Story & Art: Ayami Kazama
Translation: Julie Goniwich
Lettering: Abigail Blackman
Publisher: Yen Press
Becoming a parent is one of the most significant moments in many people’s lives, and yet there are very few comics about pregnancy and childbirth (or adoption, for that matter). Perhaps it stems from societal uneasiness surrounding female sexual health, or a general underappreciation for the struggles of mothers. Or maybe it’s merely that not enough mothers have had a voice in comics-making, or that they wish to make works that don’t hang on this one aspect of their identity. Whatever the reason, there is a void that is, luckily, slowly getting filled by mothers who are choosing to relate their own experiences in comic form. The latest of these is Ayami Kazama’s I Don’t Know How to Give Birth!
Describing her manga as a “comic essay,” Kazama begins with her discovery that she is infertile and must go through countless uncomfortable, lengthy, and expensive treatments in order to try to conceive. Kazama herself could go either way on having a child, but her husband, whom she refers to as “Konno-san” throughout the manga, is interested in the two of them becoming parents. And so, Kazama valiantly puts up with exam after exam, treatment after treatment, eventually realizing that she has become invested in this pregnancy despite her original ambivalence.
After her second in-vitro fertilization, Kazama finally becomes pregnant. The first trimester is notoriously tenuous for newly pregnant people, as there is still a chance of miscarriage. Given Kazama’s difficulties thus far, she tries not to get overly excited, but soon realizes that she has to respond to her changing body regardless. She chronicles her experiences with morning sickness, the trials of finding comfortable maternity underwear, concerns around breastfeeding, and eventually the anxiety about the act of giving birth itself.
At the end of each chapter, Konno-san has a little one-page comic and blurb where he shares a partner’s experience of pregnancy. He is clearly very grateful to his wife for undergoing the myriad struggles and indignities of bringing life into the world. He even advocates for paternity leave, citing his ability to stay home as a manga creator as necessary for helping Kazama navigate those early days of parenthood. Many media surrounding children and babies can come across as saccharine, but Kazama and Konno seem like average comics-making thirty-somethings, cracking jokes about erotic manga and not being initially overly-mushy about their brand new daughter.
The tone of I Don’t Know How to Give Birth! is reminiscent of chi’s autobiographical The Bride Was A Boy, mixing personal experience with general educational information, in this case about pregnancy and infertility treatments. Kazama uses plenty of humor to mitigate what could be a heavy or scary topic for some readers. Her cute art style is also in keeping with autobiographical manga that have been translated lately, and its simplicity helps make this a quick read. American readers who have been pregnant will find the cultural differences between giving birth in Japan and giving birth in the United States intriguing; those differences serve as a reminder that there is no one correct way to give birth or become a parent, that there are as many unique birth experiences as there are babies.
I Don’t Know How to Give Birth! is a great read for anyone who enjoys autobiographical comics, and especially anyone who has enjoyed the autobio manga works of women. This single volume manga will be available in print and digital editions from Yen Press starting August 18, 2020.