Infertility is insidious...it filters into every aspect of your life. Maybe it's because I'm hyper-sensitive, but it seems like lately all matters reproductive are ALL OVER the TV show subplots. My list of shows has been dwindling, because I usually drop them once they begin a fertility-related subplot (that means you, Gray's An.atomy!). Even if it is decently portrayed, I don't watch TV to see people injecting themselves and enduring heartbreak over the inability to get pregnant. I can see that in my kitchen on a regular basis, thankyouverymuch. But lately, it seems like there is a thread of smugness out there in TVland about how it is you go about getting pregnant. So, not so much an infertility piece, but a total disregard for how 1 in 8 (or is it 6 now?) couples have difficulty getting pregnant "the old fashioned way."
Let's start with Modern Fam.ily. I love this show. I love how it shows different kinds of families. I love how those families are funny and warts-and-all. I loved their honest portrayal of how the adoption process can be difficult and heartbreaking, and how it is NOT easy to "just adopt." I can tell you, I do NOT love the blase treatment of pregnancy and babymaking that is rife in this season where Gloria is the recipient of a 40+ whoopsie pregnancy. (Fun fact: apparently women heading into the end years of their reproductive life are just as susceptible to unplanned pregnancies as teenagers, since their cycles go a little nutty and unpredictable. That part is true.) I nearly threw my dinner at the TV when, in one of those lovely ending interviews that shows the lesson of that particular episode, Gloria makes the statement, "Making the child is easy. It's what comes after that's hard." OH REALLY, IMPOSSIBLY HOT GLORIA. Because that sure as hell doesn't feel the case to me. And while many people like to tell Bryce and me that "Just you wait, it's so hard and expensive once that baby comes"--um, I think we get it. And, quite frankly, I think that it will be LESS expensive once that baby comes than the oodles of dough that it has taken to come close to bringing a baby home. And I'm pretty sure the uncertainty of not knowing when this ghastly hell of reproductive gauntlet-running will end is way worse than the overflowing poopie explosions and night after night of colic and fear and expense once you have that child. Because, not to state the obvious, YOU HAVE THAT CHILD. And all the joy that goes with the poop-up-the-back and vomit-in-the-night. Right now we have all the sadness and loss and financial stress and emotional stress and physical distress without the payoff. So, um, NO. Making the child is not the "easy" part. Not for us, and not for other couples like us.
I will give them a smidgen of credit, though--when Jay and Gloria go to the baby class at the hospital and make their jokes about how she gets pregnant just sneezing on her (haHAhaha. ha. haaaaa.) to a couple who's been trying for years and finally hit the jackpot, I relished in their dagger stare. I loved that they showcased, if for only 5 seconds, how incredibly insensitive and idiotic Jay and Gloria were being to brag at being able to get pregnant by accident. At 40. That was one 20-watt shining moment.
And then it was eclipsed by an episode about Phil's vasectomy. Which we never saw, even though supposedly it was very funny. Because the beginning interview had Phil and Claire talking about how they wanted to make sure they didn't have an oopsie like Gloria (because that's so common), and how they wanted to be sure they could live a life like people without kids, now that their kids are getting older. Like these neighbors of theirs, who travel all the time and have such an awesome lifestyle because they were never able to have kids. OH HOLY JEEZUM, IS THAT WHAT MY LIFE IS??? I totally forgot. If I would just be ok with not being able to have children at this point, I could totally just give myself up to a life of less responsibility and going off to Bali at a moment's notice. All the time. The way they talked about it was so incredibly blase and disrespectful and insensitive to me AND Bryce that we turned the TV off and yelled at it for a good 5 minutes before choosing something else to watch. That one really bothered me. And again, maybe I'm hypersensitive because I don't see my infertility as a ticket to a responsibility-free, college-tuition-free, vacation-filled-permanent-adolescence type of life. (I don't think my friends who choose not to have children see it this way, either...) And I am resentful of people who make the assumption that "you should be traveling! You don't have kids!" and say it enviously as they think of the chaos filling their homes. Beautiful, heartwarming chaos that we would snatch up in an instant.
Another show that ticked us off was The Offic.e. I haven't been the biggest fan of this season anyway, without Steve Care.ll and Mindy Ka.ling it's just not the same. But man, did they go fertility-offensive with an episode a while ago centering on Dwight being upset that he didn't father Angela's child. (Oops, spoiler alert too late for those who are a season or two behind. Sorry.) Jim has pranked Dwight that there is a radiation issue in the building by having a half-popped bag of microwave popcorn in Dwight's desk (or somewhere near his crotchular region), so that they can get some time off and he can take his wife away for a few days. Funny concept, nice enough idea to do something nice for your wife and mother of your children. (Pregnancies that created subplots that made this show difficult to watch for a while, but not awful.) What made us downright mad was that Dwight disappears to the roof of the work bus he's rented to thwart the free vacation plan, and he is upset. He is upset because he didn't father Angela's child and the radiation is probably further proof that he is sterile and can't father children. At first he seems to be having an honest conversation with Jim about fears of infertility, and I was like Wow, The Of.fice is really evolved! and then that was short-lived. Because it was totally irreverent (I know, comedy show, but still). He asks Jim how long it took them to conceive (answer: instantaneous and largely unplanned), and then mourns his loss of children to pass along the Schrute name. And Jim's answer? But you have us! You have BuildingKinder, since you are our building superintendent. We are all your children. And somehow this appeases Dwight. This trite, ridiculous argument that if you don't have children, there are substitutes that are just fine. Like your dysfunctional, on average age 40 year old coworkers. Or like when my yearbook salesperson called to see if I wanted a high school update book and asked for my updates, and confused that I was 35 and married and childless, said to me "Well, you're a teacher, I guess your students are like your children to you." NO. NONONONONONO. I love children, and I love teaching, and I care very deeply about my students (who by the way are 13-15 years in age, just what you want to snuggle into a onesie), but I am NOT childless because my students are "enough." I do NOT want your children, especially grown adult children. (So help me, at least three people offer me their annoying preteen/adolescent/young adult children every freaking year. That is SO offensive. I want my child, I want a baby, I want the experience of pregnancy. I'm pretty sure you wanted that too. STOP OFFERING ME YOUR CHILDREN WHEN THEY ANNOY YOU. It's not cute, funny, or remotely helpful.) The whole concept of this episode had me horribly offended, especially since Dwight falls for it hook, line, and sinker. Yes, you are all my BuildingKinder. My urge for fatherhood is abated of course. You are so wise, Fertile Jim. UGH.
Sometimes, though, there is a good show. A respectful show. A show that treats fertility accurately and doesn't reinforce stereotypes or gloss over the processes of medical treatment or adoption and doesn't continue to put it out there that it's common and normal to get pregnant in your 40s unaided. This show, recently, for me is The New G.irl. I love this show. It's zany, it's ridiculous, it makes me laugh, and I want to be Jess's best friend. I could totally hang out with Jess. But wait, this show is about a single girl living with three single guys! She's on the relatively young side! What could this possibly have to do with fertility, since no one seems to be getting ready to reproduce? I was home sick this week and backlogged on the show, so I watched a couple episodes while my lungs tried to kill me. My Roku box brought up the next episode, which was titled Eggs. Oh, boy. This could be an annoying episode. I watched it anyway. And I was so glad I did! In this episode, Jess has a dinner party where her friend, an OB/GYN who is also a lesbian, announces that she is pregnant. She and her wife are super excited, and then the doctor says, "I really feel like I got this one under the wire." Jess is so confused, I mean, you can get pregnant always, right? She explains that after 30, 90% of your eggs are gone. (I'm not 100% sure on the accuracy of this statement, but believe it since you have a gazillion eggs from the time you are in utero yourself, and they die off throughout your lifetime. 10% of your eggs is still a lot of eggs, but there is now an expiration date on your reproductive years...) But, that there's a test that can tell you about how many eggs you have left. (They didn't go into detail on this, but I'm guessing since they referenced hormone levels that it was some kind of FSH/AmH testing for ovarian reserve. I am SUCH a fertility nerd that I immediately wondered what hormones they were testing and needed to feel like this was accurate.) So she and her wife took it and she was the better bet, since her wife states, "I'm 32 but my eggs are 48." This sends Jess into a tailspin. She's 30, single, and wants a family someday, but is now panicked that her eggs are numbered. I CAN TOTALLY RELATE TO THIS!!! I was once also 30 and newly single, terrified that my fertility was dwindling. (Little did I know there was more than a nugget of truth to this fear, sadly.) Jess starts talking about dust in her uterus and eggs dying left and right--I used to joke all the time about my kamikaze eggs! (not so funny now...) She gets on fertility websites and starts removing anything toxic from the apartment. I have gone this bonkers, too! She takes the test and is terrified, but she ends up ok. Someone else is not, but I feel like it was handled sensitively. I felt like even though this was a fertility-related episode, it was AWESOME. Thank you, thank you, for talking honestly about declining fertility. It is not an old wive's tale. It is true. Thank you, thank you for giving such an adorable voice to the fears so many women have about not making it in under the wire before those eggs expire. It did make me feel a little sad, and I did want to also throw out there that you can also have infertility that is entirely NOT age related. You can be 32 and have your ovarian reserve peter out early. You can be 25 and suffer from hormonal imbalances that prevent you from getting pregnant unaided. And, like me, you can be 36 and have FANTABULOUS numbers when it comes to FSH and AmH--I have a reserve like a champ (or at least I did last it was checked this past year), but that reserve is full of duds. You can't tell if your eggs are necessarily good quality from those numbers, and I am proof of that. Lots of eggs in your basket doesn't guarantee that they'll hatch little chickens in your uterus. Ew, gross metaphor. I do not want little chickens pecking around my uterus. I do, however, want a baby or two growing strong and healthy and then welcoming itself into the world through my body. Regardless, I was proud of that show for not sweeping fertility under the rug and addressing the issue that Hollywood obscures all the time--fertility is not something you can take for granted.
It is hard finding TV that is an escape and doesn't touch on my personal tragedy in one way or another. If this is your life, if you struggle with building your family and finding the right way for you to do it, it is definitely hard not to be sensitive to anything in the media that seems to be poking fun or portraying this situation dishonestly or making one choice look easier or more morally ethical than another. So I really, really appreciate it when there are not only shows that don't touch this issue (I love 666 Park A.venue for this reason... there are ghostly children, not the urge for children), but shows that handle it with sensitivity, reality, and grace. And humor that doesn't make me want to hurl my gluten free pasta at my TV.