Sophie Adriansen and Mathou | Proxy Mom: My Experience with Postpartum Depression (nbm)

152 pgs. color | $19.99 paperback | W: Sophie Adriansen; A: Mathou

Sophie Adriansen’s Proxy Mom: My Experience with Postpartum Depression opens with a proverb from Côte d’Ivoire: “One sees things better with eyes that have cried.” It’s an apt opening for a story, based on the author’s own experience, in which a young woman named Marietta discovers that motherhood is a lot tougher than she expected. This is not a horror story, though: she suffers but persists and grows, ultimately triumphing over what seemed like the torments of Job when they were happening. This is not just the story of one woman’s journey through pregnancy and motherhood, however: Marietta’s experiences are shared by many women who will enjoy seeing stated plainly some facts about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood that are usually left out of the Hallmark narrative.

Proxy Mom is told in the first person and begins with Marietta falling head over heels in love with Chuck, an experience that leaves her feeling “as if I were starring in my own life for the first time.” She’s overjoyed at becoming pregnant, and even the discomfort of the final weeks (after an unnecessary trip to the hospital due to an episode of false labor), during which she is advised to “rest and be patient,” can’t totally kill her glow. Real labor is painful and messy, but the result is a beautiful baby girl name Zoe that Chuck immediately falls in love with.

Marietta, however, feels more ambivalent—she’s still suffering physically, the hospital staff seems to not understand her, nursing her daughter is painful, and her body no longer seems to be her own. Chuck is a model of devoted fatherhood and solicitous partnerhood, but even he doesn’t really understand what she’s feeling. First of all, he’s not the one whose body experienced pregnancy and birth, and second, he’s an old hand at the “new baby” stuff since he has two daughters from a previous relationship.

Click to enlarge

Pregnancy does a number on a women’s hormones, and part of what Marietta is feeling is post-partum depression from that disruption. There’s something else going on as well: Marietta feels gaslit because no one seem to understand what she’s going through or accept how she feels. Out of self-defense, she invents a “proxy Mom” and imagines how this paragon would manage every situation with her daughter, a mental practice that only makes her feel more inadequate. She also feels like everyone is judging her as a mother and awards herself a symbolic medal every time she is praised for doing something right. To be fair, people can be very judgmental toward mothers, but it’s also likely that Marietta is oversensitive to ambiguous social signals since she is so worried about her own adequacy.

Spoiler alert: Proxy Mom is not the sequel to We Need to Talk About Kevin but a story about a woman growing through her experiences of pregnancy and birth. Mathou’s art helps to maintain a hopeful mood which keeps the book from becoming too grim when the bare narration of Marietta’s experiences might otherwise seem dire. The art is made in a simple clear line style with blocks of bright colors outlined in black, and a variety of layouts from 3 x 3 unbordered panels to full-page spreads, the latter usually reserved for exploring Marietta’s state of mind. It’s a great match to Sophie Adriansen’s storytelling style, which honors the inner experiences of her central character while also retaining some of the detachment of an observer, in this case an older version of the person whose experiences are displayed in this graphic novel.

Given the state of reproductive care and the social safety net here in Missouri, I can’t help but reflect on how many things made Marietta’s experience in France better than what many women in America experience. First of all, it was her choice to have this baby, and no snoopy state officials were sticking their noses in her private medical information. Second, she lives in a country with a system of national health that allowed her to stay in the hospital for four (!) days after giving birth, which gave her time to rest and recover and also to adjust to the demands of caring for a newborn baby. She can also afford to take time off work (France has paid maternity leave) and has family who love and adore the new baby. And yet, despite those fortunate circumstances (which should really be available to everyone, but I’m not holding my breath on that score), pregnancy and motherhood were difficult experiences for Marietta. But she came through them successfully: as they say in Côte d’Ivoire, now that her eyes have cried, she see things more clearly. | Sarah Boslaugh

For more information or to purchase Proxy Mom, click here. Check out a 6-page preview of the book below, courtesy of nbm!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *