In the Shadow of My Son
Tom Cruise, eat your heart out.
The famously outspoken Scientologist, who made headlines two years ago for his comments about postpartum depression might give his words a second thought if he saw a performance of In The Shadow of My Son, the brutally honest portrayal of five women’s experiences with the disease which was performed during the 2007 New York Fringe Festival.
Written by Nadine Bernard, who based the script on her own experiences after giving birth, the show consists of the stories of five women who are all transitioning into motherhood. One is a single mother who gives birth by caesarean section, another is having her second child and finds the juggling of schedules to be too challenging; another feels lost in the identity of motherhood – she cannot remember who she was before she gave birth.
Another section of the show illustrates the recent marketing of postpartum depression, especially after the headlines about Cruise and Shields. Two women, played by Wendy Baron and Mavis Martin, host a television show dedicated to motherhood. One is the “Rainbow” mother and the other is the “Earth mother.” They both are stereotypes and give tongue-in-cheek performances, commenting on “Famous Post-Partumers” while discussing the story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. But they are there to help, and they do give some great information.
The show illustrates the pressures of motherhood that are often overlooked: breastfeeding, exhaustion, loosing touch with friends who are not parents, the loss of romance with the father of the child, and, ultimately, the mother’s identity being lost due to the excitement of a new child. The goal of being a “perfect mother” is striven towards, even though the ones striving know that it isn’t possible to achieve that.
Alexandra Gilman’s story is especially difficult to watch as she acts out her experience in the hospital, leading up to her caesarean section operation. The brisk impersonality of the nurses is painful to watch, especially as she cries for help. As she is instructed on how to hold her newborn child and attempt to breast feed, the nurses bark instructions in voices closely resembling army instructors. When Gilman is given her daughter for the first time, she says with desperation, “I try to feel how special this should be.” But instead she simply feels exhausted.
Brooke Lucas faces another type of challenge, as she narrates her journey into motherhood she feels lost in her role of caring for her child. She reminisces about her days as an artist and a dancer and despairs that she cannot channel that creativity now. She has given birth to the perfect child, and she is suffering the consequences. She cannot describe how she feels to anyone, because she is afraid of what people will do or say.
Nadine Bernard’s depression is a different type, and she frantically attempts to overcome it by following a strict routine of normalcy. The mother of two and the wife of a devoted husband, she refuses to consider that she is falling apart, and with no logical explanation why. It is not until she actually considers suicide that she gets the help she truly needs. The escape is appealing to her, as she thinks about “never going to have to go through a day like this again.”
This show is not happy, nor is it easy to watch. Hearing giving birth described as a “process that splits one body into two” is not pleasant. But it is the truth. In a word where motherhood is romanticized and commercialized, where the joy for the birth of a child often overshadows the burdens of raising a child, this information is vital and valuable, and this play makes it accessible.
None of these women kill themselves, and they all manage to find the help they need. They find their happy endings, and hopefully this play will help other people find theirs.