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by Lynzee Loveridge,

I Don't Know How to Give Birth!

I Don't Know How to Give Birth! GN
Married manga artists Ayami Kazama and Azure Konno have decided to embark on the journey of parenthood. However, the path to pregnancy is fraught with complications and emotions. In her autobiographical manga, Kazama details her own feelings on becoming a mother, facing her infertility head on, and overcoming her trepidations about her own body.

Every birth story is different. This is an extremely important point to keep in mind when approaching any personal recollections of giving birth. What happened during one pregnancy can be completely different the second time around, not just from person to person. That said, as a two-time mom, I saw more of my experience reflected in Kazama's foray into motherhood than expected despite age and cultural differences. I also learned quite a bit about the unique hardships couples facing infertility deal with and how much strength it must take to continue on that journey for years before holding a baby.

I Don't Know How to Give Birth! is the latest entry in one of my favorite new sub-genres to come out of manga lately: the autobiography. In the last few years I've been able to experience heartache and emotional solidarity with Kabi Nagata's My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, learn about legal barriers affecting trans folks in Japan in The Bride Was a Boy, and now I can relive the highs and lows of pregnancy alongside Kazama. Not that you need childbirth experience to fully appreciate Kazama's emotional journey here; you just need curiosity.

Kazama might be best known to Western readers for her Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid spin-off manga Elma's Office Lady Diary while her husband Azure Konno is an artist with a number of ecchi titles under his belt including Nobunaga Teacher's Young Bride and Koe de Oshigoto! His appreciation for sexy is relevant insomuch that each manga chapter includes two extra pages, one with Konno summarizing his memories of the time and another with Kazama elaborating further on a particular point. The couple's relationship is prominent throughout the book and as it should be; making a baby takes two people after all. The physical part might be squarely in Kazama's court but without the support of her husband (which gets five stars from me) it'd be a much more difficult road.

For starters, a prominent portion of the book deals with Kazama's quest to get pregnant in the first place. The book is quite detailed on the specific conditions affecting her; in this case she's not ovulating regularly, her eggs are not maturing, and one of her fallopian tubes is too narrow to facilitate fertilization. Of course, this isn't all discovered in one go. Kazama is subjected to a lengthy series of tests as well as what amounts to years of treatments before the couple is able to successfully get pregnant via in vitro fertilization. It's important to note that Kazama is a modest lady raised in a household that was, as she described, "not sex-positive." Now she's thrust into a medical world with a rather jovial OBGYN who has no issue advising her to have sex with her husband often, like really often. A lot of the mystique centered around her body is washed away in the clinical setting; there isn't a lot of room for modesty when you have to deliver your husband's fresh sperm to a clinic within two hours!

Undoubtedly some of Kazama's initial modesty is due to her upbringing, but the book also highlights a general lack of sex education. I've heard in the past that Japan's sex education is hardly comprehensive (nor is the U.S.'s for that matter) but I was still surprised by the admission in one of the chapter's post text where Kazama stated she had never even seen a gynecologist until she was 30! Seeing a OBGYN and getting a yearly pap smear is part of general health upkeep after menses starts, regardless of whether a person is sexually active. Meanwhile, her husband has been a purveyor of sexy manga since his early teens but admits he didn't exactly know how all of pregnancy worked until he was 35! I'd blame this on Abe but the guy isn't even in office anymore. Hopefully this book gets a few more people into the doctor's office to take care of their bits.

Kazama's crash-course in babymaking is part of what makes I Don't Know How to Give Birth! so approachable. Initially she's quite settled in her decision to have a baby solely because it's something her husband is interested in, but she begins to evaluate her own emotions and doubts when the process doesn't go as easily as they expected. I was incredibly pleased to see these personal reflections here as there's already plenty of pregnancy literature that focuses on "THE EXCITEMENT!", "THE BEAUTIFUL TRANSFORMATION!" and other positivity-centric crunchiness that at best isn't going to jive with a lot of individuals' experience and at worst is going to guilt them when they find themselves not ecstatic about the circle of life taking place in their uterus.

I'm far more appreciative of Kazama's quest for perfect, low-cost underwear (literally all necessities for surviving pregnancy/post birth are stupid expensive) than the usual product-pushing aesthetic that drives a lot of pregnancy purchases. Kazama and Konno seem to have come out the other end unscathed in this regard; they utilized a really nice friend for hand-me-downs. She also highlights a lot of the messier sides of pregnancy and post-birth that are typically glossed over: thick tummy hair, the sheer abuse nipples go through (hilariously likened to leveling up an RPG character), tearing the perineum, and postpartum anxiety. Kazama always adds some humor to her topics which helps bring levity to otherwise stressful situations. I too, was overly anxious for months that if I took my baby outside we might die in a car accident. I too, brought a bunch of dumb stuff with me to help ease me through labor that I didn't use at all.

The truth is no one really knows how to give birth until they do it. I mean yes, you can know the general mechanics and sequence of events but there are always going to be variables that make each birth story unique and in all likelihood, every "birth plan" nearly useless. Sometimes you plan to have a baby and the baby decides it likes the breech position and that sucker isn't getting out of there without surgical assitance. Sometimes the umbilical cord is short. Sometimes the placenta attaches in the wrong spot. Sometimes none of the medical staff can get an IV in your arm and the labor progresses too quickly for any kind of pain medication so you just push while the doctor scowls. [NEW RECORD: 2.5 HOURS]

Kazama's story is one of perseverance and finding a type of motherhood she feels comfortable in. When you begin the book she seems like an easily flustered, demure lady who does not want to talk about sex with her doctor. By the end of the book a transformation has taken place. Kazama isn't a "perfect mother" but she is more confident in herself and her abilities to be a loving parent.

Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A

+ Educational, humorous, and honest look at one woman's experience with infertility and pregnancy
One of the nurses is kinda mean, but really you should just read this.

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Story & Art: Ayami Kazama

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