There is no shortage of birth stories. From books to movies to podcasts, birth stories are in abundance in 2022. There is a lack, however, of pregnancy and birth stories told through the medium of graphic novels. Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley demonstrates the terrible shame of this deficiency.
Kid Gloves, Knisley’s sixth graphic novel, follows her through multiple pregnancy losses, a traumatic and life-threatening birth, and breastfeeding struggles. Throughout her personal story, Knisley weaves relevant and beautifully presented research on pregnancy and birth, with a particular focus on the historical (and not-so-historical) sexism in obstetrics.
Knisley’s journey to motherhood is a long and unique one. She begins this journey in middle school, well before she ever attempted to get pregnant. She laments how her formal sexual education spent no time on the difficult realities of actually growing a child in your body. She sketches how woefully unprepared and hopeful she was before embarking on her first attempts at pregnancy. Kid Gloves captures this period of transformation in Knisley’s life, not just from becoming a parent, but from discovering what parenthood will cost her. The celebration and mourning of this transformation is captured early in the book. In a series of panels, Knisley and her partner pop champagne and celebrate their pregnancy with their parents, only to learn the next day that they have lost the baby. Knisley writes, “I’ll never be that person again. But I’ll always have that night.”
Kid Gloves deals with anxiety, depression, severe nausea, doctors who don’t listen, and loneliness. Knisley takes us along on her wild ride, and she leaves self-judgment behind. In the ups and downs of her pregnancies and birth, she learns to treat herself, and by extension encourages us to treat ourselves, with “kid gloves.”
I first read Kid Gloves while eight weeks pregnant with my second child. Up to that point, my experiences with pregnancy and childbirth had been straightforward. I had twice gotten pregnant right away, suffered no miscarriages, had an easy time breastfeeding, and, even with an emergency caesarean, had a positive birth experience. Despite the glaring differences between Knisley’s experiences and my own, I saw myself reflected in Kid Gloves. I was raptured by the truths of pregnancy, so hard to accurately put in words, that were captured in Knisley’s art. I read Kid Gloves in one night, promptly returned it to the library for the next reader, and recommended it to all my mom friends.
Approximately seven months later, my son was born. What I expected to be a simple birth turned out to be a particularly traumatic one, and like Knisley, I experienced life-threatening complications. As I recovered in the hospital, attempting to make sense of what had happened to me, I remembered Kid Gloves. I couldn’t recall its exact details, but I remembered the vivid images Knisley drew of herself critically ill in the hospital. In my moment of crisis, I remembered her art.
Once out of the hospital, I purchased my own copy of Kid Gloves. While the details of our experiences differ, the life-saving procedures depicted in Knisley’s birth story could just as easily have been my own. Seeing experiences like mine reflected in graphic art has been more healing than my experience with any book, online article, or birth podcast. I wept with gratitude that someone got it.
And therein lies the power of Kid Gloves. Knisley’s work speaks to this motherhood journey, both so ubiquitous and individual, in a way that words can hardly reach. From her depictions of transvaginal ultrasounds, to the clinging fog following pregnancy loss, to her wonderfully disgusting representations of early pregnancy nausea, to catching glimpses of herself in the hospital mirror and seeing only a stranger, Knisley’s art gives company to the loneliest moments in the journey to motherhood. Knisley marks each step of this journey, the hard and the beautiful, with its own attention. She doesn’t rush through difficulty, but instead lets us dwell in the dark with her. Each image lets us soak it in as long as we need to.
Kid Gloves also emphasizes Knisley’s gratitude for her community. Throughout the graphic novel, she sketches the various women who held her hand, literally and figuratively. Most notably, the novel’s Acknowledgements is a long list, still in graphic novel form, of the various nurses, friends, family, “comic ladies,” lactation consultants, “brilliant mental health supporters,” and online community members who helped her during the events of the book. This idea of community, a whisper of “you’re not alone,” weaves itself through every section of the graphic novel.
Despite the heavy topics covered in Kid Gloves, it remains an optimistic and uplifting read. With its bright color scheme and gentle language, Knisley wants us to know that her story about pregnancy and birth is not meant to leave its readers scared. Instead, she wants it to leave us feeling empowered, and less alone in our own hardships. As she writes early in the graphic novel, “when I began to write about [the pregnancy loss,] strong, cool, kind, brilliant people shared their own stories in return.” Kid Gloves is one more beautiful addition to those shared stories.