- Heartache for Hannah – M&J: #116 (10 August 1993) – #127 (16 October 1993)
- Art: Maria Dembilio
Hannah Littleton gets on great with her young stepmother Jill, and is delighted when she hears she is going to have a baby sibling. But after a difficult labour and the arrival of baby Thomas, things change for Hannah. While she is happy to have her brother, Jill suddenly becomes more distant, telling her to no longer call her mum. At first Jill thinks it because she has her own baby now, but soon she notices Jill doesn’t make any effort with him either. The house is getting messy and Jill doesn’t take care of herself like she used to. Worried that her family may break up, especially after fights between Jill and Dad and comments he makes, Hannah starts trying to cover for Jill.
One such times is before a health visitor arrives for check-up, Hannah comes home on her lunch break to clean the house, and because she is spending her time covering for Jill, this starts to affect other things in Hannah’s life. While her dad is working late a lot, Hannah does the cooking and housework which means she is getting bad marks for her rushed homework and on occasion is late for school. Hannah continues to be dismayed as well at Jill’s attitude towards Thomas like when they are out for a walk and Jill says she doesn’t understand people complimenting Thomas as he’s just another baby. When Hannah attempts to get Jill interested in cooking again by hoping she will join her when she does a big batch cook, her plan seems to work at first and Jill actually perks up and helps, but her mood changes completely when Thomas cries. Every-time Jill seems to get back on track, something happens with Thomas, like when she gets a new dress and he spits up on it, or when she tries to get back to exercise and Tomas keeps her awake all night. Jill says whats point of having nice things or pretending she has time for exercise with a baby around.
While dealing with Jill’s mood swings, and trying to keep things secret Hannah falls out with her best friend because of her unexplained behaviour. At home there are even more arguments when her Dad tells his mother that Jill won’t be going back to work, something Jill never agreed to. He has old-fashioned ideas that Jill should stay home to look after the baby. Hannah continues to try and make things better and help, but everyone is miserable. Then Jill accidentally leaves Thomas in his pram in the shop while she is carrying the shopping. Once she realises she is panicked and so grateful to get her son back, as she would be devastated if anything bad happened to him. Hannah is relieved to see she does actually love Thomas and after Jill talks to her husband about how she is struggling, they call the health visitor to come talk. While not mentioned by name it’s implied that Jill has been suffering from post-natal depression, and now she can start getting the support she needs. Hannah realises that by covering for Jill, she wasn’t helping as the actual problem wasn’t being addressed. Hannah’s father also apologizes realising how insensitive he was and they actually agree about Jill going back to work when Thomas is a little older, as her career is still important to her. Hannah is happy to see her family back joking together and while it will take time to recover she knows they will be okay.
There’s a lot going on in this story, and while family drama was common in these comics, I haven’t seen this specific topic addressed before. It talks about how difficult Jill’s labour was and while not named it is recognizable that Jill has post natal depression, along with that is the generational gap between her and her husband, and the issues that causes with his ideas of a traditional family. All this of course from the viewpoint of a daughter, who doesn’t understand the best way to help her step-mother is to ask for support else where. The story is well written handles the topics deftly.
Being a mother now my sympathy is with Jill, while I was lucky not to have post-natal depression, it is not always easy to manage being a new mom. Luckily I have a supportive partner, while Hannah’s dad, Michael,was not very understanding for a lot of the story, like early on commenting that she’s not making an effort with her appearance and such is a bit much, especially when she had such a difficult 12 hour labour. At least Gran seems to be on Jill’s side , pointing out she just had a baby, pity she’s not around more to help out. While he does help out with Thomas which is good (though again it seems doing a nappy change and feed constitutes helping, which Hannah also does), it seems he expects Jill to keep up her appearance and do housework and look after Thomas, with no acknowledgement of what a big lifestyle change has happened. His comments and their fights is also what leads Hannah to try and cover by doing housework, which obviously causes lots of other problems with Hannah’s school and friends.
In the early 90s it was still more common for women to give up their jobs for being stay-at home moms, but in Jill’s case this is not something she wants to do. Even worse Michael doesn’t discuss this properly with Jill and tells his own mother first that Jill won’t return to work. Jill is understandably furious at this, and Michael still won’t negotiate he won’t even consider a creche or a nanny (having him give up his career instead is never even mentioned as an option). He also seems to be expecting her to do as his first wife did, not considering they are different people and that Jill is only 23. Even these days mothers trying to keep their careers and sharing parenting more evenly with partners is a struggle, so it’s interesting that it was being discussed in this story from nearly 30 years ago.
The 20 year age gap between them obviously doesn’t help things either, Jill is only 22 at start of story just after they marry, presumably by the end she must be 23, while people can be in relationships with large age gaps, it’s still a bit concerning that they must have started dating when she was only a few years out of school and there is only 10 years between her and Hannah, and obviously there were some things they didn’t communicate properly (like Jill’s career plans). Clearly these issues don’t really appear until the baby arrives, at least by the end they seem to be on the road to recovery again, and joking and happy together.
While these days I am quite identify with the character of Jill, of course the main protagonist of the story is Hannah. Having to shoulder so much responsibility at a young age is difficult, and fearing that her family will break up and hearing her parents fight all the time is not a healthy environment to be in. It is quite hurtful for Hannah when Jill tells her not to call her “mom” anymore, as they had previously had such a good relationship. The instinct to cover things up both at home and at school, is a lot of young people’s experience, and we see how this impacts on the other aspects of her life. In this case it is nice things have a happy ending, and it is good that Jill reassures Hannah it wasn’t her fault for trying to hide things she knows she meant well. Going forward they should hopefully all be able to communicate and support each other better. It is one of the stories that really holds up well on a reread, it is well written and Dembilio’s art is a good choice to capture the family drama.