I am being tongue-in-cheek at the end of this post, it seems really bitter, and it is in some ways, but it is also my way to blow off steam in a semi-humorous way (I hope).
I don’t watch a lot of television. This is partly because I’d rather be doing something than watching something, and partly because my husband is given a housing allowance as a Methodist minister and we try to live within that allowance. When we did have cable for a short time I totally zoned out on the TLC program “a baby story” which was not the best show for me to watch while struggling with infertility, so I’m glad we don’t have cable anymore.
But lately, even with just getting the three main TV networks on our TV I have noticed a trend in TV plot lines.
Infertility. It’s the new ‘sexy’, it’s the new plot twist. TV shows have crazy plot lines, but no longer is the scandal of your favorite TV show the fact that the handsome lead just slept with his wife’s sister who is actually a double agent for the Russians. Now the dramatic new plot twist is the handsome lead actor and his amazingly gorgeous wife can’t get preggers.
The shows I have noticed this on are ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘Rules of Engagement’, ‘Mad Men’, and ‘How I Met Your Mother’. I don’t watch ‘Mad Men‘ and I only occasionally watch ‘Rules of Engagement‘ but have started watching it more to see how they handle this topic.
In ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ the lead character, Meredith Grey, gets pregnant but miscarried during a traumatic event. She then subsequently can not get pregnant again.
In ‘Rules of Engagement’ the characters of Audrey and Jeff struggle with infertility and explore IVF and surrogacy.
In ‘How I Met Your Mother‘ the characters of Marshall and Lily have trouble getting pregnant and Marshall sees a specialist to see if he is infertile.
Do I like that infertility is getting more attention and becoming less taboo? ABSOLUTELY.
But these shows portray infertility in typical ‘hollywood’ fashion. The infertile couple is devastated by their infertility, but overcome it in a world where money is not an issue with some hilarious slapstick inserted along the way. There are some things I like/dislike about each of the shows I watch that portray infertility.
In ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Meredith’s miscarriage was devastating. I burst into tears and I think this is a ‘positive’ because it portrayed just how devastating a miscarriage is. It also showed a little bit into the emotional toll and dynamic between Meredith and her husband, Derek. It portrayed how hard it can be to talk about your emotions about a miscarriage even between a husband and wife. I also really liked that recently it showed the possible dangerous side effects of fertility drugs when Meredith started to lose her vision due to a fertility drug she was on. Fertility drugs and fertility treatments have often been portrayed in the media as ‘quick fixes’, just pop a pill or do an “easy” IVF cycle and you get a kid, or two!
In ‘Rules of Engagement’ Audrey and Jeff ultimately decide to use a surrogate to conceive a child. There is a scene where Audrey and Jeff are allowed to look into the microscope to see their fertilized embryo and are later in the room when their surrogate has their embryos transferred in. This scene pissed me off. During our IVF process I kept asking if Jacob could be in the room when they transferred the embryos into me. I was told it was a possibility. Day of transfer ‘nurse ratchet’, the one who stabbed me with needles, made the final call and said “no.” If you have not struggled with infertility you might not understand why this was so upsetting. IVF is a very clinical process, it takes the act of making a child and turns it into a scientific process. So while I was able to watch our embryos being transferred into me on the ultrasound screen, Jacob was denied the right to even be in the room with me essentially when I ‘got pregnant’.
This show also doesn’t talk about the HUGE financial and emotional toll of surrogacy. Surrogacy law is extremely tricky and varies widely from state to state. In some states you can not enforce a surrogacy contract, meaning the surrogate could keep your baby. Additionally cost estimates for traditional surrogacy range between $40,000 and $65,000 and for gestational surrogacy, between $75,000 and $100,000¹. Yeah, let me just whip out my checkbook. However the show did include in the plot line that their first attempt at getting their surrogate pregnant failed. Though here is my prediction for the show: They get the surrogate preggers and then ‘miracle of miracles’ they also get pregnant. If this happens, remember, I totally called it.
On ‘How I Met Your Mother’ the characters of Marshall and Lilly struggle to get pregnant. Marshall fears he may be the cause of their infertility and goes to a specialist where he is reassured that his in fact ‘super fertile’. While I like that this show discussed the even more taboo subject of male infertility it ultimately caved to societal norms that say men are ALWAYS fertile and if a man does have a fertility issue it must mean he is not a ‘real’ man. 30-50% of infertility is caused by male factor infertility². And an additional 30% of infertility is caused be both female and male factors³.
These shows are hard to watch. It is comforting that infertility is getting more attention, but, I feel, it is being portrayed irresponsibly in most cases. It gives misleading information, or doesn’t give enough information. I think they should let a bunch of infertiles write a sitcom based around the plot line of infertility, here are what I imagine could be some episodes :
- After yet another month of monitoring for ovulation, with no sign that it occurred, bitter wife holes up with a bottle of gin and box of chocolate. Hilarity ensues!
- Upon making their infertility struggle public knowledge watch as husband and wife get more unsolicited advice than ever imagined! Watch as husband restrains infertile wife from trying to punch the 50th person that tells her to ‘just relax’!
- Watch as the couple’s infertility specialist interrogates them about their sex life, including asking about how often, positions, time of day, and location! Squirm along with them as they have their sex life analyzed!
- After peeing on sticks for months in hopes of pregnancy the couple gets the ‘hilarious’ call from their RE (reproductive endocrinologist) that they will most likely never conceive naturally.
- Watch as the infertile couple takes out a second mortgage on their home to pay for another round of IVF!
Any other shows out there that I missed that are using infertility in their plot lines? Do you know of any shows that are portraying it exceptionally well? Got any more ‘episode’ ideas for my ‘infertility’ TV show?
Now the ultimate question: What would the name of my infertility show be? Enter your submissions and I’ll feature the top 3 I get!