Graphic Novel Review - "Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression" by Teresa Wong
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
The graphic novel, “Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression" is an intimate, moving and engaging look at the author's experience with postpartum depression. Written and illustrated in 2019 by Teresa Wong; Wong shares the story of her struggle with postpartum depression in the form of a letter to her daughter Scarlet. Reviews describe this graphic novel as heartbreaking and funny. I describe it as relatable. We don’t talk much about postpartum depression or anxiety; we tend to romanticize having a baby & gloss over how hard it all really is. Postpartum depression and anxiety are quite common. Statistics suggest 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression. With approximately 4 million live births each year in the United States, that equates to almost 600,000 postpartum depression diagnoses a year. That statistic doesn't necessarily include women who are diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, or OCD or less common, postpartum psychosis. And that statistic definitely doesn't include all the women who are never diagnosed and never receive treatment.
Wong’s graphic novel is much needed and succeeds at helping increasing awareness of how postpartum depression can feel and how it can impact a family. It lessens the feelings of shame and doubt when one is questioning “Am I the only one?” Her words and illustrations capture the feelings of inadequacy and suffering that accompany postpartum depression and anxiety. Wong also shows her readers that treatment can help.
The early part of Wong’s graphic novel details her pregnancy and her delivery. Using black and white drawings, Wong shows us her fears, her anxieties, and her growing sadness. “I don’t exactly know when the tiredness gave way to sadness, but it was pretty early on.” Readers see firsthand how her husband and her are both impacted by her growing symptoms of depression.
Midway through the graphic novel, there is a black-and-white drawing of a skull in profile. The image is titled "My Depressed Mind (not for the faint of heart)." Her brain is filled with thought bubbles that state the following:
"I am a bad mother,"
"I can’t do this,"
"I want to disappear,"
"I'm going to mess her up,"
"all the other moms can do it."
Wong writes that her depression colored “everything” and for weeks she was simply going through the motions. This leads to Wong telling her husband that she needs help. His response was reassuring, “Don’t worry. We’ll get you help.” Together, they do get help. They get a postpartum doula. Wong sees her doctor who prescribes an anti-depressant to take until she can be seen by a psychiatrist and she meets with a therapist for counseling sessions. “I was starting to feel stronger.” “And after nearly two months of secret shame & guilt. I felt so validated by the diagnosis that I told anyone who would listen. And some who didn’t”....”As I shared my struggles, others began to share theirs with me, making me feel like part of a quiet sisterhood.”
To end her graphic novel, Wong closes by writing what she would tell her daughter if her daughter ever felt a similar depression. Wong explains that in her own struggle, she knew that she had to keep moving, “Fumbling my way through the sadness. Reaching for anything- anyone- to steady myself.” In her postscript, Wong reflects on how she did experience a shift in her thinking. At one point Wong thought her family would be better off without her but she was able to shift her thoughts and recognized that staying alive would be best.
I hope you get a chance to check out this graphic novel and share it widely. If you feel like you (or a loved one) is experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, please know you are not alone and help is available. If you are in California, then I would be happy to be a support and provide therapy or connect you with services. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org For help in other states, please look at Postpartum Support International's directory. This directory features therapists who are trained in perinatal mental health. You can search by location on this directory. https://www.postpartum.net/get-help/provider-directory/