Pop Culture Infertility
7 mins read

Pop Culture Infertility

Characters struggling with infertility and those contemplating adoption seem to be all over the primetime TV landscape these days. And not many of them, at least as of this writing, seem to be succeeding in the family-building business.


Take Grey’s Anatomy for example. A year ago, its dramatic season finale, in which an aggrieved patient’s husband went on a murderous rampage through the hospital, Meredith Grey discovered she was pregnant. Then, as her severely wounded husband’s very survival seemed questionable, she miscarried.

During this current season, she and her husband Derek Shepherd have been undergoing infertility treatments – Derek once administered a shot of fertility medicine to Meredith’s behind in a hospital elevator – and have been met with nothing but one disappointing failure after another. Exacerbating Meredith’s emotional pain was the fact that one of her friends and colleagues, Callie Torres, got pregnant “by accident.” If you’ve even gone through infertility – my hand is raised – having to put on a brave face while others get pregnant with ease or by “mistake” is extraordinarily difficult. Grey’s Anatomy has played Meredith’s plight well, understatedly, particularly when that pregnant colleague got into a near fatal car wreck and Meredith was wracked with guilt that she’d felt terribly jealous and unhappy about Callie’s pregnancy.

However it now appears as though Meredith and Derek’s journey toward making a family may take an unexpected turn toward adoption, a destination to which many other TV characters seem headed, like Kitty Walker from Brothers & Sisters who adopted a baby a few seasons ago.

On Grey’s sister show Private Practice, hotshot neonatal surgeon Addison Montgomery – who, years ago, got pregnant but terminated the pregnancy – now aches for a child. Her problem? She was diagnosed as being physically incapable of having one. For an entire recent episode though, Addison thought she’d beaten those long odds and become pregnant (she had nausea that wouldn’t quit), allowed herself to hope and dream, only to learn that she just had the flu. It was heart breaking.

Just last season, Addison had been crushed because she had thought she’d become an adoptive mother to her boyfriend’s baby (she’d intensely bonded with the infant), only to have her boyfriend dump her and reunite with his baby mama. Now, Addison has decided that she’s not waiting any longer to become a mother. She’s determined to adopt a child even if it means that her current boyfriend, already a father and grandfather, breaks up with her because he wants no part of another round of childrearing. My prediction: Things won’t go smoothly, they never seem to on that show anyway.

The condition known as secondary infertility- where you’ve been able to successfully carry and give birth to a baby but are having difficulty in doing it again – like infertility, seems to be happening to a number of primetime characters.

On Parenthood, married attorney Julia Braverman-Graham has one child with her at-home husband Joel. And, after much debating, Julia and Joel decided to add onto their family beyond just their daughter. Months passed without so much as a positive glimmer on a home pregnancy test. They began to feel desperate to get pregnant and started having sex whenever Julia’s ovulation predictor kit told them to, like in the middle of their nephew’s birthday party in Julia’s brother’s bathroom, where Julia’s sister-in-law walked in on them.

During an episode last month, the couple received the distressing news that Julia has severe uterine scarring from her first pregnancy and that it was highly unlikely she’d ever be able to get pregnant and have another baby. A handful of episodes elapsed as Julia and Joel attempted to process their immense disappointment and Julia tried to convince herself that she was happy with just having one child. But by the Parenthood season finale, Julia had changed her mind and told Joel that she wants to adopt, meaning their characters will spend their third season – provided that NBC greenlights another season – navigating the rigors of the adoption process. Complicating matters, Julia’s brother’s wife, the one who walked in on Julia and Joel having sex, just learned that she . . . wait for it . . . became pregnant by “accident” with her third child.

A similar situation is unfolding over on Lifetime’s Army Wives.

This season, it took a lot of effort from her psychiatrist husband to persuade Lt. Colonel Joan Burton to go for a second child. When Joan finally agreed to expand their family, she visited the ob/gyn and was told that another pregnancy would be dangerous for her, potentially lethal.

Cue the adoption discussion. Again, Joan’s husband Roland had to persuade Joan that she’d be a brilliant adoptive mother and she, reluctantly agreed with him. However a visit to the state’s adoption agency went poorly and it appears as though the Burtons are going to have more difficulty than, say, Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd, with adopting. They were told that, with one parent serving in the military who could be deployed overseas, they’d have trouble adopting because their home would be considered “unstable.”

Last season, another Army wife also had problems in the reproductive department. Roxy LeBlanc, who has two boys by different guys, wanted to try to have a baby with her Army husband Trevor. She was thrilled when she eventually did get pregnant but in relatively short order, it ended in a miscarriage. To rub salt into her wound, as she was grieving, she learned that one of her close friends, Denise, was shocked to find herself fortysomething and pregnant. In one episode last year, Roxy and her husband were listening to the fertility specialist tell them how low the success rates are for fertility treatments – treatments which weren’t covered by their Army health plan – while Denise Sherwood was round and happy and doing prenatal yoga.

Will all these characters ultimately find a way to have a family they desire so very much? Will Meredith and Derek, Addison, Julia and Joel, Joan and Roland and Roxy Trevor find a way to create and/or build their families? I guess that all depends on what’s good for the ratings.

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