Monday, November 16, 2009

Media Watch

Besides people who are completely boring, most people have something that makes them an outsider. Some just hide it better than others. Any story has it's greatest impact when telling the arc of a character who must face some kind of challenge, idiosyncrasy, or exile. Television is no exception. Even in the toilet of reality TV, there is this same fundamental principle. But for television that actually requires good writing, there are always eyes out in the audience who can verify whether these challenges, idiosyncrasies, or exile are ringing true.

I'm pretty sensitive to media representations of gender, race, and sexuality. In all these categories historically there are countless gruesome moments of stereotyping. But certainly over time it has been improving, there is hope. I had long given up on television ever portraying infertility with any real craft. Particularly with surrogacy, they have tended to turn to comedic set ups -- (Desperate Housewives) "Oops, they put the wrong sperm in and, oh no, our baby is black!" On top of the fact that the husband ends up sleeping with the surrogate- nice. Or, (Baby Mama) "Oh my god my surrogate is a maniac!" or (Jezebel) short-lived sitcoms where Parker Posey asks her sister to be her surrogate- "How nutty!" On Friends Chandler and Monica couldn't conceive so they adopt. Phoebe helps her brother and carries their twins. They got it a little better, about a B+ in terms of storytelling.

In terms of general infertility, there is a wider spectrum of attempts. Most TV shows play this storyline for a couple episodes and then POOF, wow, they get pregnant, or POOF, wow, they will adopt. No one really wants to see the storyline go much further than that. There was a series on HBO called Tell me you love me featuring a couple trying to conceive. They were trying to get it real in term of relationships, so they tried to tackle infertility. But the infertile couple constantly bickered and ultimately the woman seemed out of her mind. Good try but no cigar.

But let's face it, surrogacy and donor egg on paper are ripe for comedy. Three or four people trying to make a baby and all the potential delicious mishaps could score some laughs. It does scream soap opera. But when writers dig a little deeper, or actors who have faced infertility chime in, there is potential for more. The reason I bring all of this up is that I am happy to see on ABC's Brothers and Sisters many fertility plot lines. First we find out that among the Walker family, Tommy is infertile and has to use one of his brothers as a sperm donor. Then his sister Kitty can't get pregnant and low and behold we actually get to see them go through an IVF cycle- shots and everything. We even see Kitty miscarry. They ultimately adopt, but they even dabbled a little in surrogacy talk. In a later episode after both Kitty and Tommy have their children, they have a moment of understanding- infertile to infertile. Wow, too good to be true? You mean, they actual keep the infertility as part of their characters? They don't just write it out like most TV shows once the problem is miraculously solved?

For this new season, Kevin and his husband Scotty have now decided to have a child through donor egg and surrogacy. Am I looking in the mirror? I have said before that on paper I am equal to a gay man trying to conceive a child. I love a man, and I don't have a good egg or uterus to use. So when watching this plot unfold on Brothers and Sisters, I was happy to see they were getting is right- at least in terms of the surrogacy process. I've read on some TV blogs some criticism that this surrogacy plot desexualizes Kevin and Scotty by making them less a gay couple and keeps them in a safe heterosexual plot of love, marriage, baby. I can't speak to that, obviously, but I can speak to seeing a surrogacy and egg donor plot line that doesn't involve slap stick humor. For instance, last episode Kevin and Scotty are trying to search online for their egg donor. Kevin was obsessing over the profiles, trying to find the perfect woman. It was good to see it wasn't the butt of a cheap sitcom joke. It showed him really struggling with the choice. I had to do the exact same thing pouring over online profiles. It's not easy. It's one of the weirdest processes I have ever gone through.

The timing couldn't have been better for me. I had been starting to obsess a little about what our baby girl is going to look like. Will she look like the egg donor and will that make me feel bad? Will she feel bad that she doesn't look like her mother? Then as I settled into bed I found comfort where I least expected, the television. I turned on Brothers and Sisters and saw Kevin obsessing over the same things- physical traits, academic traits, etc. His uncle tells him that like wine, you don't know what you are going to get based on the grape. He says there is a world of surprises depending on how you cultivate that grape, so the taste is unpredictable. So Kevin walks away feeling like no matter what traits the donor has, the child will be a product of their parenting and that will be full of unexpected and joyous surprises.

I know this is not an earth shattering revelation, as I have been preaching that for a long time to myself, but it was somehow good to see it on TV. It's one thing if I say this in my head, but it's another thing for this sentiment to be portrayed on a box that sits in millions of people's homes. It rang true and that's good writing, and good writing can move mountains. Good writing can possibly sway prejudices. Good writing can move a woman to feel more okay about donor egg and surrogacy. That's progress for me and more surprisingly...for television. Kudos ABC.


peesticksandstones said...

Wow, I really need to check that show out now!

The last time I saw a portrayal that felt real and truly moving to me was that animated film "UP." I could not believe it was a Pixar (?) film with a miscarriage in it, but something about the way it was handled, and the couple's life afterward without children was so sweet/sad/touching to me. I cried my buns off practically the whole movie! And with 3D glasses on... hahaha.

Cannot believe how close you are getting! Verrrrrry, very excited for you guys.

Infertile In the City said...

I love brothers and sisters because I have never seen a show do so much infertiltiy (hello someone on the script staff is so so so infretile), seeing those struggles, it's like seeing my on TV, it makes me feel good.

I LOVE the surrogacy line, so far, so real and I love that it's more out there - so when I tell people they will at least have a clue what I'm talking about.

JellyBelly said...

B & S is one of my favourite shows. It makes me so happy that infertility has been a storyline that the writers have decided to tackle. I've cried along with Kitty's character and I'm impressed with how they're dealing with the surrogacy issue as well.

For the first time it seems like the show gets infertility. I wonder who on their writing staff has gone through it, or perhaps it's one of the actors. Regardless kudos to ABC for being so progressive!

the Babychaser: said...

It's been a long time since I checked your blog--I've been a bad blogger lately--so I didn't know you/your surrogate were actually pregnant. Congratulations.

I am struck by the comments in this post, as well as your previous one. When I do find those questions about using a donor (DS for us) coming into my head, I really just try not to think about it. I think when the babies get here we'll be too crazed to care. But sometimes I feel like, when people hint that I'm "lucky" now that I'm pregnant, or act like now I've gotten everything I wanted, I want to blurt out that the reason this finally worked is that we gave up something huge--J's genetic input.

I have a friend who's just entered the world of IF treatment. Got pregnant on her first IUI. But she miscarried at 11 weeks. I've been avoiding telling her she should keep trying, though of course that's how I feel. Thanks for the input on that.

You're so close. I'm so excited for you!

luna said...

I haven't checked out that show but I agree with your assessment of all the other portrayals. great post!

btw, have you seen the movie "away we go"? I thought they had a pretty sensitive portrayal of a couple suffering from infertility/recurrent loss.

Me said...

I've only ever seen one or two episodes of that show but you're making me want to watch it now...

Jeanne said...


I try to catch Brothers & Sisters every week.

I saw that episode and I thought Saul's reference to the grapes when Kevin was obsessing was an interesting way of covering the whole nature vs. nurture argument.

Someone involved with Brothers & Sisters must have experience with infertility because, as you pointed out, B & S really does spend a fair amount of time on the topic of infertility.


passingwindows said...

Good to hear that at least one TV show is handling the topic with a little more knowledge and sensitivity than usual. I must look out for it. Quite funny that we are the equivalent of a gay man having a child, I like it. And it explains my group of friends!

And although we haven't managed a pregnancy yet, I am so glad to have found your blog and know that I am not the only one using surrogacy and a donor egg. Sometimes it feels very lonely. Good luck with it all and keep writing, this reader needs to hear your story!