“Japanese society is very hard on pregnant women and mothers”

“Japanese society is very hard on pregnant women and mothers”

MAINTENANCE – The designer recounts her pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum in I’m going to be a mom!a very personal but universal comic strip.

She became known in France with her excellent album Daru-chan, which offered a subtle reflection on the weight of social constraints in Japan. The mangaka Lemon Haruna is back this fall with a more personal book, I’m going to be a mom!, which has just been published by Éditions du Lézard Noir (1). In this comic, the author recounts without tweezers the painful memories around her first pregnancy eight years ago. Autobiographical story of universal significance – sometimes dramatic, humorous and pragmatic –, I’m going to be a mom! reveals the ordeals experienced by so many often misunderstood mothers, without avoiding the question of postpartum depression. Especially in Japan, where social pressure traditionally enjoins them to silence their suffering. “If this book can console even one person, then it will have been worth drawing it for me”, writes Lemon Haruna in the preamble. Meeting with a line designer as minimalist as it is impactful.

Miss Figaro. – In the foreword to I’m going to be a mom!, you almost apologize for having experienced a painful childbirth. Why is it so difficult to speak openly about the suffering, physical and mental, associated with motherhood?

Lemon Haruna. – This has changed a lot in recent years, but until very recently, in Japanese society, the fact of giving birth to a child and becoming a mother was only superficially and exclusively referred to as a source of happiness. Magazines and books on motherhood and childrearing only presented the positive aspects, such as the joy of becoming a mother or how adorable the children are, and implicitly talking about the negative aspects was considered inappropriate. In my opinion, what disturbs the most is that by saying “it’s hard to be a mother”, we can potentially hurt our own children.

In video, the trailer for “Post-partum the documentary”

In a recent interview with Figaro,the mangaka Akane Torikai denounced the idealization of pregnancy and motherhood, which denies the suffering of women. Is it risky for a public figure to assume such a discourse?

It may not be without risk, but the fact that celebrities publicly admit that it was a difficult experience may be enough of a relief for many women, and I feel that today the trend is rather to highlight these aspects. I also think that Japan is at a turning point in terms of values. Social propriety no longer necessarily takes precedence over individual well-being and it is now easier to express one’s suffering.

The comic strip is constructed as a succession of yonkoma (manga in four panels arranged vertically), a “common format for autobiographical manga”, explains the author. You should start reading in the upper right corner and then read from top to bottom. Lemon Haruna / The Black Lizard

During your pregnancy, you suffer from violent nausea, chronic fatigue and back pain. However, you want to continue working for as long as possible, in order to honor your professional commitments but also for fear of not having any more offers afterwards. What should be done to improve this very stressful situation for mangakas?

This is a problem that is difficult to solve on an individual scale. In the absence of guarantees, all a woman can do is “give her best as much as possible”. If pregnancy and childbirth were better understood socially and if there were guarantees for pregnant women carrying out an independent activity, that could alleviate a little the stress they feel, but that seems difficult to me as long as the mentalities and the politics do not change. What I felt having children myself is that Japanese society is very harsh on pregnant women and mothers. I am convinced that this harshness is due to society’s ignorance of the experiences of women. I hope that a manga like mine can help change public opinion.

In your manga, you say that during the days following your delivery, you have a lot of trouble breastfeeding your child who refuses to take the breast. The latter is also extremely painful because it is engorged with milk…

After the birth of my son, I was guided only by a sense of duty. All that mattered was keeping him alive. I remember wanting to die because I was in so much pain, then telling myself that I couldn’t allow myself to think so since my death would necessarily have harmed my son. After a while, as I described in the manga, his facial expressions started to change and became funny, cute and more and more endearing, and it was this joy that allowed me to possess.

I remember wanting to die because I was in so much pain, then telling myself that I couldn’t allow myself to think so since my death would necessarily have harmed my son.

Lemon Haruna

The realistic representations of the baby contrast with the simpler graphic style of the other characters. Lemon Haruna / The Black Lizard

Your husband seems determined to help you, but you say you don’t have the strength to complain or explain the situation to him. What advice would you give to someone whose partner has just given birth?

If you are not the one giving birth, then try as much as possible to be fully capable of changing nappies, preparing the bottle, bathing, carrying and dressing the baby before your partner gives birth. Obtain all the childcare equipment in advance and be ready to manage everything yourself as soon as the baby arrives at home. In the worst case, a woman can die in childbirth. Keep this possibility in mind and be prepared to take care of the baby on your own. Of course, this is all purely theoretical, and in fact, two of you will probably be helpless every day because you don’t know how to do it. But if at that time you can take the initiative to take care of your baby and thus allow your partner, who has bled profusely and whose body is bruised from childbirth, to rest during at least a month, then there will be a strong bond between you that you will cherish all your life.

“Each path of life has its joys and its sufferings”, says the designer. Lemon Haruna / The Black Lizard

Once back home, the daily routine is hellish, but your mother comes to give you a hand. Except that you argue violently and she leaves almost immediately… What do you think is the best way, for family and friends this time, to help a woman who has just given birth?

If you’re close enough to the mother to get involved, you can just say, “I’ll take care of the baby for an hour, take this time to sleep!”, and she’ll shed tears of joy. These are times when you are so exhausted that you would do anything to get even ten saving minutes of sleep. Also, don’t impose your values ​​on him. According to times and people, there are a thousand ways to raise a child. What will do him the most good is if you respect his way of doing things and sincerely think about how to give him even ten minutes of respite.

Cover of I’m going to be a mom!by Lemon Haruna. The Black Lizard

Subsidiary question: why this nickname, Lemon Haruna?

When I was thinking about a pen name, I had the idea to keep my real first name, Haruna, and attach something easy to remember. I had in mind authors who had chosen a fruit as a pseudonym, such as Banana Yoshimoto and Ringo (“apple”, NDLT) Shiina. So I looked for a fruit that no one else used, and settled on lemon. I told myself that if I drew my self-portrait with a lemon on the head, it would be remembered even better.

Thanks to Léa Le Dimna for the translation.

(1) I’m going to be a mom!by Lemon Haruna, translated by Miyako Slocombe, Le Lézard Noir, 128 pages, 11 euros.

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