Other writers have notably turned to fiction lately to portray motherhood in its most animal form – from the woman who shapeshifts into a dog in Rachel Yoder’s Nightbitch (being adapted for film with Amy Adams) to the half-bird, half-human woman. inspiration for Megan Hunter’s tale of family life and adultery, The Harpy. Or they have become dystopian, as with Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers which examines the stereotype of the “bad mother” through the story of a mother losing custody of her daughter and sent to an institution in order to dwell on his failures.
One question that has been raised is: do all these representations go too far towards the negative side of motherhood, to the exclusion of the positive? After all, there is of course a whole range of joyful experiences that mothers can have too. However, Levy refutes the idea that the culture is getting too negative about motherhood by questioning what is really a “negative” representation in the first place: “For me, the negative representation is of the perfect mother; traditional image of an overflowing woman with endless tender love that never harbors a moment of negativity (or, indeed, personality)… We seem to have taken away the space for women to speak freely and openly of their experiences of having and raising babies and children. The result is extremely harmful. The consequences, for maternal mental health, the mental health of our children and the health, economy and equality of the society at large, are appalling.”
As Levy mentions in her book, in 2018 midwifery lecturer Dr. Catriona Jones warned of “fear” among women who scare themselves about childbirth on online forums. line such as Mumsnet: “All you have to do is Google ‘my childbirth experience,’ and you come across a tsunami of…women telling stories about childbirth — “it’s terrible, it’s It’s a bloodbath,'” she said during a speech at the British Science Festival. “I think it can be difficult to manage.” But arguably, Jones’ warning reinforces the outdated notion that women are too delicate to be told the truth about some people’s maternal experiences. Instead, they are asked to become accomplices in a silence around mothers’ pain and anguish – from that very first post-natal cliché text message “Mother and baby are well”, which Levy calls it “a lie”.
The recent BBC/AMC adaptation of Adam Kay’s bestselling medical memoir This Is Going To Hurt, which follows Kay’s real-life experiences as a young doctor in an obstetrics and gynecology ward at a UK hospital, also been criticized for its traumatic scenes of women giving birth, as well as what “positive birth” expert Milli Hill called Kay’s “paternalistic and misogynistic attitude” towards her patients. But others argued that the description of the maternal experience was honorable for being uncomfortably real. Times reporter Alice Jones wrote that she “didn’t feel angry watching This Is Going to Hurt, I felt happy someone was telling the truth. Birth can be beautiful, but it’s also brutal .What are we going to do about it?”
The culture exploring the darker side of motherhood may also have additional resonance at a time when some states in the United States intend to remove the constitutional right to abortion, after the Supreme Court struck down the Roe versus Wade case. In a harrowing episode of The Baby, we see how the titular child’s biological mother – Helen (Tanya Reynolds) – is held hostage and forced to give birth, in scenes reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale; Robins-Grace explains how differently this scene affects her now. “It is sobering to realize that we were naïve to believe, in a legislative way, that [abortion] was not on the table.”
More generally, the fact that current movies, TV series and books can shock us and shatter our collective illusions about motherhood is only a good thing, says Levy. “Popular culture finally seems to be waking up to the idea that mothers can be interesting and dynamic characters in their own right, at the center of the story, with all the weaknesses, flaws, and fascinating facets of the rest of the world. humanity.”
The Baby is available now on HBO Max in the US and broadcast on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV in the UK from today; Marianne Levy’s Don’t Forget To Scream is out July 21 on Phoenix.
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