In 2015, Angela Garbes was working full-time as a food writer for the Stranger in Seattle and breastfeeding her firstborn. “Every hour of every day,” she says, “I was consuming food, thinking about food, or producing food, so I just couldn’t get away from it.” She wrote an article titled “The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am” that went viral and sparked her first book, Like a Mother (Harper Wave, June).
PW spoke with Garbes, now the mother of two daughters, about the need to discuss controversial issues, how culture influences ideas about women’s health, and why motherhood is a feminist issue.
How did you get from writing an article about breastfeeding to writing a book about pregnancy and motherhood?
I had two miscarriages before I had my daughter, and I didn’t feel like anyone was prepared to address the questions I had. It seemed really shrouded in secrecy and shame, yet it’s very common. There were other things—I had pain in my body postpartum that wasn’t going away, and I had friends who had problems. These kinds of things are common but not normal. We don’t set women up to feel healthy or good, and I wanted to explore that. As a culture, since we haven’t valued female reproductive health, we don’t know as much as we should. [Writing the article] gave me the confidence to feel that these were worthwhile questions.
Your book addresses issues of race, gender, and the ways various groups have been discriminated against. Are conversations around motherhood becoming more inclusive?
The dominant conversations around motherhood have not changed as much as they should have, and that’s in my experience as a woman of color. It’s not like I set out to write an intersectional book—this is my perspective. I’m a 40-year-old woman who never had a health-care professional who looked like me. There’s [also] a growing conversation around gender and how our ideas of gender are expanding: [both regarding] the pronouns we use to talk about it and the awareness that not everybody who gives birth necessarily identifies as a woman. That was a learning experience for me.
What’s your goal for the book?
I want to make explicit the connection that having information and knowing what’s going on in our bodies makes it possible to see that we can be empowered to stand up for our rights, because they’re definitely under attack. When I started working on the book, I thought we’d most likely have a female president, and [when that didn’t happen], I went to a really dark place. It’s shameful to say in 2018 that women still don’t have full control over their bodies and reproductive choices. The book has more of a political undertone than I expected, but it was a product of the time in which it was written.
Its subtitle is “a feminist journey through the science and culture of pregnancy.” What’s the relationship between feminism and motherhood?
As I’ve been raising my older daughter, I’ve been reflecting on the things I want her to learn. I don’t want her to feel disconnected from her body. I want her to grow up thinking that she is entitled to the same level of care and regard and respect as anyone else in this world—that was definitely a motivating force in writing the book and probably informed the explicitly feminist perspective. The big myth this book takes on is that what’s out there is all there is. You feel like, in your choices regarding motherhood, there’s a right way and wrong way to do it. All of us are really just doing the best we can.