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.