What happens when the medical establishment ignores your concerns, complaints and symptoms? When your doctor tells you everything is normal even though everything in your body is telling you it’s not? How do you recover from a traumatic birth and near-death experience that could—and should—have been prevented?
Today we get to hear from Lucy Knisley, New York Times bestseller and author of the brilliant, brave, terrifying, and hilarious graphic memoir Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos about all of those questions.
Having always known she wanted to be a mother and having considered herself very well-informed on reproductive rights and health, Knisley was shocked by how daunting the actual process of becoming pregnant was. In her words, “I was like, ‘All right. I’m informed. I know what to do. I’m healthy. I’m ready for this. We’ve got a home. We’ve got a stable environment to bring a kid into.’ They say there’s no perfect time and there isn’t, but we were prepared as well as we could be. Then everything went wrong.”
Everything that went wrong included two miscarriages, uterine surgery, grueling nausea once she finally became pregnant and then total exhaustion later in pregnancy. Most frightening and serious of all, Lucy suffered through undiagnosed preeclampsia for much of her third trimester. By the time she finally gave birth to her son via C-section, she suffered a number of seizures, lost half her blood and was in a coma for several days. Knisley almost died because her experiences, symptoms, and fears were dismissed by several medical professionals over months of her pregnancy and birth. (Yes, we are enraged by this too.)
Today we also hear from Knisley about the following: her very structured schedule for creating her graphic novels, why she has decided that it’s best for her son to be an only child, her partner’s journey through deciding whether he wanted to be a parent, and why, despite the deep trauma of her birth story, Knisley feels incredibly fortunate.
IN THIS EPISODE WE TALK ABOUT
- Knisley’s view on her comics and graphic novels as a way to share and connect while being true to her introspective, introverted self.
- How, despite volunteering at Planned Parenthood and receiving sexual education in school, Knisley felt shockingly uninformed about what it takes to actually get and remain pregnant.
- The way that experiencing miscarriages flipped her previous understanding of delivering a healthy baby as the top response to intentionally unprotected sex.
- The enormous disservice we do to all potential parents by not properly educating our children on the frequency of miscarriage, infertility, and undiagnosed infertility.
- How shame inducing and isolating it is to be told to keep early pregnancy to yourself, which also of course means, “Keep your losses to yourself. They’re personal and private.”
- How deeply alone and ignored Knisley felt in her grief over her miscarriages until she chose to share her own story. “After I started to talk about it, it seemed like everyone I had ever met had experienced something similar. All of a sudden, these stories came out of the woodwork and everyone had something to offer. That was so incredibly healing for me to hear these other stories of survival and recovery and how fucking hard it is.”
- Her fertility diagnosis, uterine surgery, and how she aches for the 90% of people whose infertility is undiagnosed.
- How, after wanting so badly to be pregnant, and despite her health and age, Knisley suffered through a grueling pregnancy: three months of debilitating nausea, followed by profound fatigue, and culminating in undiagnosed preeclampsia.
- Her deeply traumatic, near-death birth story and why she feels devastated imagining how ignored women of color or with pre-existing conditions are treated and ignored in their own medical journeys.
- Why she has ultimately decided that it is best for her entire family that they have one child.
The Startup Pregnant Podcast Episode #118
SOME QUOTES FROM THE EPISODE
- “I realized that I could use comics as a way to reach through my shyness and connect to people.”
- “One of my favorite genres to work in is the travelogue, which is very much this very immediate storytelling technique. It’s so interesting, because you can really capture what you’re thinking and feeling and experiencing on these trips and look back and remember so well what that was like for you.”
- “We’re told again and again how to avoid getting pregnant, how to protect ourselves from getting pregnant. I don’t know about you, but everything in my reproductive education classes were all about how to not get pregnant. There was nothing about here’s what happens when you do try to get pregnant.”
- “I volunteered for Planned Parenthood. I had a very good reproductive education growing up. I had a close relationship with my mother who talked about this stuff. I considered myself very well informed when it came to this thing.”
- “I was like, ‘All right. I’m informed. I know what to do. I’m healthy. I’m ready for this. We’ve got a home. We’ve got a stable environment to bring a kid into.’ They say there’s no perfect time and there isn’t, but we were prepared as well as we could be. Then everything went wrong.”
- “About 10 weeks in, I miscarried. It really blindsided me. I didn’t know to expect it. No one had ever told me to expect it.”
- “It’s something that, as a woman when you experience it, it’s not just grief for this person that you might have known, it’s grief for your body, for yourself going through this and this horrible thing that has occurred inside you is really inseparable from yourself. It’s something that you don’t have a choice about, but it’s happening in you and you can’t separate yourself from it.”
- “The thing that really pulled me out of it was hearing these stories. It’s a big part of why I wanted to write this book and tell this story and share my own story, in the hopes that helps somebody else pull themselves out of it.”
- “I really took care of myself and pregnancy hit me over the head like an anvil. It was crazy. It was this thing that I had yearned for and I’d wanted so much. I was also terrified of losing it. I was terrified. The whole first trimester, I was just in this state of perpetual terror. I was also in a state of perpetual excruciating nausea.”
- “For women, it’s particularly taboo to talk about parental fear and anxiety and reluctance to become a parent in any way, because you don’t want to sound like an unfit mother.”
- “I was just so traumatized by my experience at the hospital and telling people ‘This is what I’m experiencing’ and then having them dismiss it.”
- “In the US, we have the highest levels of maternal mortality rate of any developed nation in the world and it’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable that the doctor’s irritation with patient’s ability to Google would outweigh their attention to what the patient is saying.”
- “It’s the joy of my life. My wonderful son who is healthy and happy and wonderful and smart and great, but my body is just permanently damaged. I’ll never be whole again. That was the price that I paid for becoming a parent and experiencing pregnancy.”
- “I don’t have any siblings of my own and it was something I wanted for myself and I wanted for my son. I also want him to have a healthy, happy mother. I think that might be more important than giving him a sibling.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT LUCY KNISLEY
Lucy Knisley is a critically acclaimed and award-winning comic creator. She lives in Chicago. She specializes in personal, confessional graphic novels and travelogues.
RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS EPISODE, CHECK OUT
- Honest Conversations About the Hard Things — Episode #081 With Co-Host Cary Fortin (The Friendship Series)
- Prepping for Maternity Leave — Episode #086 With Co-Host Cary Fortin (The Friendship Series)
- Trauma, Sex, and Somatic Experiencing: How to Better Understand Birth and the Postpartum Periods — Episode #094 With Kimberly Ann Johnson
- The First Weeks of Parenting: What Nobody Tells You — Episode #104 With Vanessa Van Edwards
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