In this intimate and moving graphic memoir, Teresa Wong writes and illustrates the story of her struggle with postpartum depression in the form of a letter to her daughter Scarlet. Equal parts heartbreaking and funny, Dear Scarlet perfectly captures the quiet desperation of those suffering from PPD and the profound feelings of inadequacy and loss. As Teresa grapples with her fears and anxieties and grasps at potential remedies, coping mechanisms, and her mother’s Chinese elixirs, we come to understand one woman's battle against the cruel dynamics of postpartum depression.
Dear Scarlet is a poignant and deeply personal journey through the complexities of new motherhood, offering hope to those affected by PPD, as well as reassurance that they are not alone.
Teresa Wong is the author of the graphic memoir Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression, a finalist for The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize and longlisted for CBC Canada Reads 2020. Her comics have appeared in The Believer, The Rumpus and Event Magazine. She teaches memoir and comics at Gotham Writers Workshop.
Follow her on Instagram @by_teresawong, where she posts drawings and letters for her children.
January, February, March, April, May--I'm alive June, July, August, September, October--I'm alive November, December, yeah, all through the winter--I'm alive I'm alive--"Calendar Girl."
I seem to be reading a few (comics memoir) books this year that insist on telling the whole truth about pregnancy and childbirth, undermining all those simple happy generalizations about how easy (not for everyone, not for a lot of people!) it is to get and stay pregnant, about easy (not for everyone!) pregnancies and childbirths. Lucy Knisley's Kid Gloves, Jennell Johnson's Graphic Reproduction, others. Books about miscarriage, about difficult pregnancies and births, and this one about postpartum depression (ppd), which I learned about mostly from a few women who have shared their stories with me, family and friends. A friend of mine wanted a baby more than anything else in her life and when she gave birth she spun into the deepest depression, and she had never been depressed in her life. It took years for her to recover from the idea that the depression was somehow her fault.
I'm a guy so maybe I am not aware of dozens of helpful books about ppd, but this is surely one, and the first I have read, a book that acknowledges there is a kind of widespread cultural sense of shame around not being positively blissful with this whole idea of becoming a mom. Now we know it is a very common thing to have struggles, and specifically to have ppd, but there still seems to be this shaming aspect to it for many people. Maybe in part born of a kind of perfectionism, in part cultural conditioning? Self-blame, I'm not a whole woman, I'm not good at this, what's wrong with me?!
With miscarriage, too. My own mother had a miscarriage a few years before I was born and I never knew about it until I was in my forties! (Some of the women and girls in my family had known about it). And a book I heard about recently, a kind of cultural shaming about menstruation. I say the more books that "normalize" struggle and difference with respect to this process the better. Give this book to every ppd person you know, I say. This book is tough to read in places, but it is ultimately liberating and useful, with lovely, elegant, simple artwork, though you know, I have to say, with some sadness, that she still throughout expresses some guilt that she was "selfish," putting her needs "over" her kids' needs. She still trying to get over this self-blaming and shame, too. :( So it's a process.
Years ago, Brooke Shields wrote about her postpartum depression (PPD) in Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression. I didn't read that book, but as I recall, at the time PPD generally wasn't discussed with anyone other than a therapist. Now there's Dear Scarlet, by Teresa Wong, a story of her PPD but in accessible sequential-art format. Hopefully more books on this topic are on the way.
Dear Scarlet is practically ground-breaking. There's a culture of silence surrounding parenthood. Like so many parenthood difficulties, PPD is taboo for one mom to discuss with another. There's tremendous pressure on new mothers to be only joyful after the birth of their baby. In the eyes of many, to not appear this way, or to express that one feels numb or sad, is to imply lack of love for the new child.
Wong's illustrations are simplistic and unimpressive, but they nevertheless are essential to fully communicate her message, and they do. Although it would have been fine if Wong had written about her PPD in novel format, as Brooke Shields did, I don't think it necessarily would have been better. Sometimes the graphic novel format is more effective for the particular premise, and those who hate to read may be willing to read a sequential-art memoir. This topic in particular needs to be accessible to the masses.
What really matters, though, was Wong's bravery in writing about something people are uncomfortable discussing, and her candor. She held nothing back, as it should be. To sugarcoat PPD would negate the goal of Dear Scarlet. Wong also showed what she did to feel better, so in this way Dear Scarlet is concretely helpful.
I absolutely recommend this short book to all new mothers who have the "baby blues" (which makes them more at risk for PPD), especially those who feel isolated and down on themselves. Dear Scarlet reminds moms that they really aren't alone. It's a true "comfort read."
This graphic memoir was a quick read but intense and full of impact. Wong starts with the birth of her first baby, and the lack of self-worth, isolation, boredom, sadness, and selfishness that consumed her after the birth. Her asking why everyone else seems to have it together except her was all too familiar. Her drawings are sparse, yet emotional sometimes with one stroke. I liked how she showed all the coping mechanisms she used (medication, counseling, exercise) and weaved in lyrics of important songs (esp. Calendar Girl by Stars! And Leonard Cohen. Canadian classics). This is a great book, and I can't imagine how important it would be to me if I'd experienced postpartum depression.
There needs to be more out there about postpartum depression. My mom had it for two of her six kids (one of which was me), and didn't have the support that she desperately needed because it wasn't understood back then like it is today. But it's still not as mainstream as it should be. In addition to being a great snapshot of postpartum depression, this is a great book for anyone with depression of any sort because the strategies are similar. One of my favorite bits in in the postscript, where Wong talks about the Chinese word "ngai" and how it goes further than the English word "endure," in that "ngai" acknowledges that "difficulties are not unusual, and that often life is about waiting it out in a sort of joyless existence." It's a tough but good reminder that we weren't meant to be happy all the time, and that sometimes the most difficult times are the times when family and loved ones have an opportunity to come together in a way that strengthens those relationships that times of happiness don't. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer!
Wong uses a simple, straightforward narrative with simple, straightforward art to tell a deeply painful story of her struggle with depression following the delivery of her first child. Very effective and affecting.
Teresa Wong's illustrated account of her post-partum depression is courageous, funny, and sad -- difficult things for a book to be all at once. She wrestles with her guilt over not being able to breastfeed, feelings of inadequacy and self-blame, but through all of this, still manages to convey the love she feels for her newborn daughter. It's one of the first graphic novels that I can recall frankly addressing PPD, and that alone makes it a standout.
I seem to be reading quite a few books with overlapping themes this year: like this book, New-Hampshire-born poet Heather Christle's 2019 book-length lyric essay The Crying Book also dealt with the subject of depression in the context of mothering a first child through infancy; Emi Yagi's 2022 novel Diary of a Void likewise reconstructed the surprises and absurdities of a first pregnancy, in a country similar to and yet different from the U.S. (Japan in Yagi's case, Canada in Wong's case); Rachel Cusk's 2003 memoir A Life's Work similarly addressed the challenges of caring for a newborn while resisting the loss of one's sense of self as a female creative intellectual.
Dear Scarlet, a 2019 graphic memoir by a Canadian author of Chinese descent, of which a tearjerkingly poignant extended except appeared in 2018 in the great literary journal Ecotone, dovetails wonderfully with this group of other titles. I was especially struck by the resonance between Wong's eventual realization "I don't need to be a good mother -- whatever that even means. I just need to be here." and Cusk's epiphany "that my affection, my silly entertainments, my doting hours, the particular self I tried to bring to my care of her, have been as superfluous as my fury and despair. All that is required is for me to be there; an 'all' that is of course everything, because being there involves not being anywhere else...."
With the birth of her first child, Wong lost a lot of blood, and was weak and exhausted. She felt overwhelmed and struggled with all the challenges, and expectations, of being a new mother. Doubt and sadness, depression . . . eventually she found help, sometimes in unlikely places and small moments.
Finding help is a process, and takes time. This memoir made me think about mothers who don't have the support this one did. While in the hospital, medical care was erratic, but later she did have access to various types of health care advice and assistance, as well as support from her mother, husband, brother, and others.
Having a baby is often reduced —in public— to social media posts celebrating the little dumpling in a cute hat, but parenting is so much more than that, and many of the challenges can feel overwhelming and the circumstances isolating. The expectations themselves (of endless perfect bliss!) can be part of the problem that needs to be managed.
It is a moving memoir about an important topic that needs to be addressed, but also the journey can be extended towards all types of depression. It also speaks to the value of community, and the range of resources that should be available in a mature society.
Reading this book took me right back in time to the birth of my premature first born. It has my mind whirling and wanting to spend some time in quiet reflection. While my heart hurts for the trials and suffering Teresa went through on her postpartum journey(s), it’s also almost relieving to know someone else has been through rough times and ‘gets it’. It’s a short and endearing read which I completed in a waiting room while my son is undergoing oral surgery. It’s a touching tale with lovely illustrations and something I think every mother should read. I can think of a few friends and family members who I’d like to give this to as a gift.
Wow. This book was such an incredible read. The author depicts her experience with PPD in a way that clearly describes how emotionally and physically weakened she felt. She said so much with such simple drawings. I highly recommend this book to anyone struggling with PPD or any form of depression, or wants to learn more about it. It gives you a sense that you are not alone and that there is hope. I received a DRC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
My oldest sister got Postpartum depression after her 3rd kid so this was interesting to read! However it felt too personal as a love letter to her first born to actually fall in love with it. But I definitely liked it!
Teresa Wong has created a heartbreakingly honest graphic novel about her struggle with postpartum depression. PPD is a struggle for so many new mothers and it looks different for each of us. I really identified with Wong’s journey because it’s very similar to my own. Like Wong, I didn’t want to hurt myself or my baby — sometimes I just thought to myself that it would be easier to not wake up. Sadness, isolation, boredom, and grief over the loss of your old life are all common and Wong isn’t ashamed to detail all of these feelings, which is sure to provide reassurance to those who feel completely alone. This took me back to the first few months with a baby and I shed a few tears, remembering the darkness but also the deep appreciation I have for surviving it. It means so much to see a woman sharing their story because it takes away the stigma that often surrounds PPD.
This graphic story reads like a list of all the maladies that can happen following a normal childbirth. It also highlights the valuable role that family and friends can play as the new mother adapts to a new reality. This is a fast read, but it could be helpful to existing parents and grandparents since it touches on all or most of the possibly difficult problems.
Don’t mind me, just crying as I read this in my car while my 2 year old sleeps as we wait to pick up his brother from preschool, reliving some of the harder moments from his babyhood. Such simple drawings and writing but such a big impact. It was just so straightforward and heartbreaking, but also funny. And even though my experience wasn’t nearly as bad as the author’s, I could relate to a fair amount. I love this line in particular: “I was undone by a Coldplay song. How embarrassing.” 🤣
I’m also mad on the author’s behalf for what seems like terrible treatment from the hospital after she’d given birth. They made her husband leave at night!? Even though she’d lost half her blood!?
Teresa does a wonderful job of narrating her experience of postpartum depression. The illustrations were simple and impactful. Her story really resonated with me and I think is important reading for parents as well as for people who love and support parents through these hard early years.
Well this a honest and necessary book about motherhood, so many things goes under taboo about that subject that I think it's really important to start talking to stop this ideal idea about maternal instinct and how people who gestates are just program by nature to manage that highly stressful situation.
I kept thinking while reading this, "I am so grateful to live in a time when there are graphic novels about postpartum depression." For those reading who don't know, I am currently five months postpartum myself and have been diagnosed with PPD and PTSD. I am grateful to live in a time when I can read a graphic novel about PPD because it goes a long way to help remind me that I am not alone in my experience. PPD was simply not talked about in the not-too-distant past and it is becoming more and more normalized and that is going to help a lot of folks cope with it. Wong managed to create something really amazing here- an honest but not too heavy look at living (and recovering from!) PPD. This is so important, in part because it won't turn off readers who haven't experienced it but, mostly because it won't be too hard for (most) people experiencing PPD to read and that is key. And not easy to do. Teresa, if you read this review- thank you. Thank you for writing about your experience, thank you for being so brave, and thank you for helping those of us in the thick of it feel a little less alone. And Katie- if you're reading this review thank you for recommending it to me <3
Memoir as letter and as graphic novel. Wong narrates the traumatic birth of her first child and her subsequent postpartum depression in black-and-white sketches that manage to feel breezy and fun despite the heavy subject matter. “I felt lost. I had no maternal instincts and no clue how I was supposed to take care of a baby,” she writes to Scarlet. “Your first two months in the world were the hardest two months of my life.”
For Wong, a combination of antidepressants, therapy, a postnatal doula, an exercise class, her mother’s help, and her husband’s constant support got her through, and she knows she’s lucky to have had a fairly mild case and to have gotten assistance early on. I loved the “Not for the Faint of Heart” anatomical spreads and the reflections on her mother’s tough early years after arriving in Canada from China. The drawing and storytelling style is similar to that of Sarah Laing and Debbie Tung. The writing is more striking than the art, though, so I hope that with future work the author will challenge herself to use more color and more advanced designs (from her Instagram page it looks like she is heading that way).
Intimate and sparse graphic memoir in which Teresa Wong describes her experience with postpartum depression in the form a letter to her daughter Scarlet. A one-sitting read for me, and definitely a book I'm glad I picked up.
One of those books I won't hesitate to recommend to others -- I think those who can relate will find comfort in knowing they're not alone and those who can't may learn a lot.
3.5 stars? Teresa Wong describes her experience with postpartum depression. I did think a lot of the experiences she describes are actually common to all new moms but regardless it is comforting to know you are not alone. I do wonder somewhat if it is glancing over just how hard it is with PPD or she just didn't want to go into that level of detail?
This book. I didn’t have significant postpartum depression with either child, and I know that makes me incredibly lucky. Even so, there is so much in this book that Is so relatable. It really made me feel and remember the new parent experience in a visceral way. Highly recommend for anyone interested in understanding postpartum depression.
This hybrid memoir speaks of experiences unique to new mothers in a moving, accessible and gentle way. It’s beautiful, and even more so in person. I had the opportunity to be present fir an author reading. It brought me to tears.
DEAR SCARLET is an honest graphic memoir about Teresa’s struggle with postpartum depression after her first pregnancy. Told as a letter to her daughter, Scarlet, this book is an intimate look into the thoughts of loneliness, guilt, and fear that can be experienced by new mothers. This book shows how common PPD can be, even though most people don’t talk about it very openly, and acts as a resource to let others know they’re not alone.
I’m not a mother, and I honestly didn’t know much about PPD before I read this book. I’ve read books where characters suffered from PPD, but didn’t realize what I was reading about. Teresa’s book clearly illustrates PPD in a relatable way, and I empathized with her throughout the story. She also brings a hopeful note to her memoir by showing some solutions and resources that can be used to help those suffering from PPD. I learned so much from this book, and will definitely be revisiting it as I approach motherhood.
Great for those wanting to learn more about postpartum depression, or mental illness in general.
*A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
In spare prose and illustrations, Wong’s memoir details her experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her first child.
Wong’s illustrated memoir was deservedly longlisted for Canada Reads. For you non-Canadians who aren’t familiar with this book accolade, it’s essentially a list of books selected by Canadian celebrities that they believe should be read by all Canadians. And this *should* be read by all Canadians.
While things are getting better, pregnancy is something that is rarely openly discussed. Wong gently breaks down these oft-shut doors with warmth, candor, and an overflow of compassion - both for herself and for all women who experience difficulties around motherhood and birth.
Both her prose and her illustrations are barebones, highlighting the isolating nature of raising an infant under the crippling weight of societal expectations and depression.
Highly recommended. Though very different stylistically, this would make a good read-a-like to Lucy Knisley’s Kid Gloves.
This is a sparse, vulnerable account of the author’s experience with postpartum depression after giving birth. It’s both hard to read and incredible validating, a welcome voice in a world that tells mothers, “Be thankful. Be happy. Put your baby first.” Teresa shows the heartbreaking ways her very real pain (physical and emotional) was ignored and dismissed, and the experience of not being able to pause to address her depression when her newborn needed her.
I found so much to empathize with in her story - the struggles and pressures of breastfeeding, the isolation that comes from being home with a newborn (both boring and hard, as she says), the slow bonding and lack of instant connection that I felt I should have. I loved how her husband advocated for her and prioritized her well being and mental health. And I also want to note that if this is something you want to read but aren’t sure you want to go there - it took me just 20 minutes to read. Also, I laughed out loud a few times, so it’s not all heavy!
I love graphic novels, I love psychology, and I love a good intersection of the two. And this one did it extremely well! I had not read nearly enough about postpartum depression, in my psych undergrad it's mentioned maybe once in passing? Like many, many psychiatric things. But I digress. Mental health is always something we can talk about more andas Wong illustrates here, there is a push for women to just "bounce back" after pregnancy that is really absurd. So, this is really, really great for a basic understanding of what it could be like for someone experiencing PPD (although everyone's experience is different) and how to support them. And, also, just to not be flippant and rude to anyone who mentions they might be experiencing something like PPD.
That feeling when you pick up a book and you're completely immersed in mere moments. That's this book.
The power of this book lies in its honesty. It's a beautifully written, illustrated journey through a story that is unlike my own, yet so relatable because of the way Wong tells it. I can relate to parts about being a new mother and the strangeness that ensues when it happens. When relaying her experience with postpartum depression, Wong isn't asking for your sympathy, she is sharing a space and time she occupied. It's poignant, culturally fascinating and personal. And I love her visual style. Simple, yet emotive enough to convey what it needs to. Thank you for sharing.
I decided I should support the Alberta author on the Canada Reads long list, although a graphic novel about postpartum depression would not normally grab my attention. I rarely read graphic novels, and I know altogether too much about postpartum depression. It was really good, and she could have been describing my own bumpy journey into motherhood. The graphic novel format is simple and easy to read, but tells a surprisingly complete story, and having been there, I can say that it might be the perfect format for a depressed new mother who can't even manage to brush her teeth to read, and realize she is not alone.