Gabriela Gerhart remembers that day, back in 1989, when her teacher walked into her classroom in Czechoslovakia and announced that communism was over. Further, she told the group that everything she'd been teaching them was a lie.
Gerhart was stunned.
"It was confusing," she tells CultureMap. "You think to yourself, 'was I fooled? Was I indoctrinated? 'You have to understand, I had no idea there was another world out there."
Gerhart, founder of The Motherhood Center on West Alabama Street unpacks those feelings and others in her new autobiography, After The Fall, a story of growing up in Central Europe under communism and following her own wanderlust to the States, where she fell in love, got married, and built a successful business.
The Houston launch for the book is Wednesday, May 19 at The Motherhood Center from 4 pm to 6 pm. The official Austin launch happens on Thursday, May 20 at Central Machine Works from 4 pm to 6 pm. Both events are free, but audiences are asked to register. After the Fall is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, at Brazos Bookstore, and online.
In many ways, Gerhart's journey is like many other immigrant stories of coming to a new land and rebuilding a life. For Gerhart, though, it wasn't just about building a new life, it was learning that she had choices.
Before the fall
In her homeland, she'd been involved with a communist youth group, and had plans to rise through the communist party. When communism fell, her sense of how she saw herself was battered. All of a sudden, though, there were opportunities.
"Growing up, my friends and I all wore the same clothes," she says. "But it was because you would go into a store and there might be only three kinds of winter jacket."
With the fall of communism, Gerhart could travel far beyond her Czech roots, and discover all sorts of new things: new foods, new styles, new ideas.
"I was hungry for adventures and experiences," she remembers.
After the fall
She came to the U.S. in 1998, where she became an au pair. While she didn't have a choice of where she was sent, she says that she loved that she landed in Houston. The Bayou City would open her eyes to all the possibilities of what she could do and what she could be.
Gerhart describes herself as someone who is always challenging herself, so being an entrepreneur was a natural fit. She's also always been nurturing, which is what led her to study nursing and become a pediatric nurse. Combining her love of mothers and babies with her grit and determination, she built The Motherhood Center in 2000 to provide expectant and early post-natal moms with a supportive network and educational resources to raise healthy children, while not neglecting themselves.
All of it is outlined in After the Fall, in triumph and tragedy. Gerhart outlines her inability to have children, even as she was building her business into the premier destination for moms and babies. A stepmother and grandmother now, she says she has found great happiness in her life, chasing her dreams and adventures across continents and political changes.
An American dream
"My favorite thing about America is that there are so many opportunities," she says. "I am so grateful. It's really amazing how young America is. People don't realize, the basement in my house in the Czech Republic is 300 years older than this country," she jokes.
Writing her autobiography gave her the chance to reflect on that, as well as unpack her own feelings about communism and its fall. Growing up, she says, her parents never discussed their feelings about the subject; it was far too dangerous.
"A parent might say something to their child and the child could go to school and repeat it and all of a sudden, there would be a knock on the door from the police," she says. "Writing this book meant my parents and I could speak more openly about it, and I was able to see things from their perspective."
She hopes the book will inspire others to embrace their potential and pursue their own dreams. Maybe they'll be encouraged to start their own business. Maybe they'll re-discover gratitude for being Americans. Maybe they'll set off on their own adventures.
As for Gerhart, now that the book is finished, she's looking ahead to what's next. She'll keep expanding The Motherhood Center and its programming, and she's taking on speaking engagements in the coming months.
"I have a need to share," she explains. "And I'll keep doing that.