This is, hopefully, the last thing I’ll write before going on parental leave. At this point late in twin pregnancy, I’m less a functioning professional person than a bad Ron Burgundy impression, chugging smoothies and bellowing “I am COMPLETELY MISERABLE” at anyone caring and unwise enough to check in. First, walking turned into waddling, then waddling turned into hobbling, and now I’m in a place where anything approaching a gentle incline requires the services of someone who’ll push me from behind, like I’m an obstinate grocery-store cart. My feet and ankles look like popovers. Did I mention that there’s a pandemic and it’s high summer and masks are mandatory? The past month has been most notable for a series of sharp pelvic pains called “lightning crotch,” or, if you’re in the U.K., “fanny daggers.” (The names don’t make the pain less objectionable, but they did give me an idea for a fabulous transatlantic superhero series.)
None of this is news to anyone who’s ever been pregnant. I hadn’t been before; it was a real shock to me. “I don’t resent being pregnant,” Amy Schumer says in the first episode of Expecting Amy, her gorgeous, occasionally gross, and excruciatingly candid HBO Max miniseries documenting the months before she gave birth to her son, Gene. “I resent everyone who hasn’t been honest.” The process of making babies can be, it turns out, strikingly terrible. Not the making them making them part, although that can be terrible too—in my case, it involved several years, surgeries, hormone shots, and daily internal ultrasounds that made me bizarrely intimate with my fertility doctor. (I’m still a little aggrieved that this man got me pregnant and then totally stopped calling.) But the growing of them, the cultivation of things that go from tiny blobs on a screen to bigger blobs to wriggly aliens with oversize heads to things that start to look like actual babies and are strong enough to physically wind you. It is the strangest, most painful and stressful and joyful thing I’ve ever done. Expecting Amy captures it to an uncanny degree.
Still, the series is more than a portrait of a fiendishly complicated pregnancy. (Schumer suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition marked by severe, prolonged nausea that lasts well beyond the first trimester and in her case led to several hospitalizations for dehydration.) It documents how, while enduring sickness beyond anything she’d been prepared for, Schumer continued to work, embarking on a 60-show tour of 42 cities and putting together a Netflix special called Growing. Filmed in part on phones by Schumer and her husband, the chef Chris Fischer, and directed and edited by Alexander Hammer (who edited Beyoncé’s Homecoming), Expecting Amy relies on its subject’s total exposure. We see Schumer vomiting repeatedly; we sit in on her sonograms. (When the baby is the size of a pea, she quips, “You’re going to get bigger, and we don’t want you to be body-shamed. Eventually you’ll be the size of a lima bean, and that’s fine.”) The camera captures the suction pumps attached to her breasts postpartum, and even, for a second, reveals her internal reproductive organs while her baby is being born by Cesarean section.
This kind of physical and emotional frankness feels instinctive to Schumer, even as it takes such an obvious toll on her that you wonder whether it’s worth it. In one scene, riding the train to a show on Long Island, she takes the phone from someone who’s snapped a picture of her and sent it to a friend. Her face freezes when she reads the reply. “He’s not really a fan,” the bystander sheepishly confesses. Schumer asks why he’d send a picture to someone who hates her in the first place. Her willingness to offer up so much access to herself, though, sometimes feels like a similar impulse. Anyone who’s watched Schumer’s comedy or followed her on social media knows that her extreme honesty comes not just from extroversion but also from a desire to connect. In January, she shared a photo of her bruised abdomen, splayed by a wide, purple Cesarean scar, and revealed that she was undergoing IVF. She asked her followers who’d undergone the same process to share their advice and experiences with her. In Expecting Amy, she reveals a little about what she hopes to give in return. “I would imagine it’s a lot like what having kids is like,” she says of performing through pain. “Whatever you’re going through, you have to be strong for your kids … This is their time, this is the audience’s time, and I’m doing it; I’m doing the best I can.”
Throughout Expecting Amy, viewers see that, for Schumer, the process of creating comedy is inextricably tied to what she’s experiencing. Her work is a huge, but not all-consuming, part of her life. She experiments with versions of the same joke—a bit on male ineptitude and laziness during sex—over and over in different cities until it’s finally, undeniably perfect. She tests out different venues and concepts. More than making people laugh, “I think the doing, the making, is what she loves the most,” her agent says to the camera. Schumer does all this while contending with serious illness. The first day she’s supposed to film Growing at a comedy club, she’s hospitalized instead because she’s been vomiting for hours and can’t even keep down water.
How does it feel to see all of this in a TV series? Probably, for a lot of people, alarming. I felt relief so profound, I cried. I haven’t suffered from anything as serious as hyperemesis, but with twins, I had twice as many hormones in my body and twice as much nausea. At work, I had to find the only single-stall bathroom in the building, two floors up, and hope the elevator would arrive quickly enough for me to make it there without incident. On the sickest day of my pregnancy, I left to interview Rose McGowan ahead of the Harvey Weinstein trial while doubting that I’d manage not to vomit on her. (I didn’t, and Weinstein went to prison, so a win on both counts.) To try to do your job while physically and emotionally debilitated, and to have to hide that debilitation from everyone because it’s still too early to know whether the pregnancy will work out, is quite an ask. Expecting Amy, in that sense, doesn’t just demystify pregnancy. It promises that pregnant people can do more than merely get through the day—that they can even continue to create and be enriched (as well as depleted) by what they’re going through. And—spoiler—it has a happy ending. “Everyone was saying it would be worth it,” Schumer says, after she gives birth and a simple surgery to repair her uterus turns into a three-hour ordeal. “But it’s like, I would have done so much more to meet him.”