Sophie Nélisse as Teen Shauna and Jasmin Savoy Brown as Teen Taissa in YELLOWJACKETS, "Qui"
Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

I Did Not Expect To See Myself In Shauna’s Nightmare Birth On Yellowjackets

As I watched Shauna’s story unfold, I ugly cried and my boobs ached.

Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for episode 6 of Yellowjackets, Season 2.

Content warning: This article contains discussions of infant loss.

Not being able to feed your infant is a horror that feels very much like crashing in the wilderness with no rescue in sight. In episode 6 of Yellowjackets, Season 2, the girls are already in the throes of one form of horror; then Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) finally gives birth to her baby and a fresh new nightmare unfolds — uncomfortably familiar to anyone who has struggled to breastfeed their child.

The wilderness portion of “Qui” focuses on Shauna’s harrowing labor and delivery. As much as the girls desperately want to think of this situation as a typical home birth, it’s most definitely not. At one point, Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) tries to keep Shauna calm by saying, “Women have been having babies for millions of years, you’re gonna be fine.” Nat is trying to be helpful, but a non-pregnant person telling a pregnant woman that she’s going to be “fine” while she’s in the throes of unmedicated labor is strikingly reductive! What Nat says is technically true, but the majority of those women had assistance from a community of midwives and healers with decades and centuries of shared knowledge to call upon. Shauna has no such safety net.

Shauna is surrounded by a supportive community but, as a collective, they don’t know anything useful about childbirth or infant care; with the exception of Misty (Samantha Hanratty), none of these girls even paid attention to the birthing video Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) showed in health class. So, as Shauna’s unmedicated and unmonitored labor progresses, everyone just tries their best to stifle their rapidly rising levels of panic. Travis (Kevin Alves) rips a giant skull off the wall and Lottie (Courtney Eaton) directs him to christen it with his blood. Shauna surely doesn’t know what a birth plan is at this point but, if she did, it probably wouldn’t have included a blood sacrifice.

We know that Shauna doesn’t die in the wilderness, so when the episode reveals that she’s given birth to a healthy boy, it feels plausible. However, as she begins to learn how to care for her infant, a problem arises: She’s having trouble nursing him. The hungry baby screams and screams, and a sense of dread settles over the proceedings as we realize that there’s no other option. Shauna’s starving, he’s starving, and if she can’t produce milk, then the worst will happen.

Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

As I watched this sequence of events unfold, my face ugly cried and my boobs ached. I had recently given birth, I was breastfeeding, and I had to fully resist the urge to go wake my 4-month-old son up just so I could hear him cry. (I managed to hold myself back.) Wallowing in potent postpartum hormones, I realized that the storyline brought back stressful memories from my own first postpartum experience.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I read not one but two books on breastfeeding, only to find out that I still had no clue how to do it when the time came. La Leche League lied: my body didn’t magically just produce unending rivers of milk. My production was low and my daughter had reflux, often spitting up the little I was getting into her. This combination resulted in the breastfeeding consultant at the hospital visiting me multiple times every day. All the professionals were rightfully very concerned about my baby not starving to death, so I filled out the little chart they provided me, dutifully recording every feeding and dirty diaper. After what seemed like an eternity of cluster feeding and sleepless nights, my daughter wasn’t hungry anymore, and I could finally breathe.

Shauna’s breastfeeding struggles are partially rooted in her impossible situation — stranded and starving in the wilderness — but her experience also feels familiar for many beleaguered mothers like me who labor to breastfeed their newborn babies. There’s a lot of societal pressure to breastfeed, but it can be a difficult and often lonely road to travel. Many parents find that they can’t produce milk at all, or that their child has a physical issue, like a tongue tie or allergy, that precludes them from subsisting exclusively off of breastmilk.

In the world of Yellowjackets, Shauna doesn’t have access to anything that would make her feeding journey any easier. Thousands of miles away from the closest lactation consultant, she realizes that it’s just her and her little baby boy against the world. As Shauna lifts her baby to her bruised chest, Natalie softly speculates that Shauna’s body can’t produce milk because she is starving. Shauna has an almost violent reaction to this suggestion, telling Natalie that she’s going to do it. She has to, or her baby is going to die.

Before baby formula, lots of babies tragically died of starvation because their mothers were unable to provide enough milk for them. There was a time not too long ago when there was no alternative for a nutrient-packed food for infants, leaving parents desperate for anything that would help their starving children. During the recent (and ongoing) formula shortage, millions of new parents found themselves in a similar situation to Shauna as they scrambled to source food for their babies. The shortage taught us that the majority of the country knows basically nothing about the myriad challenges of breastfeeding. Public figures, including Bette Midler (!), asked why women didn’t just breastfeed instead of looking for formula. Um, because they can’t? The shame and guilt of not exclusively breastfeeding can be weighty enough without the alarming possibility of no food at all for your child. Shauna’s experience mirrors the breastfeeding guilt that so many new mothers experience when she berates herself for not being able to nurse her son, crying, “Why won’t this work?!” to no one in particular.

When all hope seems lost, Yellowjackets gives us an emotional gut-punch of a scene in which the potency of Shauna’s love is enough to overcome the insurmountable obstacles in the way of her child’s survival. She caresses his tiny face, telling him everything. She didn’t want to be a mom at first, but now she can’t imagine a world without him. In a triumphant moment full of joy and connection, she gets him to latch.

For me, this moment was filled with wonder and recognition. I remember all too well how it felt when my baby finally latched, and it truly was transcendent. There’s a sense of relief, followed by an overwhelming wave of love, courtesy of millions of snuggly oxytocin molecules. Yellowjackets gets the aura of this moment perfectly right, only to wrench it away once more.

Shauna wakes up still bloody in her birthing bed, surrounded by her weeping friends, the normally stoic Tai holding a silent, unmoving bundle of blankets. “He didn’t make it.” Shauna’s memories of her baby boy, her struggle to nurse and her joyful triumph, is just a fever dream from the recesses of Shauna’s starvation-addled mind, one she tenaciously holds onto it even after all hope has been lost. Driven by a vivid and feral performance by young Sophie Nélisse, the reality of the situation annihilates us again and again as we witness Shauna sink into a state of frantic denial, pleading for someone, anyone, to hear her son’s cries.

While the stakes for Shauna are higher than most new parents, these scenes ring true for any parent who has felt guilt over not being able to provide for their child. Anyone who’s ever breastfed a child knows that the process can be bittersweet. While far removed from our reality, Shauna’s story on Yellowjackets represents all those bleary-eyed new parents, binging comfort TV in an effort to stay awake while trying to nourish the new tiny screaming person in their life. The wilderness hears you … and it also recommends that you not binge watch Yellowjackets in the middle of the night.