Over the years, it’s slowly become more and more normalized to talk about the hard parts of new parenthood.
And while real-life parents are sharing their struggles of trying to cope with sleep deprivation and mastitis, TV shows and movies often gloss over some of the darker realities.
Netflix’s film Look Both Ways, refreshingly, isn’t one of them.
The movie stars Lili Reinhart as Natalie, who finds herself taking a pregnancy test the night of her college graduation. From there, two timelines emerge, one based on a negative test result and the other if the test had been positive. The audience watches how Natalie’s life unfolds in both situations, following the evolutions of her career, family life, friendships, and love life.
As a person who loves nothing more than watching warm-fuzzy romance movies, I thoroughly enjoyed Look Both Ways (though, it’s not without controversy). And, as a mom of two young kids, I appreciated this movie because, for once, it got the early days of parenthood right — particularly the guilt-inducing doubt that comes along with them.
About an hour into the movie, we watch Natalie and Gabe (Danny Ramirez) navigate the newborn stage of parenthood. They’re exhausted because their baby stays up all night long. Natalie often sits in her rocking chair pumping milk in the middle of the night as she scrolls through her Instagram feed, obviously envious of her childless (and, theoretically carefree) friends.
And after getting a haircut because she “feels disgusting,” Natalie takes one look at her new look and deflates because she “looks like a mom.” It’s like watching a flashback to the newborn stages of both of my kids.
But, it’s when Natalie’s mom (Andrea Savage) sees her crying on the couch that the movie truly nails the struggle of new parenthood on the head. She sits down next to Natalie and says,
“I want you to know that this is normal. It is. There’s this thing that happens when you get pregnant, no one talks about this, but you mourn a little bit. You mourn the person you used to be because, the fact is, no matter how much you want to be a mom, you’re never not going to be one again… This is a huge brain adjustment. You are letting go of your old self.”
I’m nearly six years into parenting, and this scene still had me in tears — because it’s so true. It’s true that you grieve your former self. And it’s true that no one talks about it. No one warns you. You eventually find yourself, like Natalie, curled up sobbing because you no longer recognize yourself, and if you’re like me, you wonder if you made a mistake.
In a later scene, after having this conversation with her mom, Natalie tells Gabe,
“I just feel like I don’t have a life anymore. ‘Cause I don’t draw, I don’t see my friends, I don’t do anything. I feel like I’m just this.”
While watching this scene, I wanted to reach through my TV and cry with and hug Natalie. Because I get this. Every parent gets this (especially if they’re a birthing parent who sacrificed their body on top of everything else). All of these things that new parents have low-key said to each other, too scared to share with the world, Look Both Ways says out loud.
Instead of pushing the classic narrative that your life somehow becomes so much more fulfilled once you have a baby, this movie tells it like it is. It’s hard—really hard. Pieces don’t magically click into place with the arrival of a baby. You lose parts of yourself that you might not have been prepared to let go of. And even if you eventually find your way back to your former self in the future, it will never be like it was.
I wish someone had told me this before I had my babies. But, like Natalie’s mom says, no one talks about it.