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Babes Creators Say the Pregnancy Comedy Is Not ‘Raunchy.’ It’s ‘Realistic’

9 minute read

What if the millennials of Broad City had kids? In Babes, that show's co-creator Ilana Glazer stars as Eden, a woman who gets pregnant and leans on her lifelong bestie Dawn (Michelle Buteau), who has two kids of her own, as she prepares for motherhood. Together they endure gigantic amniocentesis needles, unexpected leakages, and pregnancy-related horniness. Glazer co-wrote the movie and enlisted Pamela Adlon, who tackled the complexities of single parenthood in her critically acclaimed FX dramedy Better Things, to direct.

The movie brings motherhood in all its joyful messiness to the big screen. It struck a particular cord with this TIME writer who watched the film while her six-month-old baby was down for a nap. Glazer, Buteau, and Adlon spoke with TIME about why there's so much negative media about motherhood in the world, how to maintain friendships after you have a baby, and the cathartic experience of destroying a breast pump.

Read More: The Final Season of Better Things Is Pamela Adlon's Masterpiece

You all have children of different ages. What was it like revisiting that newborn stage in the movie?

Buteau: Having boy-girl twins, I remember being so tired changing a diaper in the middle of the night, and I started to cry because I was like, “Baby girl, you have a penis now.” And my husband was like, “That’s the boy.” You forget so much of that. Thank God, Pamela was able to draw out the blackout moments.

Adlon: I would write down all the cute things the first kid would say, and by the third kid, she was like, “What about all the cute things I say?” And I don’t even know. I left that kid twice: once at a birthday party and once in a car when I parked at a valet. That’s what happens when you get to your third kid.

Ilana, you said you’ve been pleasantly surprised by parenthood because so many books and movies and TV shows focus on how difficult motherhood is.

Glazer: I just taped my stand-up hour that I’ve been touring for the past year, and that’s the theme: I’m shocked by the joy of motherhood. I think it is positive that public discourse has made a space for parents to admit that it’s not easy or wonderful all the time. But I also think social media algorithms convince us through fear to buy sh-t: “Don’t trust your instincts. Buy my dumb thing, and I’ll tell you how to do it.” We’ve also been trained to hold a reductive binary: You’re either a happy mom or an angry mom. Whereas a show like Better Things, there’s actually room to hold complexity. I think Babes also captures those layers.

Adlon: The reality is, we can have the baby in the alley, bite off the umbilical cord, tie it off ourselves, feed it, change it. We’re getting so far away from our humanity when we’re buying 20 of a different thing for our kids. My kids used pacifiers, and with the first one, if it falls on the ground, you’re like, “Kill it! Burn it!” And then by the third one, you take it out of a pile of vomit on the street and are like, “This is fine.”

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There seems to be a specific anxiety among the newest generation of parents to “get things right,” to hack your way to the best baby. The momfluencers are all about optimizing sleep, optimizing eating.

Glazer: I think the mom influencers are benevolent and there can be good information that comes from it. But women also just need to talk to each other. Michelle and I have been friends for 20 years, and we talk like it. These characters speak the way that women talk, which we heard from the industry is seen as “raunchy” or “gory.” I’m like, “I think you mean realistic, but you haven’t spoken to a woman in a minute because this is how we’re talking to each other.”

Untitled Pregnancy Project
(L-R) Ilana Glazer and Michelle Buteau star in BabesGwen Capistran

Dawn and Eden struggle with how their relationship changes when Dawn has a second baby. This is very real for a lot of new moms: You can’t be spontaneous anymore. There’s a gulf that opens up between people with kids and people without kids.

Glazer: You really can’t know before you have a kid. It’s been three years now that I’ve been a parent, and I’m just finding my footing again being a social member of my community. Watching Eden and Dawn talk it out, that’s the healthiest version of the conversation we could conjure. In real life, there’s a lot I wish I could say to my best friends, but I can’t. 

Adlon: It’s inevitable that you lose people in your life because you’re sitting there at dinner with your childless friends, and your children are screaming, and your friends want to finish their story, and you have to do 70 other things. You’re like, “Let’s take a raincheck on this particular friendship.” 

With Eden and Dawn, Dawn got the dream. She has the supportive dream husband, the dream house, the dream kids, and she feels like she got slammed into a brick wall. How do you deal with that when you theoretically have every blessing, but you feel like you’re walking through molasses? The idea that you could actually have a conversation with your friend and find a way through it—that’s what I hope for your generation. 

It’s sometimes easier to be honest with a partner than a friend.

Buteau: I’ve been married for 15 years. I’m constantly working on communication with my husband through therapy and patience. But to have a hard conversation with my friend, the confrontation—will we still be friends afterwards? It spins me out just thinking about it. 

Glazer: It’s true. With your partner, you’re locked in, especially once you have kids. You take that leap of faith constantly. There’s more trust that you’ll stay together because there’s an infrastructure to stay together. That doesn’t happen with friends. These two friends draw boundaries, and that takes effort. But the relationship is stronger and healthier for it.

Pamela Adlon on the set of BabesCourtesy of Neon

There is a set piece in the movie in which Dawn and Eden destroy Dawn’s breast pump because pumping has become this physical and mental burden for her. At the time I watched the film, my 6-month-old daughter had started biting me while breastfeeding. I was pushing myself to keep going through weeks of pain. And after watching that scene, I was like, “Why am I doing this to myself?”

Glazer: That scene actually came from my co-writer Josh Rabinowitz’s experience. Before that scene, Dawn’s husband Marty, played by the totally delicious Hasan Minhaj, tries to be so supportive by telling her it’s OK to stop. And she is resenting him for his support. But I think Marty’s support is what teed her up to finally let go and destroy that breast pump.

I cannot imagine being the partner of the pregnant or breastfeeding person. I am much more comfortable being the one tortured than feeling helpless. What can you do as the partner but give emotional support?

We've been trained to hold a reductive binary: You're either a happy mom or an angry mom.
- Ilana Glazer

But we have expectations. And again I think this binary thinking about parenthood is so violent: Did you succeed or fail? Are you good or bad? It’s so reductive and dehumanizing. We should find joy in what we do for our children and joy in letting go. I’m thrilled it had that effect on you. It sounds like it was empowering.

Yes, but also I feel sad when she reaches for it and I have to say, “That store is closed.”

Buteau: I had my twins via surrogacy, so I didn’t have that experience of breastfeeding. But when I was going to the hospital, I really wanted to have that first feeding be breastmilk. I had a couple of friends—angels—who were breastfeeding, so they pumped and put it on ice for me. But the twins were so premature that they needed formula anyway to get those extra calories. So as Pamela has said, you can always plan, but life goes a different way. And then you beat yourself up for doing a good job.

Adlon: And like, Eliana, you did it. You made it six months. When I had my first daughter it was 1997. I did six months with my first kid, and I felt like a hero. Then I did six months with my second kid. Then the American Association of Pediatric Lactation Nipple Police said a year. So I felt something between shame, knowledge, and challenge—three words you often grapple with when you’re a new mom. So I went 18 months with my third. I was like, I’m going to go hard. But I remember being on a bus in New York City in the ‘80s seeing a woman breastfeed her six-year-old who was the size of Steph Curry.

Roe v. Wade was overturned when you were about to start shooting. In the movie, Eden gets pregnant unexpectedly and makes the choice to keep the baby. Did the new restrictions to abortion access change the way you dealt with that choice?

Adlon: When we were shooting [the scene where Eden and Dawn discuss the pregnancy], we used words that were so simple, like the way you would talk in kindergarten. “It’s your choice. Whatever you choose, I will be there for you.” We have to simplify it to that extent because people have become so manipulated.

Glazer: Beyond the horrors of forced labor, forced birth, and forced parenting, besides the sadism that goes into these politicians working to make laws to abuse women and children—the thing that still felt the most important was to see women talking the way they talk to each other about this choice. I think that can lead us back to policy that protects women.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com