Miscarriage comics – talking about it

Last week, The Miscarriage Association began a campaign – It’s time to talk about miscarriage. Of course, not everyone wants to talk about it and that’s fine – either they find it too difficult or prefer to keep that part of their lives private. However, the taboos surrounding miscarriage mean that many women who do want to be open about it feel that they can’t. Perhaps they are afraid of upsetting others or making people feel uncomfortable. This further compounds their isolation and grief.

I’ve been making comics on the subject for a couple of years now, based on my own experiences of repeated unexplained early miscarriage. I also wrote a post about the language and euphemisms used to refer to miscarriage. As well as a natural urge to express myself through creativity, my hope has been to express something that others can’t, and to help break taboos. Comics can do this because pictures replace the need for words which are hard to say – or it seems that the symbiosis of words and pictures can speak louder than words alone and the impact is more immediate. And perhaps this could help in breaking the silence surrounding miscarriage. Here is most of the work I’ve done on the subject so far:

Or does it have a positive affect? I’m not sure. The response to sharing this work has been varied: From supportive other creatives doing similar to befuddled relatives telling me I just need to ‘get counselling’. The funniest response was at Comica Comiket last autumn when a guy did a double-take at my comic Spooky Womb: he pointed at it, looked at me, pulled a ‘scary’ face, then ran away! I guess he wasn’t ready to come face to face with anthropomorphic female reproductive parts at a comics fair. Poor chap!

It has been very connecting in that women I barely know have spoken to me about their own experiences of miscarriage and not having children. Not that I’m offering myself as a comics creator-counsellor by any means – not equipped! But I appreciated these connections.

However, I often worry about offending people who’d probably rather not know or upsetting others who’ve had similar experiences. Of course this reflects some of the reasons women in general don’t/ can’t talk about it. In fact, I’ve read articles about comics mentioning that comics should be all about cheering people up and the lighter side of life. But a couple of years ago I was excited to find that there’s a whole website about the intersection of comics and medicine/ illness (Graphic Medicine) where it’s accepted that comics can play an important role in empathy, understanding and education. Hello! I thought.

I’ve started writing warning messages on posts recently. But perhaps that’s me pandering to the taboo – just another way to steer it off the radar. Though I feel it’s mainly out of respect. I’ve discussed these issues with Mita Mahato and Katie Green recently (comics creators also sharing emotive work). On conclusion, I’m inclined to think that people have a choice as to whether or not they look, and this recent campaign by The Miscarriage Association has given me cause to believe that perhaps it’s OK. After all – not all my social networking updates are about this subject – there’s a peppering of other interests too – music, wildlife, politics, goats shouting like humans etc.

Here’s an interesting post by artist Lily Mae Martin, about sharing intimate, honest and often difficult details of her life as a mother. I met Lily when she spoke about her work at Laydeez do Comics.

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Early pregnancy transvaginal ultrasound comic page

Hopefully this will be a page in my graphic memoir, so it’s not intended as a standalone comic. It will have context!Paula_Knight_transvaginal_ultrasound

I used a blank scan of white paper to make the ultrasound image, turning up the contrast to pick out texture. And I fiddled with ‘warp’ in Photoshop. I liked the connection between scanning this artwork about having a scan, and making my own scan image by scanning ‘nothing’ to illustrate my ‘nothing there’ scan at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Clinic (EPAC). The results of the actual scan are in my medical notes, which I extracted from the hospital last year. The medical notes helped me to remember certain details about it.

It’s probably a bit odd to those who understand comics that the radiographer’s speech isn’t in bubbles. She has taken over my narration – I did this to reflect the feeling of having no control over what happened in my story at that point. It was more about the scan machine governing my story – telling me what might happen next. Maybe it will be too confusing in context – any thoughts welcome.

Pixelmix 8-bit font by Andrew Tyler: http://andrewtyler.net/

Pregnancy test comic

Click to view gallery. The numbers relate to actual blood hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) readings taken from a notebook I was keeping at the time. I hope to use something like p2 in my graphic memoir. Page 2 is the original drawing I used to trace p1.

I considered using other text such as: Shall we watch Curb Your Enthusiasm again tonight? Coz it helps. Or: Once, twice, three times a lady not having a baby (bit cheesy). But it was mainly about drawing itself: giving the lost,  the thing that never came to fruition, some permanence by drawing it.

Thinking about it – this is something I’ve done in the past. As a lovelorn teenager dealing with unrequited love, I would draw the object of my affection – perhaps my way of ‘having’ something of them in the absence of ‘having’ them – or the only tangible way to express secret feelings!  This must surely be a common occurrence with artists – sometimes obvious in their work – where secrets are hidden behind seemingly fictional characters.

Here are the pages bigger in case the gallery is too small (click to view larger).

Once a collection of lines p1

Once a collection of lines p2

How a Baby is Made

To celebrate my invitation to join the Mumsnet Bloggers network, I thought I’d share the first incarnation of my graphic memoir in progress, The Facts of Life.

I drew How a Baby is Made in 2007, a few years before the story was over and I could begin writing it properly. This was really my first attempt at a comic strip. I entered it for the Observer/ Cape Graphic Short Story Prize in 2007, the competition’s first year. It was always intended as part of a larger story, but I needed a deadline!

It’s frightening to think that I started this project such a long time ago. Between 2007 and 2010 I kept a card index file of memories and relevant thoughts. In 2008 I was ‘diagnosed’ with ME/CFS so that put a spanner in the works for a while.

I eventually, and tentatively, gave this its first public airing at Laydeez do Comics in May 2011, where the encouragement was such that it spurred me on to get stuck in.

Click 1st image then spool through gallery to read whole strip:

Although I’ve been vexing over how long it’s taking me, in a way I’m glad. Over those intervening years I’ve learnt such a lot – not only about comics but also about accepting my limitations due to my health, and accepting that the baby thing wasn’t ever going to happen. This time lapse has also given me the chance to re-evaluate and become more acquainted with where I want to go creatively – something I lost a grasp of while I was ill.

Looking back at old work can be thoroughly excruciating: ‘Yikes – what was I thinking?’  But the exercise has its uses. For example, I won’t be drawing wings on babies, and things will be altogether less twee stylistically. It’s not that I don’t like this at all – I appreciate it because it’s a marker of how far I’ve come with the project despite thinking it’s not far enough! And it’s almost like a diary entry too – it reminds me of how far I’ve moved on in life and how relieved I feel not to be in the middle of those tricky few years.

You could say that this was the conception of my project and now it’s reaching its acne-ridden angsty teenage years. Now, I realise that people might think that my ‘book’ has become my ‘baby’ but watch this space – I intend to write all about that knotty notion in a future post.

A cluster of cells?

This was originally intended as a one-off piece, but, on finishing it, I’m thinking that it might just be one panel of something bigger (something bigger I haven’t done yet). This is another example of reasoning about miscarriage – early miscarriage in particular. Again, it might help some people to think of it in a purely biological way. For many people, though, it’s much more emotional and involves the broader legacy of what has happened rather than the physiology alone. It’s about what the cluster of cells represents.

I drew the cells diagrammatically, as you might see under a microscope, to represent the cold biological facts. The photos in the DNA strand are of my grandmothers, and I hope these add an element of humanness to a statement which is very pragmatic. I’m not sure it works on anyone other than me though. Feel free to let me know, but, as I mentioned, it might be the start of something more in-depth.

Not sure if a ‘speaking arm’ works or not (rh speech bubble). What can I say? It was all very ‘bodily’ and vocally unexpressed at the time. Not that my arm has ever had the ability to speak other than what comes out of the end of it onto a page in the hope of communicating something.

Also – having trouble with colours. This is meant to appear as warm browns and browny-pinks. I’m hoping to get a better monitor more geared to truer colour generation. Last time I was producing digital work, many moons ago, I was using an iMac, but have since ‘gone over to the other side’!

Miscarriage platitudes

Following on from my earlier post ‘Words can be tricky, in panels’, I did a new comic page about one of the phrases used when people seek words to make a miscarriage-sufferer feel better. I understand that it’s hard to find the right thing to say at times. Below is my response to “It wasn’t meant to be”.

I’m not religious and I tend not to believe in fate or karma; this phrase suggests that such ideas are somehow involved, the presumption being that this will make the situation easier to accept. Fine if it does help some people, of course. The way I see it, for better or worse, nature just does its stuff and may cause sadness, joy or neither. I should probably have put all that in the comic, but I hope to go into it in more detail in my graphic memoir.

Do click twice to view larger if it’s a bit fuzzy!  I’ve also made a little stamp of my initials, carved out of a rubber, with which to sign future work.