Infertility makes a really juicy plot point in TV shows and movies. And for good reason! Infertility is inherently dramatic. It’s high-stakes. It’s highly emotional. And it has the potential to have either a happy ending or a devastating one.
So it’s no surprise that the theme of infertility and pregnancy loss has been a mainstay in pop culture for as long as there’s been pop culture. Sometimes it’s refreshing to see infertility represented in entertainment; I like how it sheds a light on this very real and upsetting experience. But other times it feels (at best) cheap and hollow. At worst, it feels exploitive and scientifically inaccurate.
Below are some of my favorite shows and stories that have showcased infertility, as well as how accurately or inaccurately the piece portrayed the process and experience.
The 90s TV classic, Friends, featured two different infertility plot points throughout its 10 season run. Its first foray into infertility was in Season 4, when Phoebe offers to serve as the gestational surrogate to her brother and his older wife. The highlight? Her singing to her embryos post-embryo transfer, “Are you in there little fetus? In 9 months will you come meet us? I will buy you some Adidas.” The second (and more serious) storyline about infertility comes up in season 9 and deals with Monica and Chandler as they try to get pregnant and learn that the odds are biologically stacked against them. The two pursue adoption in season 10 and end up adopting twins. While the WAY they talk about infertility feels true to life, the details are purposefully vague, the timeline is severely truncated and the endings are all happy. But I guess that’s what you get with cheesy 90s sitcoms. Accuracy: 3/5 stars
Sex and the City
Oh man, Sex and the City covers a variety of fertility-related issues, mostly through Charlotte Yorke. If you’ve been living under a rock the last 20 years, Charlotte is a perfectionist, preppy, Upper East Side woman who always gets what she wants…and is then forced to deal with impotence, infertility, adoption and miscarriage. The fact that the most optimistic, idealistic character is forced to face the darkness that is infertility and family building is incredibly impactful. I also found the portrayal of infertility and her blatant jealousy over Miranda’s unplanned pregnancy (with Steve’s one ball and her “lazy ovary”) realistic. Infertility affects friendships just as much as it affects relationships. Sex and the City didn’t just blow through infertility as a brief plot point; the show let it change Charlotte…just like it changes REAL people. Accuracy: 4/5 stars
Friends from College
The Netflix series, Friends from College, puts infertility front and center of this 10-episode series and is one of the most accurate portrayals of IVF I’ve seen. This is probably because one of the showrunners, Francesca Delbanco, actually went through IVF and *wanted* to showcase how painful, terrifying, stressful and annoying it is. In the show, the two main characters decide to undergo IVF and we see the physical burden of the injections, as well as the financial and emotional stress. It’s refreshing to see IVF on television…the shots, the rigid timing, the fear, the high stakes…so many people go through it, yet very few people know what it looks like unless they’ve been through it. Accuracy: 5/5 stars
Baby Mama is a comedy, plain and simple. It stars Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Martin and Dax Shepard…so of course the emotional aspect of infertility is wildly glossed over. The movie centers around Tina Fey’s workaholic character who decides to become a single mother by choice and hire a surrogate to carry her baby. Of course things go awry. The movie totally glosses over the complicated emotions of infertility and barely touches on the financial risk and burden. It’s funny…but not really about infertility, I suppose. Accuracy: 1/5 stars
Season 3 of this musical comedy centers around Darryl, a gay man who wants a baby. So he goes through both the egg donor and surrogacy process and ohhhhhh boy are both inaccurately showcased. I tried to give this show the benefit of the doubt…but the way egg donors are reflected is laughable. The best part? The lyrics from a song called “My Sperm is Healthy” which goes “They get bottle service at every cervix, blowing eggs up like a pager.” Accuracy: 2/5 stars
I know it’s weird to call a film with a pregnant teenager on the movie poster an “infertility” story, but bear with me. Even though 16-year-old Juno, finds out she’s unexpectedly pregnant in the first 5 minutes of the movie, the other protagonists (played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) have been waiting for a baby for years. The couple has their shit together; they have a beautiful, clean home in the suburbs. Stable jobs. Fancy bottled juices. And they want a baby – which has taken a toll on their marriage. Even though it’s mostly a comedy, this movie does a great job of showing how painful infertility can feel (especially when you and your partner aren’t on the same page). Accuracy: 3/5 stars
Oh man, there are SO many more movies and shows that speak to infertility and pregnancy loss…there’s Handmaid’s Tale, Fuller House and The Gift. Raising Arizona. Game of Thrones. Even the Pixar movie, Up. There’s no shortage of stories (both comedies and dramas alike) that place infertility front and center. And of course, there are some great documentaries that feature infertility as well, including Tig, One More Shot and Vegas Baby.
What are your favorite shows or movies that have mentioned infertility? Did they accurately reflect the medical process and emotions?