but downright insulting. As Garbes writes,
“Our culture tends to think about pregnancy in terms of the limitations it places on our bodies and lives, big and small… The constant admonishing—the ever-growing list of ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘shoulds,’ the desire to be seen as ‘good’ and ‘correct,’ is the dominant experience of being pregnant and a new mother in America.”
It’s easy to find lists of what you should and shouldn’t do, but very little information on why recommendations are made. In my own pregnancy, I decided to do my own research, looking more deeply into why pregnant women are told not to eat lunch meat or why flying in an airplane after 36 weeks is discouraged. The information I found often showed that these recommendations are made out of an abundance of caution—and they shouldn’t be one size fits all. Just as truly good healthcare should be tailored to each individual patient’s body, each pregnancy is unique, and what’s imperative for one women isn’t necessary for everyone.
Likewise, the internet is full of scary messages about pregnancy. For example, around 30 weeks, I experienced what seemed to me like a radical shift in my baby’s position. I went from carrying high to carrying low, and the change felt so dramatic that I described it to my husband as feeling like my kidney had relocated. As I Googled to figure out whether this was normal, I saw lots of references to babies “dropping” in your third trimester, and most of these articles suggested that this meant I’d go into labor soon. Of course, I freaked out. I was only 30 weeks! But when I called my doctor she told me I had nothing to worry about. For some women, this change might signal that labor would begin soon. But for me, with no signs of preterm labor, it didn’t.
Reading Like a Mother was empowering in a way I hadn’t expected. I literally came home each day with new information to share with my husband. I was so inspired by it, and felt that I learned so much about what my body is capable of. Garbes writes,
“When we don’t know and appreciate our bodies—when we feel disconnected from their inherent cycles and rhythms—our power, rights, and choices are more easily taken away from us.”
I learned more about not just what my body was doing during these nine months, but also why it was doing that. For example, did you know that when it’s time for a baby to be born, about half of their blood volume is still in the placenta. Contractions literally pump blood out of the placenta and into your baby, like filling up a tank of gas. This information gives more meaning to my labor, instilling each contraction with purpose.
I also think it helped me develop a few more positive outlooks on the medical aspect of giving birth. One researcher found that “it’s not how you give birth, it’s how you’re cared for that really matters.” This researcher expected that women would be more satisfied with their birth experiences the closer it held to their preconceived birth plans. But that didn’t turn out to be the case. Even women who had wanted more natural, unmedicated childbirth experiences but ended up having to have medical interventions could report positive feelings about their labor and delivery. The key was how they felt they were cared for during their labor. As Garbes writes,
“It was not the physical act of birth itself that held the most potent memories for women, but the way they were cared for before, during and after birth.”
I have been working hard over the past few months to cultivate positive feelings about giving birth in a hospital—to focus less on the things I don’t want to happen and more on feeling cared for and supported.
If you’re pregnant, in your fourth trimester, have experienced pregnancy loss, or are trying to become pregnant now, I highly recommend this book!