'The Cry': Jenna Coleman's character, Joanna, is proof that postpartum depression and 'mother-blame' exists
Postpartum depression can also be as deadly as any other mental illness and it should not be marginalized as a mere controversy.
Postpartum depression is probably one of the most marginalized sections of mental illness, as most claim it is only a state of mind that some mothers go through when they have their first child. However, it has been proved that a woman can undergo postpartum depression even when she is giving birth to her second or third child. This very fact that postpartum depression very much exists and can have some serious consequences on the mother has been highlighted in the Jenna Coleman adaptation of Helen Fitzgerald's 2013 novel, 'The Cry'.
Following the birth of her first newborn, young mother Joanna (played by Jenna Coleman, 'Victoria', 'Doctor Who') finds it difficult to cope with her newfound motherhood. Constantly blaming herself for not being the mother that she is supposed to be, Joanna falls into the deep pits of depression. Although her husband, Alistair (played by Ewen Leslie) does show his support to her yet Joanna knows that she is alone in her psychologically traumatizing battle of motherhood. However, Fitzgerald's novel takes a darker turn and Joanna is compelled to fight against her depleting mental state as she finds herself in the center of attention of the international media once her little boy goes missing.
The chief controversy surrounding postpartum depression is mother-blame. While it has been said that postpartum depression affects 1 in 10 women, the illness sees the mother encountering conflicting emotions of both joy and grief upon being a mother. The topic was also dealt with Amazon bestselling author, Whitney Dineen's book, 'Mimi Plus Two', which is the second installment in the Mimi Chronicles, which was preceded by 'The Reinvention of Mimi Finnegan'. Although Dineen had expected that her readers which chiefly consist of women would understand her point, the author was backlashed by people who clearly did not want to understand the unusual yet real subject of the book.
Coleman's character Joanna was not very comfortable on being a mother for the first time. Although she did everything that was required of her to take care of her baby boy, Noah, she kept blaming herself for not being good enough for her child. When at the airport, she is thrust in a chaotic situation when Noah begins to cry. The security is already coming down on her claiming that she cannot carry milk bottles inside the aircraft but Joanna knows that she will need those in order to keep her son quiet. Things get worse once she is onboard. Noah cries for the rest of the time, as passengers snap at Joanna to keep her son quiet.
Joanna's true struggle as a mother begins to escalate at this point. More than being a mother, she is expected to be the woman who is responsible for the baby. Alistair clearly is of no help with his jumpy attitude, and Joanna alone has to face the backlash from the other passengers who are agitated by the baby's continuous cry. The cry becomes a haunting drone for Joanna. She succumbs into its chain, making it seem like that very cry is now her only vocation. Even when the baby is not crying, Joanna seems to be waiting for it to yell out so that she can once again get up and take on her duty as a mother.
More than the love for her boy, Joanna is driven by a sense of guilt about not being able to do the right things for her boy. She is tired most of the time, she can barely think about anything beyond her baby's cries, and now her life seems to revolve around Noah. The controversy around postpartum depression suggests that often mothers who are not quite prepared to have a baby are struck by the illness, but the truth is anyone can fall victim to it. Joanna welcomed her pregnancy as a sign of the love she shared with Alistair, but she did not know that the ultimate gift of love would take her to the darkest hole in her mind.
Joanna's suffering does not end there, and Fitzgerald threw her character in crisis when her baby boy is abducted. Probably the conventional norm of postpartum depression would see this as an opportunity for Joanna to finally heave a sigh of relief. Joanna does get a peaceful sleep after he is abducted, but that was only due to the medication that Alistair had given her. She wakes up to the exact same state of depression, looking for her son, and trying to hear his cry in the corners of the house. Joanna, in fact, holds on to her son's clothes, smelling them and carrying them in her pockets clearly indicating that she is just as worried about her son as any mother would be.
She does everything that is asked of her to bring her son back. Cry in front of the media, cry at the interview, cry with the family, but it all just left her crying alone for what she knew had happened to her son. Joanna's final claim for her place as a mother gets enhanced in the finale episode where she breaks lose of all the shackles to avenge her son. Removing the cloak of a naive Ibsen-esque heroine, like Nora in 'A Doll's House', Joanna refuses to be just a doll anymore. She is a mother who has given life, and in spite of knowing that she can destroy the life whenever she wants, Joanna holds on to that life like her own.
Joanna is a lot like the modern representation of characters like Nora, Lady Macbeth, or even Cersei Lannister who, too, had suffered an immeasurable amount of mental trauma when she first had Joffrey. All of these women have shown extremely unusual approaches to motherhood. Nora was the naive mother, who remained a doll to her husband, but protected her kids from the betrayal that falls upon the family. Shakespeare's character Lady Macbeth evokes the Gods to take away her sensitive nature as a mother so that she can bash out the brains of her newborn son. As for Cersei, she could do anything just about anything to see Joffrey take the throne.
However, all of their intentions ultimately resulted in some deadly catharsis, and for Joanna in all ended in a cathartic achievement of justice. Joanna, who bears the innocence of Nora, the courage of Lady Macbeth, and the maternal wrath of Cersei, has been to the darkest pit and committed the most heinous crimes as a mother. Yet, driven by postpartum depression she consistently blames herself for everything that has happened to her mother. Joanna, as a mother suffering from the mental illness, is not a bad person, she is only too scared about the new life which came out of her.
'The Cry' is releasing on Sundance Now in the US on November 8. Watch the trailer below: