Collecting research: Dumb portrayals of assisted reproduction in movies, anyone?

I watched Apatow’s This is 40 last night. If you’ve seen it, you already know how stupidly donor egg is portrayed in that movie. More on this later. For now, I am collecting examples of dumb portrayals of assisted reproduction in movies, and in books. I’m specifically interested in portrayals that spread faulty ideas about IUIs, IVF, donor egg IVF, donor sperm, and so on—but also adoption, now that I’m thinking about it. Also anything that just seems “off” to you in some way. Thanks for your input as always! Post to come…

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  1. The TV show Brothers & Sisters has a ridiculous portrayal of IVF–not only does the doctor tell her “we’ll see you in two weeks to harvest your eggs” but when she has no viable embryos, they explore surrogacy as an option. (Which obviously wouldn’t fix the egg quality problem.)

    I recall that Friends also dealt with surrogacy (the character Phoebe acts as a surrogate for her brother and SIL) but I can’t remember the specifics. (I assume they were dumb too!)

    • Ha! That made me laugh out loud. Well, since you have non-viable embryos, let’s try putting them in another woman and see what happens! Now that’s science. I assume the Phoebe thing is super-dumb, too. Thanks for this.

  2. The Babymakers is probably the worst one I’ve seen. Just take my word for it. Please don’t waste a minute of your life on it.

    The single-mother-by-choice ones like The Backup Plan and The Switch are annoying because the main characters always get pregnant after their first try. Ugh.

    • Oh that’s my favorite plot-line ever: Woman seeks pregnancy, woman gets pregnant one nanonsecond later.

      Now I’m curious about The Babymakers! I might go waste some precious life looking it up…

  3. Betsy

     /  June 20, 2014

    I have struggled with unexplained infertility and recurrent miscarriage :(
    It frustrates me when I watch tv/movies and the infertility issues/treatments are sooooo wrong! For example on friends when Monica & chandler were told she had an inhospitable uterus and he had lie motility their best chances to conceive were sperm donor or surrogacy …. Makes NO SENSE!!!!

    Praying for a smooth rest of your pregnancy and a pain free delivery :)))

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your recurrent miscarriage and hope you find answers soon. It’s extremely painful…and yeah, these sort of portrayals just pour salt in the wound and enhance the lack of education out there! Thank you for your prayers!

  4. This is 40 burned me too–the opposite of normalizing it!

    • Oh, oh, don’t get me started. I know it’s not Hollywood;s responsibility to be ART educators, but the facts of the actual process are interesting enough, why do they need to get it so wrong? For some people , movies are their only exposure to the world of assisted reproduction, so no wonder the stigma exists. Why identical triplets? Rarely are three embryos transferred in DE, and if they were, rarely would all three implant, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t be identical. And the part that really cracks me up is when the triplets meet Paul Rudd, their -half-brother through their father, and they wonder why they don’t look like him. And their dad says “because of the donor,” but what he’s referring to is the egg donor, so that makes no sense at all. But anyway yes it gives people the idea that if you use egg donation, you’re gonna end up with multiple clones.

      • The age of the parents really bothered me too. I realize that DE has opened up options for a women of AMA, but it is still not the norm for DE recipients to be in their 50s and 60s. That just cements this notion that DE is for “old” moms who made some (oft perceived as) selfish choice to delay childbearing, and that doesn’t garner a lot of acceptance or compassion from the masses. The truth is that there are young women out there who use an egg donor to treat premature ovarian failure–who are “sick” and need help. And maybe worst of all is the father’s cavalier attitude toward it when this choice really gets made after so much talking and grieving and heavy consideration! I realize it’s a comedy, but I don’t like that they took such a difficult and sensitive thing to be the butt of their joke. They made it into a freak show for cheap laughs and then added insult to injury with the surprise, natural pregnancy of the 40 year-old mom, as if that’s super common.

  5. I remember the comedy show Happy Endings did one episode where a character had donated “AN egg” when she was in college, and went to hunt down the kid. She was stalking the kid for a while, then she found out the couple she donated to had decided not to use her egg at all, and used someone else’s. It was ridiculous…no one donates ONE egg (at least not on purpose, and you’re a shitty donor if that’s all they get out of you) and no recipient couple would say “nah, thanks but no thanks, you’re too anal retentive and we don’t want a kid like you”. I’m sure there’s a ton more but that one comes to mind.

    • That’s priceless. Maybe the writer’s just assumed that when a fertile woman ovulates her one egg of the month the doctors somehow get in there and grab it to donate. It wouldn’t surprise me. Also, the donor would not be able to hunt down anything. And yeah, can you imagine spending tens of thousands on an egg donor only to whimsically change your mind? This is another great one, thanks!

  6. Oh I remembered an even better one. It’s a book called “A Pigeon and a Boy” by Meir Shalev. Spoiler alert: the main character finds out that his real father isn’t the man he thought, but rather a young Israeli soldier that his mother loved as a girl. The soldier used to handle passenger pigeons. He gets mortally wounded during a war and, because he knows he’s dying, he (I’m not even kidding) masturbates into a jar, sends it to her via passenger pigeon, and she gets it and knows that it means he’s dead so she shoves it into herself and winds up pregnant. It’s supposed to be poignant, but OMFG. Are you kidding me??

    • Oh. My. Gah. What??? I just looked it up, and it gets a nearly perfect rating on Amazon—one reviewer actually says: “WHAT CHAGALL IS TO PAINT, SHALEV IS TO WORDS.” I thought surely it was written decades ago, but no, no, 2007. 2007! This really wins the prize. Thank you for sharing. You must have thrown the book across the room.

      • Luckily, I read it pre-infertility days, but I still remember thinking “WTF? Don’t people, like, need to freeze that stuff or something?”. Only later did I realize how truly screwed up the premise was. Other than this minor detail it’s actually quite a nice story, so I can see why people who have no idea about ART love it.

  7. P.S. I didn’t love the oversimplified way they handled it on How I Met Your Mother, in which it was vaguely revealed that Robin *could never have children* when, really, that’s a choice to not pursue treatment or alternative family building. After that there was a plotline on the show around the question of a mysterious miracle pregnancy (she wasn’t pregnant) that I just found irritating because of they way they presented her infertility in the first place.

    And of course there was Delivery Man, the really unrealistic Vince Vaughn movie about 533 kids born from a single sperm donation.

    • Oh NO. 533? How did I miss that nonsense?

      That whole “could never have children” thing makes me see red. It paints the picture of the sad, barren woman, consigned to her fate, nothing she can do about it, etc. etc. Takes all of her power, her autonomy, away. So right you are. She made a choice.

  8. I’ll add another to the list: Baby Mama.

    There is a LOT to say about it, and about my huge disappointment in Tina Fey for being in this movie, but one thing sticks out for me:

    After taking the hormonal supplements needed to become a surrogate, and going through the transfer, Amy Poehler comes home, thinks the transfer hasn’t worked, and has sex with her boyfriend—because, she says, she is so ramped up on all the hormones they gave her and she is *horny*. Horny. Yeah, I know all of you ladies who have gone through a DE transfer come home just dying to have tons of hot sex. That’s the usual feeling I’ve read about. Horniness.

  9. Mel

     /  July 1, 2014

    The Back Up Plan with Jennifer Lopez – single woman gets knocked up via IUI (AI) with twins on the first shot, bc it’s ALWAYS THAT EASY! very annoying.

    PS been following you for over a year now, love reading your blog and so happy for you :)

  10. Kalli

     /  July 7, 2014

    So, this is kind of an amusing one but Switch, where Jennifer Aniston decides to be a single mom, has a PARTY where her chosen donor would “donate”–how icky is that? He does it in the bathroom, at the party, and leaves it on the sink. Yeah, cuz everyone wants to see that? OK, no freezing, and no rushing to get it in her–sperm just don’t live long at room temperature. .. but what’s funnier is that it was like a FULL CUP, probably 8 oz or more of the milky liquid–LOL. No superman, not even a bear could make that much ejaculate.

    Then her guy-pal goes into the bathroom drunk (which means it’s been sitting there long enough for him to stumble in during the course of the party like that), knocks it over, feels bad, and substitutes his own sperm, and his secret paternity becomes the basis of the story.

    But I laughed out loud at the idea that a man could make the equivalent of a mugful of sperm. It’s measured in ml, usually, and 5 ml is a lot! You could at best just cover the bottom of a cup with the most prolific sperm sample.

    • A mugful of sperm! Hahahahaaaa. Amazing. This is a great detail. And it’s just hanging out in the bathroom, no biggie. I’ll have to tell DH about this. He was always so embarrassed of his sperm sample—I think he wanted to produce a mugful and was annoyed by how measley his looked (to him). Guys. (:

  11. Mel

     /  July 10, 2014

    Saw a preview for a new dumb one last night! ‘Jane the Virgin’ on our CW channel. Virgin girl gets pregnant by accidental insemination at ob’s office…seriously. Even my husband said ‘well how does that even happen?!’


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