It still takes me by surprise. Every time. Infertility pops up in movies, TV, or books, and I feel my breath catch. Are they going to make light of “shooting blanks” or give some vague explanation as to why “you’ll never be able to have kids,” only to wind up with a surprise pregnancy by the end? Are they going to portray a couple who’ve been struggling for years as ignorant of How Babies Are Made or doctors who make no attempt at using modern medicine to help an infertile couple achieve their long-awaited-for dream, simply waving them off with “maybe you should adopt”? Am I going to end up rolling my eyes or sobbing?
Hubby and I watched a movie this weekend (a foreign film which shall remain nameless until the end of this post–if you really want to know–because I’m about to drop all kinds of spoilers) in which miscarriage and male-factor infertility ended up being a key plot point. As far as honest portrayal of infertility goes, it was kind of all over the place.
There was the post-coital “It didn’t work. A woman can feel these things.” Um, no she can’t. And any infertile will tell you that she’s far better at creating symptoms out of thin air than waving them off before sperm even has a chance to meet egg. But then there was the all-too familiar scene between mother and daughter, the former asking the latter why they weren’t trying again. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like this:
Mother: You were pregnant once before. I don’t see what the problem is.
Infertile Daughter: Well, other than the fact that the pregnancy did not result in a live baby, it’s not likely to happen again.
M: I don’t understand.
ID: The problem is that my husband has only a few sperm, and they swim in circles.
M: But how can that be? He’s so athletic!
In the end, the solution was very “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You,” which was a disappointment I saw coming from miles away.
If only moral ambiguity came so easily to the rest of us. One night in a motel room is definitely more cost-effective than multiple IUIs, donor sperm, or IVF with ICSI.
Speaking of moral ambiguity, Masters of Sex is full of it. What Hubby and I thought would be a semi-biographical account of the pioneers of sex research turned out to be much more than what we expected. It is, at its core, a series about taboos: sex, infertility, homosexuality, extra-marital affairs, birth control, unplanned pregnancy, pregnancy loss, racism, sexism, every form of bigotry, all set in 1950s America. Deceit is a common thread running through several different plot lines. And when the truth is discovered, marriages and hearts are broken, careers and reputations are destroyed.
The first mention of infertility, in the first episode, caught me off guard. Apparently, Dr. Masters was an OB/GYN specializing in (in)fertility. Immediately, my curiosity was piqued. How would Showtime tackle such a sensitive topic?
The answer, as it turns out, is rather well. While there are plenty of well-meaning “your time will come”s from those on the outside, the men and women actually facing infertility are written and acted with the emotional acuity I think we, as real-life infertiles, can appreciate.
Without giving too much away, I do want to point out a couple of things. 1) A broad range of fertility-related issues are covered in the show. For some, this might be a trigger and should be avoided. Topics include stillbirth, male- and female-factor infertility, and miscarriage. 2) People really didn’t know shit about sex in the 50s. One couple comes to consult with Dr. Masters, afraid they’ll never conceive because, so far, their efforts to “lie down together,” as they learned from the Bible, have yielded no children. What they fail to realize is that there’s a little more to making a baby than just lying down. 3) I am reminded, once again. how lucky we are to live in a time when the most advanced assisted reproductive technology consists of more than something called a “cervical cap,” which, from what I can tell, is meant to hold the sperm in place while the woman spends 16 hours lying flat on her back. Fun times.
I highly recommend this show. I have to applaud when infertility is treated the right way in widely-viewed popular media, which, I think, is the case with Masters of Sex. It’s a roller coaster, though. I have literally gone from turned on to crying more than once in any given episode. Maybe it’s just the hormones.
***Spoiler-ish: The movie, in case you’re wondering, is Revanche, an Austrian film that, when I wasn’t audibly sighing at some of the infertility nonsense, was quite good.