I’m always interested in supporting women in their dreams, even if those dreams are not my own. Take motherhood, for example. In her new graphic memoir, Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos, Lucy Knisley describes her reproductive health from contraceptive care to the birth of her son. Along the way, she gives factoids on women’s health from history, including
Previously, I’d read Knisley’s travelogue graphic memoir, An Age of License, and thought it rather shallow, giving it a poor review. However, it’s not often you’ll find a graphic depiction of women’s reproductive health, so I gave Knisley another chance. And I’m glad I did.
Her drawings strike a strong balance between getting the point across and not being overly complex. After Knisley had two miscarriages, her concerns about a healthy pregnancy send her into justified paranoia when she’s pregnant a third time:
From the “stay” thought bubbles that follow her throughout her day to the green skin, mussed hair, and sort of drunk bubbles around her head, Knisley’s feels are hard to misinterpret. I also thought showing her face so close to the vitamin bottle suggested the close attention and scrutiny she pays to her pregnancy.
Beginning to end, women’s reproductive health can be tricky. Years trying various contraception to avoid pregnancy was challenging for Knisley. But then becoming pregnant was quick, only to lead to depression and heartbreak when Knisley suffers two miscarriages. Her sister-in-law announces her own healthy pregnancy, and Knisley’s mom tells her to “catch up.” Stories of too much stress, taking a sip of beer, having a small amount of caffeine — dozens of reasons for miscarriage that place the blame solely on the mother stigmatize what is a naturally occurring event that can cause the parents to feel grief. Knisley falls into a depression. Reaching out to her fans helps, as they send back their own stories of loss. This part of the memoir demonstrates the ways women who wish to conceive are affected by well-meaning people. From family to public, a woman suffering pregnancy loss may struggle with emotional antagonization.
Men aren’t left out of the story; Knisley is sure to include the fears and hesitation her husband experiences. When their sister-in-law gives birth, the new baby is celebrated. But things change when the infant suffers from colic and cries for four months. Knisley and her husband watch in terror as their family members become unrecognizable, miserable people with no life beyond their child. I appreciate that Knisley has joined the legions of women who no longer smooth over parenting challenges to negate “scaring away” childless couples. Implicitly, she asserts that pregnancy and the resulting baby are a gamble. Nothing, not the baby and not the experiences the parents want, are guaranteed. This is an honest, hard memoir.
In fact, most of Kid Gloves terrified me. The deep loss, the fear of her own body, the medical staff who brush off her concerns, the spouse who is terrified, the delivery that nearly kills her, the infection that sends her back to the emergency room shortly after leaving the hospital: Knisley’s pregnancy sounds more like a sudden disease, like cancer or a debilitating car wreck, that changes her and her husband’s lives forever. Looking at the author’s art and words and the facts she shares, you know she wants you to understand the gravity of what happened to her. What can happen to you. Everything she goes through sounds like something I would empty my savings account to avoid.
Thankfully, this author doesn’t end with a cheesy maxim to sweep her suffering and near-death under the rug. She loves her baby, but that fact is not dragged out. I really, really appreciated the honesty Lucy Knisley brought to her graphic memoir, because historically women have been endangered and denied agency through lies and omitted information when it comes to their reproductive health. Information is always power, and what you choose to do with it is your own business.
Highly recommended, Kid Gloves is a remarkable graphic memoir that everyone, especially couples who want to have birth children, needs to read.