[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Season 3 of GLOW. Read at your own risk!]
Of the many subplots in GLOW's third season, one of the most poignant is the subject of mom-shaming and the guilt that comes with trying to balance career ambitions with family life — or choosing not to become pregnant at all.
This season, Debbie Egan (Betty Gilpin) struggles with what it costs her to work in Las Vegas while her baby is still living with her ex in L.A. Her career is (theoretically) on the uptick as she assumes a producer role in G.L.O.W., but she's missing out on little Randy's milestones, and the lack of respect she's given by her fellow producer Bash (Chris Lowell) gives her pause about whether this sacrifice is even worthwhile. Meanwhile, Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) is increasingly unsure if she wants to become a mother, due to the toll it will take on her body — and thus her career — and the hurt she experienced with a previous miscarriage. Both of these women have felt pain related to parenting in the past, but this season their experiences are amplified by additional complications that make their stories even more authentic.
During the first half of the season, Debbie does her best to remain connected to Randy by flying back to L.A. each weekend to see him. But it's still not enough — not for her, as she misses Randy's first steps and faces the possibility that her husband's secretary plays more of a hands-on role in raising her son than she does, and not for others, like the judgmental flight attendant who doesn't seem to approve of her spending just two days a week with her son. What mom hasn't gotten that look at least once?
At first, Debbie feels resentful of the tut-tutting. The man seated next to her on the plane, whom she starts dating later in the season, never gets asked how much time he spends with his kids in between business trips, so why should she have to answer for herself? And why shouldn't she get to live it up a little as a single woman and enjoy her busy work schedule? At the same time, she's gutted by the thought of being away from Randy. She might reject the expectation that she has to be her son's primary caretaker, but she still aches when she's away from him for too long.
As relatable as Debbie's pain is, the show allows her to have even more complicated feelings about motherhood. At one point in the new season, Debbie admits that she sometimes contemplates what her life might be like if she hadn't gotten married or had her son. It's a thought she has trouble saying out loud — she screams it into a pillow — but the confession is honest, and her conflicted emotions feel real.
When G.L.O.W. gets an extended run at the Fan-Tan Hotel and Casino, Debbie considers bowing out and going home. Tammé (Kia Stevens), who once tabled her own dreams to take care of her child and doesn't recommend it, convinces her to bring Randy with her to Vegas. That arrangement presents its own problems. Debbie might not be on the cover of magazines, and, unlike Bash, her name isn't on the casino's marquee, but she still has an active role in producing the wrestling show, and managing staff meetings from the hallway while her son runs around is no easy feat. At one point, while Debbie is distracted, Randy ends up taking an elevator ride down to the casino by himself. Debbie's panic and feelings of inadequacy are familiar to any parent who's lost sight of their child for a second, and being a working mother only adds to her shame.
But Debbie's difficulties are all relatable, even to mothers who aren't pursuing a career. Life is hectic, and there will inevitably come a time when someone looks down on how we handle our broods. No matter how hard those of us who are mothers try to live up to that Pinterest portrait of perfection, the expectations set by both society and ourselves will inevitably trigger self-doubt about our worthiness to shepherd a little life. Whether it's triggered by dropping the kids off to be cared for by someone else, tuning them out to meet a deadline, missing their school play for a meeting, or simply the taking a break from the circus for a spell, regrets will creep in and aspersions will be cast by others. It might look easy to pull a Debbie and sneer back at whoever is passing judgment on how we parent our kids, but often, the insult still sinks in.
Cherry's experience captures a different side of the culture for working mothers. At the start of the season, she and her husband are trying to conceive, but after she meets a talented dance instructor who's had trouble recouping her career as a showgirl after having a baby (a pregnancy she tried to conceal for so long that it wound up affecting her medically), Cherry questions whether she's ready for such a life-altering commitment. Her husband wants a family so badly, but she's not ready to cede her role as provider to him. When Cherry reluctantly admits her doubts, her disappointed husband leaves Las Vegas.
The pressure on Cherry to have a baby will likely ring familiar to a lot of viewers. Her situation is unique in the sense that she has a physical career and needs her fitness to earn a living, but it's common to not want to put one's body through pregnancy and childbirth, even as parents, spouses, or random coworkers try to raise the subject. And the more personal the source of that pressure, the more difficult it can be to grapple with. GLOW may be set in the '80s, but even in 2019, there are still people who pass judgment on the decision not to become pregnant.
At the end of the third season, Debbie makes bold moves to forge a new professional path that won't require her to be away from Randy as much, and Cherry's husband returns to Vegas and suggests adopting a child so he can be a stay-at-home dad as her career moves forward. But as the dance instructor's story demonstrates, not everyone is so fortunate. Some mothers will just have to keep compartmentalizing their guilt or shame indefinitely and keep smiling for everyone else's sake. Even if Debbie and Cherry find solutions, those solutions are imperfect — Debbie's in particular. The messy feelings they're processing are intensely familiar, and in Season 3, GLOW explores them with a refreshing level of honesty and self-reflection.
GLOW Season 3 is available on Netflix now.
PHOTOS: GLOW Season 3