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Fleen Book Corner: Kid Gloves

The real power in Lucy Knisley’s books is somewhat contradictory.

They always make me feel slightly uncomfortable. I won’t call what she does oversharing because she’s less saying Here’s what I did today and more simply living her life in front of us, a page at a time, in a way that it turns out we were there all along, an omniscient third person observer. Whether it’s her life’s triumphs or tragedies, she lives it on the page, I observe, and — sometimes, just a bit — it feels like I’m intruding.

It’s not the case; in fact, it’s pretty much the complete opposite. The emotional charge of her stories is such that to watch that life with her and not be able to offer congratulations or consolation at whatever time in the past is on rewind? It aches. She grabs you by the brain and uploads those feelings straight into your amygdala because instead of intruding, she’s insisting on you experiencing it all along with her. That’s the deal you accept when you crack open the cover — Be ready to commit, her stories tell us, because you won’t be able to casually follow along. The good, the bad, you’re in for all of it.

And in Kid Gloves (out today from :01 Books, thanks to Morgan and everybody there for the review copy) there is plenty of it you’re going to be in for all of. I’m going to try to go light on the spoilers, but they’re there. The biggest spoiler of all is right on the first page — a photo of the child that Knisley refers to as Pal, followed immediately by the scene-setting: Four weeks ago, I had a baby. I want you to keep that fact in mind, because there are going to be times in the next 250 or so pages that you doubt everything about the scene — baby and mom both healthy and well is what we expect from a birth story, but it wasn’t always clear that was going to happen.

Because everything happened to Knisley and her husband, John — a previously unremarkable malformation of the uterus, painful and emotionally devastating miscarriages, friends and family having their own children at times of mourning, cruel and thoughtless interactions with those that should have been supportive, and an OB/GYN that I want to punch in his smug, dismissive face.

They say you forget all the pain of having a kid, a friend once told me when her first was about two months old, otherwise every child would be an only child. She followed up with, Not me! I took notes! He’s never touching me again!¹ There’s more pain than just that of birth here, and Knisley took her own notes — recreating every challenge, laying bare maybe the most fundamental truth about having kids: that it’s an act of profound optimism, looking at the state of the world, at the state of yourselves, to decide I’m going to have a child. Each setback, Lucy and John had to look at the risks and decide, Yes. We’re still doing this. These notes aren’t to talk themselves out of future attempts by reminding themselves of the pain — it’s to communicate to us the totality of the experience.

And that word — communicate — is the central thesis of Kid Gloves. The failures of communication that Knisley chronicles are the source of most of the difficulties in the story. Failure to communicate accurate information about reproductive health and mechanisms². Failure to communicate the fact that one in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Failure to communicate women’s stories. Failure to communicate about loss. Failure to communicate with your patient to understand their needs, or even the current state of their health³.

As a culture and society, failure to communicate honestly about all aspects of pregnancy and childbirth instead of wrapping it up in a neat bow and selling the experience on the cover of a glossy magazine in the supermarket checkout aisle.

The same de-romanticization that Knisley brought to travel, food, and marriage is in full force in Kid Gloves. Her stock in trade isn’t stories from her life, it isn’t the fancier and more official-sounding autobiography or memoir, it’s honesty. Honestly, parts of getting pregnant (not to mention avoiding getting pregnant, and everything else that goes along with sex, pleasure, and agency) suck. Parts are awesome. Childbirth? Same deal. Having a newborn? Absolutely the same.

Pal’s going on three years old now, and I’m sure future books will bring the same unvarnished look at raising up a child to be a decent person. Read this book — read all of Knisley’s books — because you want, more than anything, to feel that honest, lived-in truth. It won’t always be easy, but it will always be rewarding.

Spam of the day:

The Drone Is Available At a Discount Price

I ain’t clicking that assuredly malware-infested link, but I am desperately hoping that this is actually talking about bee-type drones. I would absolutely enjoy being on a spam mailing list intended for apiarists.

¹ They have three kids now.

² Knisley notes that as a Planned Parenthood-trained peer educator in high school, she learned a great deal about dental dams, but not so much about how pregnancy works.

³ I am an EMT that regards pregnancy/childbirth emergencies as nightmare scenarios because there is so little that I can do and so much that can go so very wrong. In more than a dozen years of practice, I haven’t had any patient more than about six weeks pregnant and I am thoroughly relieved by that fact. If I never have a childbirth call, I will be perfectly happy. What I am saying is, I am not a person who you necessarily want to deal with your well-being vis-à-vis pregnancy.

And even I recognize the signs of pre-eclampsia, you stupid, smug dismissive OB/GYN. If we ever meet I will fucking drag your ass into the morgue where they take the women who die in childbirth from seizures and say this happened because you were too godsdamn arrogant to do your job.

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