It took five-and-a-half seasons and a little sperm for me to love Girls.
When Hannah Horvath sat in the gyno's office, newly pregnant, totally alone, and surrounded by happy couples, she nonetheless looked comfortable with herself. And for the first time, I was comfortable with her, too.
For the preceding five seasons, she was nothing like me, despite the fact that I’m also a Brooklyn writer with unkempt eyebrows and broke-and-broken lovers and friends. Though I envied her sharp way with words, I found Hannah’s hyper-selfish personality unbearable. But then: Hannah got pregnant, and everything changed.
In episode 5, when she tenderly tells her Mom, “This is my baby,” I felt her, deeply.
Hannah chose single motherhood, too. And everything thereafter felt enormously relatable to me.
I, too, had a baby on my own. I was 38 and used an anonymous sperm donor — so I didn’t travel the exact path as Hannah, in so far as I arrived at pregnancy of my own volition. But Hannah chose motherhood, too. And everything thereafter felt enormously relatable to me. From breaking up with bad friends (in episode 6, she calmly tells Jessa to fuck off), to the ups and downs with good ones (see: Elijah), to that fever dream of popsicles and pain with Adam… I lived those things, too, and I didn’t bother talking to anyone about them because, well, who would get it? I didn’t realize how much I missed being understood until I was — by a show I thought I hated but nevertheless couldn’t quit.
And then there was Hannah’s burst of professional bravado. When she wobbles resplendent through a college campus to nail a job interview, the greatest achievement of her career as long as we’ve been watching, that was me in a muumuu pitching a TV show to Warner Brothers, praying for beginner’s luck, and a breakfast burrito.
It’s no small gesture that this series, which voiced a generation as lazy and entitled up to this point, chose to show a woman kicking life’s ass and coming into her own while pregnant. It eviscerated that cliché of women losing themselves in pregnancy only to become vessels, then graduating to be nothing but a faceless mom.
It eviscerated that cliché of women losing themselves in pregnancy only to become vessels, then graduating to be nothing but a faceless mom.
Pregnancy made me more focused on my work than ever before, and I’m not sure this would have happened if I had a more traditional, partnered life. While I was growing my kid, I sold that TV show and then another one. I filed one of my New York magazine columns, a Sex Diaries entry, from my C-section pre-op room. That Hannah is able to settle into a nice house at this moment in her life isn’t unbelievable, as so many critics have said. It’s her harnessing her newfound empowerment — partially because she has to, as the only adult in the family, but also because pregnancy can make you motivated and inspired in ways that getting peed on in Greenpoint does not.
Speaking of Adam: When he and Hannah get swept away in the idea of co-parenting, I felt both sides of the calculation she was no doubt crunching in her head. I saw the fantasy: not because of some heteronormative ideal that every baby needs a mother and father, but because I could see them doing “family” in a cool and still unconventional way. Then, I cringed: because I didn’t want Hannah to give up the unique autonomy of being a SMBC (single mom by choice). No one can ever tell single parents like us how to raise our children. That is a tremendous comfort most Marrieds can’t have. The way she cries in that diner shows she understands the gravity of what she’s undertaking, and the ultimate fallacy of that fantasy — even if she bought into it temporarily, too.
In letting Hannah continue to be complex, the show never made her choice to become a single mom feel dark. It did bear down into the emotional intensity of what was going on, but it nailed the woozy and enchanting Holy shit, I’m really doing this that a lot of pregnant women feel. I certainly did, with the added glow of a nd I made it happen for myself, which — projecting or not — I saw on Hannah’s face when she floated around the college campus, and later when she danced solo in her maternity overalls, hugging herself. All she needs.
In these scenes, I felt such a sisterhood with Hannah. There were days in my pregnancy that I felt a little lost, and I pushed through it, because, again, w ho would get it? So I had dinner parties, I dated a little, I worked. Hannah flirts on the subway, shops at trinket stores, turns up uninvited at engagement parties. Now I realize why I wept at every episode of her pregnancy — because I finally felt found.
Which is why I felt so betrayed when Hannah regressed to The Worst in the finale. Why, after evolving so much in season 6, did she have to revert to the self-centered stereotypical “millennial” that I resented and despised this whole time? Messy girls like us eventually tidy life up, in our own way and at our own speed. I thought we’d see Hannah handle her shit like the single moms I know. Or at least mostly handle it, like a Loralai Gilmore.
Like me, Hannah had a very privileged single mom experience: Healthy babies, nonstop help from family and friends. We both had safe homes, incoming work, and bright futures ahead. Why didn’t she recognize any of that? Where was the gratitude?
Look, parenting alone can be fucking brutal. I am not discounting the “emotional pain” of breastfeeding difficulties, with or without a partner. When Marni told Hannah to “envelope” her nipple, I think we all felt the daggers coming from Hannah’s eyes. I had to breastfeed my daughter while I violently puked from the flu — literally, breastfeed and vomit at the same time, totally alone, and I was scared as hell. I once had an explosive meltdown at JFK, after missing a flight with my screaming daughter. And that’s all nothing compared to fielding the “every child deserves a father” rant from religious Uber drivers, “concerned” friends, and more busybody internet commenters than I’d like to remember. It never stops being hard to hear. When Dill, Elijah's ex, went on about it, I literally put the TV on mute.
So I’m not begrudging Hannah for coming undone in the finale. No one has it together all the time — yes, even if you’re the only adult on the scene. And single moms need to know it’s okay to let yourself unravel when you need. It just hurt when Girls went from, “This is what family can look like today and let’s celebrate it” to, “Nah, no thanks. No one wants this single mom shit.”
Mostly, I wish they showed the love. Because just as the pressure and exhaustion of single motherhood are real, so is the wild, breathless, lawless love I feel for my daughter, Hazel, now 18 months old. I absolutely love our story. And no matter how ugly the day, I find holiness in our solitude. Glory in our aloneness. Hannah got there by the very last scene, but by then, I was so worn out by the temper tantrums and childishness (sleeping till 11? Running away from home?) that it was hard to see Hannah the Mom in a generous light. Everything was working in her favor except for her. And as a single mom, I took it personally that the show made, arguably the most popular and visible SMBC today, a terrifying (and terrified) mess.
Because as a single mom, whether you lose your friends or you lose your pants, when the show’s over, it’s on you to shine. I wanted that for Hannah. I want it for all of us.
Welcome to Mothership : Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about kids or not, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.
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