Sunday, February 6, 2011

Infertility in fiction

I have two, half-read, books on my bedside table, (I only brought half a dozen books with me when I moved abroad) and kind visitors have added to the collection. The first, 'Tomorrow' by Graham Swift, about a woman lying awake at night and running through ways of telling her children that they were conceived via an anonymous sperm donor. The second, 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by D.H. Lawrence, such an old copy, the corners are folded down on the pages with the sex scenes, not by me (but by someone like the young school girl I used to be). I remember, when I found it on the school library shelves, thinking how tragic it was that Clifford Chatterley was impotent but never from a fertility point of view, I thought more about what I would do, would I sneak off to the gamekeeper's hut or be a faithful wife, sacrificing my needs in sympathy with my husband.

I grew up with Grange Hill, these days it's Hollyoaks. Characters get pregnant accidentally whilst taking the oral contraceptive pill after a one night stand. Others get Chlamydia and told by men in white coats the perils of leaving STDs, especially symptomless ones, untreated. Though, usually on the soaps/dramas the STD is picked up through casual sex not from a healthy, monogamous relationship while on the pill. As a born worrier, I took all these story lines very seriously. I suppose part of my fear of infertility (before I had to face my fear) came from watching TV or reading books.

So when I realised we couldn't conceive naturally I thought back to all those story lines and I revisited a lot of them. 'Inconceivable' by Ben Elton, I remember him denying that it was autobiographical in any way, though he and his partner had fertility treatment. So I watched 'Maybe Baby' which was as dreadful as I remember the first time around. So much of my understanding about IVF came from this film but I didn't realise until I re watched it, the injection in the bottom scene for example had me terrified unecessarily. Some parts are great, like Rowan Atkinson as the Gynaecologist but the rest just didn't work for me. I love the main actors but not together as Mr and Mrs Bell. However, at least the treatment did not have a happy ending like so many other story lines.

I don't remember much of Monica and Chandler's fertility issues on Friends, I remember them trying for a baby and it taking a while and of course Rachel had got pregnant without even planning to so it was good to see it as a story line for two such famous characters, especially a couple that had planned a family with such care (including Monica deciding to spilt up for good with Richard because he didn't want children with her). Of course it was all tied up with a unrealistic, sugary bow when they adopted new born twins because it's a 'feel good comedy' of course.

So could I think of any realistic portrayals? Not many. I loved Skins, the first 2 series anyway, 3 and 4 tried a bit too hard but were very watchable and I saw them both after I moved here. Interesting they decided to throw in the issue of early menopause for Katie (at 4.24 min) but it's a shame there wasn't any room for it and options were not discussed for having a family in the future. It was badly managed but the purpose was to add contrast to the relief of not having an unplanned pregnancy that Katie has for a split second and also displayed by her boyfriend only to be faced with something else terrible a bit of a twist in the tale.

I thought back a lot to the Sex and the City story line about Charlotte, it was quite sensitively done. Having to attend Brady's christening or birthday party after her miscarriage of a very wanted and planned pregnancy and she draws strength from watching a documentary about Liz Taylor who had suffered miscarriages. I'm always looking out for a celebrity hero or heroine when I'm struggling with something, it seems to help. Also, she had a failed marriage to a man with sexual dysfunction. Then going on to adopt a child, that was not a baby or a perfect racial match like so many TV/film outcomes would have given her.

I suppose the characters in Cold Feet and the story lines have stood up best of all to my experiences so far. From Pete and Jen's 'charting', attempting to time intercourse and sperm tests to Adam and Rachel's failed IVF attempt after Adam's testicular cancer and Rachel's struggles post abortion and diagnosis of Partial Asherman's Syndrome. The story line developed well, except for the 'surprise pregnancy' which was inevitable, I really wanted to see where the adoption story line was going. Here are the main characters in a story and for once they aren't going to get everything they want in the end. I suppose killing Rachel off was a more 'entertaining' way to tie up the loose ends for the 6 couples who in some way or another didn't get what they wanted. If I had to pick a favourite bit, it's the bit where Karen is the kitchen with her kids and tells Adam and Rachel how lucky they are and Adam snaps. I'd love to say, next time someone tells me how lucky I am to have the freedom or independence that comes with childnessness, "Am I? Am I really?!".

I suppose in the same way that working in a hospital for years has ruined my enjoyment of hospital dramas, going through fertility tests and treatments has spoilt any fertility related plots. I recently watched The Kids are Alright, great film, but found myself wondering how both parents managed to conceive successfully via IVF with sperm donor, so close together, back in the 90s but I still really enjoyed the film as a whole.


  1. It's interesting you mention the Sex and the City storyline, as I have read a few blogs lately that say that it 'failed us' because it did not allow Charlotte room to grieve over her infertility treatment failures, and basically the story was 'get over it women.'

    I always liked this story line though, even now that I am part of the IF community. I appreciate that they didn't really use fertility treatments as a comedy storyline after the first go around. We're led to believe that there was more than one cycle, but the writers didn't bother to show us every detail - I guess because it is called Sex and the City, as there isn't much sex in fertility treatments!

    There is a really nice moment when she breaks down after her husband suggests pursuing adoption. I think she says something like 'just because people don't perform as you would like doesn't mean you should give up on them.' It was very sensitively done - not too melodramatic.

  2. Interesting review of storylines here - thanks :) It seems like there's nearly always a surprise happy ending (even Charlotte got hers in the end) and they do drive me a bit batty!
    To share a little anecdote.. last time I got my period after 3rd IUI, my bloke and I decided to watch what appeared to be a cheerful movie (can't remember which now) and within 5 minutes fertility issues had been brought up.. "Are you f***ing kidding me?" were my bloke's exact words! Sometimes you just can't get away from it! xx