Parents

'Girls' Breastfeeding Finale Gave An Honest Look At New Motherhood

Even the most self-assured woman can feel like she's failing.
04/17/2017 12:17pm ET | Updated April 17, 2017
HBO
Hannah during "Girls" series finale.

For a show that has reveled in the misadventures of youth, “Girls” cast a pretty accurate picture of the responsibilities of new motherhood in its finale Sunday night.

The final episode, “Latching,” centers around Hannah’s attempt to get her baby (in classic “Girls”-ian fashion, named “Grover”) to latch on so that she can breastfeed.

The episode takes place five months after Grover’s birth, and Marnie and Hannah have both moved to the country to take care of the baby. Despite having spent his first six weeks breastfeeding, Grover now refuses to take the breast and Hannah is pumping constantly to bottle-feed him.

“There are a million other ways that such ideals lead women to believe they’re not doing motherhood “right.””

“Sometimes there’s something ― the chemistry, the fit, it’s just off,” the doctor tells Hannah, exacerbating her fears that her baby “hates” her. Ever-dedicated to appearances, rule-loving Marnie upholds the sanctimonious ideal of motherhood, as she reads to Hannah from parenting books and says things like, “There’s a reason they call breast milk ‘liquid gold.”

“Girls” chose breastfeeding, but there are a million other ways that such ideals lead women to believe they’re not doing motherhood “right.” In many cases, there is literally no way to do it right, which is why even the most self-assured woman can fall victim to fears that she’s somehow failing at being a mother.

Hannah’s also trying to come to terms with her new identity, wondering if she’s supposed to lug around her breast pump all day at her new teaching job and asks what she’s supposed to do “if there’s a student [she] wants to fuck.” “Girls’” relationship with nudity comes full-circle, as Hannah’s breasts are shown just as casually as they have been for the last six seasons ―only this time, in the sexless context of breastfeeding.

Hannah is struggling to keep it together. “I can’t do anything,” she explains frantically to Marnie as the baby cries. “I’m still bleeding from my vagina!,” she yells at her mother during a long litany about the physical indignities of new motherhood. In a moment every parent can relate to, Hannah looks at her baby while whispering: “You’re being just a little bit of an asshole.”

During the “Inside This Episode” feature that follows the show, Executive Producer Judd Apatow says, “We started talking about postpartum depression and her mental health issues coming up again.” Ultimately, the episode is about the ways that being a new mother drives you crazy, a perspective that feels less authentically explored than it should be by now.

“Everyone whose life has been changed by parenthood can relate to the difficulty of transitioning to the extreme sacrifice and selflessness it requires.”

This, along with Hannah’s concerns about what kind of man she’s capable of raising, made me wish the show had more seasons to portray parenting as realistically as it did the experiences of a certain type of young single woman.

In a way, both the pilot episode of “Girls,” when Hannah’s parents cut her off financially, and the finale are about accepting responsibility that would be easier evaded.

Hannah has been particularly selfish throughout the run of “Girls,” but everyone whose life has been changed by parenthood can relate to the difficulty of transitioning to the extreme sacrifice and selflessness it requires.

As Hannah’s mother reminds her, becoming a parent isn’t a choice you can take back. It isn’t a “temp job.” It’s “forever.”

Ultimately, “Latching” ends with a close-up of Hannah’s peaceful face as her baby finally accepts her breast and she hums a song she hates over the closing credits, leaving us with the sense that Hannah is maybe going to be able to leave her narcissism behind after all.

“It’s all about trying to reconcile that anxious, addled, selfish person with the fact that someone else needs her now,” Dunham told The New York Times. That pretty much sums it up. For parenthood, and for “Girls.”

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