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How the ‘Girls’ Finale Captured One of the Greatest Struggles of New Motherhood

Image Source: Mark Schafer/HBO

In the penultimate episode of HBO’s Girls last week, we caught our first glimpse of Hannah Horvath’s future, as the single mom-to-be set off to upstate New York to settle into a new teaching gig and a roomy home of her own. But the second-to-last episode — which to many, felt like a finale in itself — also tied up the loose friendship strings between Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa in a way we weren’t expecting.

Appropriately titled “Goodbye Tour,” the episode gave many of its characters (who weren’t always easy to care about) their long-awaited happy endings: Adam’s attempt to be honorable offered him (and us) closure on his relationship with Hannah; Jessa got the guy she wanted, and learned she’s too self-absorbed to become a psychologist after all; Shoshanna got engaged and released herself of her lingering yet toxic friendships; Ray came into an inheritance and found love; Elijah’s talent was discovered, and he’s rewarded with a role in a Broadway show. “Goodbye Tour” closes with even Hannah wearing an almost-triumphant smile, while finally in the driver’s seat of her own life — both literally and metaphorically.

If it were a typical show trading on sentiment, “Goodbye Tour” would more or less be where Girls would have taken its last bow. But Girls’ popularity was never due to playing it safe.

In Sunday night’s finale — with another apropos title, “Latching” — we find Hannah in her new life upstate. She’s being spooned in bed by Marnie, much like she was when we first met the pair back in the series’ pilot episode. But this time, Hannah feels invaded rather than pleased, as Marnie insists on helping a reluctant Hannah raise her baby-to-be, when Hannah — for maybe the first time in her life — is finally ready to go it alone.

We soon fast-forward five months into Hannah’s postpartum world — in which she’s not only cranky and hopeless, but also convinced her new baby boy hates her, because of his constant refusal to breastfeed. Try as she might, he just won’t latch. And the rejection leaves Hannah feeling like a failure.

Feelings of inadequacy can plague new moms in more ways than one, but especially when it comes to breastfeeding ‘failures,’ and all the shame and fear of judgment that comes with it.
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For every mother who has ever struggled to breastfeed, the moment feels all too real. Perhaps more than any other parenting mantra out there, new moms are told “breast is best” ad nauseam. And while the many benefits of breastfeeding (both for bonding and for health) can’t be denied, the struggle is real. In Hannah’s case, the bearer of the mantra is Marnie, who inadvertently annoys her friend rather than supporting her.

Feelings of inadequacy can plague new moms in more ways than one, but especially when it comes to breastfeeding “failures,” and all the shame and fear of judgment that come with it. And Hannah, as it turns out, is no exception.

Maybe that’s one reason she’s downright mean to Marnie for much of the episode, who in true Marnie fashion, ignores what may be going on beneath the surface (or more importantly, right in front of her face) and maintains a sunny disposition. It’s hard to watch their interaction and not see shades of what often occurs between two partners after the baby arrives — with the hormonal new mom often heaping all of her confusing mix of emotions and anger onto her spouse. (Who among us hasn’t been at least a little guilty of that?)

But unlike most of us, Hannah’s despair over new motherhood culminates in a way only Girls show creators could envision — with her walking the neighborhood streets pants-less and barefoot at night.

“You okay, ma’am?” an officer asks, while inching his patrol car alongside a pants-less Hannah. She explains she just had a baby.

Mm. Sounds about right,” nods the officer, with an unspoken understanding and no judgment.

He then drives slowly next to her as she walks, making sure she reaches home safely. Once there, Hannah finds her mother and Marnie sitting on the front stoop, where they make room for her between them. It’s only now that we see Hannah has finally found her village, and soon after that, as if on cue, her baby begins to latch.

It seems the messy, imperfect pieces of new motherhood are starting to fit together for Hannah after all. It won’t be easy, or seamless; and just like all of us, Hannah will undoubtedly find herself facing countless more moments of inadequacy in the future. But as another just-short-of-blissful smile begins to spread across her face, it seems as though Hannah has begun to find her way at last.

Sounds about right for Girls.

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