When artist Rebecca Roher's friend became pregnant, Roher learned a lot of new things about the female body. "We're very close so she told me all the gory details she wouldn't necessarily tell other people," Roher told BuzzFeed News.
"When she described to me the milk coming out of her breasts for the first time I was like, 'That's an amazing image!'"
And thus Mom Body, Roher's comic strip exploring the bodily transformations new moms experience, was born.
"Much of the time I was talking to my friend, she was in a state of extreme emotional exhaustion and mood swings," Roher said. "I wanted to capture her [post-partum] state in the comic ... show the parts of pregnancy people don't usually hear about."
At first, Roher had been speaking with her friend out of curiosity about what she could expect if she has children, until she was asked to make a comic for Guts Feminist Magazine.
The 28-year-old, Toronto-based artist began recording her intimate conversations with her friend, turning them into formal interviews and, eventually, illustrations.
When they first began the interviews, Roher said her friend was worried whether "her view was feminist enough" or if "she could trust her own perspective."
She has since told Roher that the whole experience has ended up being therapeutic for her; "It changed her way of thinking about her own experience," Roher said, "which was pretty difficult and scary and not unusual for a lot of new moms."
In her original draft, Roher left out the actual birth all together. "I thought everyone knows what happens during the birth," Roher said. "Turns out I really didn't."
Roher, who was in a Masters program for cartooning at the time, was instructed by her professor to go back and ask her friend about what happened during the actual birth. The story that followed was not what Roher was expecting.
"It turned out to be this epic three-day story," Roher said. "She had to make all these life-threatening decisions while she was delirious with physical pain and exhaustion, I can't imagine..."
"With the comic I wanted to create empathy for women’s bodies," Roher told BuzzFeed News. "I hoped the comic would be encouraging for moms-to-be, but I was afraid it would be upsetting."
But the reactions she's received have been overwhelmingly positive. "I've [heard] from very pregnant women about how grounding the comic was," Roher said.
"The final comic and public acceptance of my friend's story has given strength to her own narrative," Roher said. "And to narratives of many women who have written to me saying it could almost be their story."
"Facts about difficult and scary births are often are taken out of context and condensed down to select details," Roher said.
For many women, though, Mom Bodies seems to have put these issues into context, making it all seem less scary and more ubiquitous.
On top of helping new moms and pregnant women understand what others go through, Roher said she hopes the comic will spread awareness of the gritty reality of pregnancy and birth for those who haven't – or may never – become pregnant.
"It's rare for moms to share their birth stories with people who haven't given birth, especially men," Roher said.
"Everyone has a mom who went through this or something like it ... I hope this will help them understand and appreciate how much they really went through."