Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley

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
“conception misconceptions.”

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:

The first six weeks of pregnancy + 3 months of extreme vomiting.

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.

Knisley wakes up two days after a c-section and cannot care for her son. The hospital releases her despite extreme illness.

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.

18 comments

  1. Wow! This sounds really honest and powerful. And, yes, terrifying. From the medical staff who “brush off her concerns” to the insurance issues. That’s all true even without pregnancy. Every time I go to the doctor, they just stare at me like I must be making up my symptoms. Then cue the passive aggressive whispering to the nurse when I dare to try to advocate for myself. Ugh. It’s a shame a difficult experience has to be made even more difficult by the medical system, when they’re supposed to be there to help.

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    • When I get prescriptions, the pharmacy calls me. I call my medical system’s call center. They call my doctor’s office’s receptionist. She contacts the nurse. The nurse contacts the doctor. We get an answer from the doctor, and it all goes down the line in reverse order. OH. MY. GAWD. KRYSTA.

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  2. This looks like the kind of graphic novel I should pick up. I have enjoyed few last year and have wanted to include more in my reading and this sounds like one I shouldn’t miss. Enjoyed your review of this one, especially when you said Knisley doesn’t gloss over or make light of real issues when it comes to pregnancy, miscarriages and even what comes after delivery.

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    • I feel like she’s really grown as a comic. Some of her older books were too “young” for me. I did notice that on the back of this, her newest work, we see praise for her award-winning graphic memoir, Relish, and for her last book, one in which she describes the process of putting together a wedding, but totally skips the travelogue that I didn’t enjoy.

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  3. I’m a grandfather so I’ve been through this, from the outside!, a few times. It’s often exciting and nearly always rewarding (in the end), though not sleeping for two years has its drawbacks. My youngest daughter (Gee) is pregnant again, I’ll send her this post.

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  4. Yes!!! I’m always so excited to see books like this. Other women always tell me I’m almost too honest, and that I’ve scared them about childbirth, and I’m like “that is a compliment” because having kids is really hard, it changes you forever, and some people have a really fucking hard time with it ( me included!). We need more books like this, and the amount of misconceptions about conception and women’s health in general is astounding. I’m reading a book right now which I think you’d really appreciate-the vagina bible! Review coming soon ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I have The Vagina Bible on my TBR, and I’m excited to read it. I’ve had girl friends tell me about things that happened when they went to the hospital to deliver, and they described things I didn’t even know existed. Why don’t I know?? Why should birth be a surprise? I mean, when you get open-heart surgery the friggen explain everything that’s going to happen.

      Anne, you swore! ๐Ÿ˜€

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  5. This is a great review. That first section you share, where Knisley is saying “stay stay stay” to her unborn baby after two miscarriages…I’d never seen it quite captured like that but it was exactly how I felt when I was pregnant. The emotional difficulty of even a healthy pregnancy after miscarriage is not something that is discussed much. And I really appreciated that she portrayed her partner’s experience too. Her birth story is definitely a scary one.

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  6. Wow. This is a book I desperately want to read and desperately want to stay away from. As someone who is trying to get pregnant (fingers crossed!) I’m also trying to avoid hearing all the horror stories. The horror stories won’t scare me away, but they will make me paranoid throughout everything. I’ll shelve this for later. Thanks for pointing it out!

    At minimum, I’ll recommend it to friends. This sounds sooooo important to read!

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