Infertility in the Media: Celebrities and Characters Bringing Awareness to the Cause

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Infertility is the breast cancer of our generation -- nobody wants to talk about it. It's not often addressed in movies or television, or when it is, it's in a completely unrealistic way. To continue my infertility posts in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, I've put together a list of TV shows and movies that portray infertility realistically, as well as celebrities who have struggled with infertility (though, of course, this isn't a comprehensive list -- there are a lot of shows, movies, and celebrities dealing with infertility).

(And just to be clear, I'm not claiming ownership over any of these photos -- I don't spend my life stalking celebrities)

Celebrities with Infertility

-Giuliana Rancic is probably the first person a lot of people think about when you think about celebrities with infertility, as she documented her struggle on her reality show, Giuliana & Bill. The couple began trying to conceive in 2009, and began IVF in March 2010. Giuliana got pregnant that spring, but suffered a miscarriage. They tried IVF again in November, but it didn't take. While prepping for their third round of IVF, Giuliana was diagnosed with breast cancer. They had some of her eggs retrieved, and found a gestational carrier. They welcomed son Edward Duke in August 2012

I think by being open about her infertility and letting the public see everything they've gone through, Giuliana has been such an important part of making infertility a less taboo subject.

-Elizabeth Banks and her husband spent years trying to have a baby, undergoing multiple fertility treatments without success. The couple has gone on to have sons Felix and Magnus, both via gestational surrogate.

-Courteney Cox, like her character Monica Geller Bing, had trouble having a natural pregnancy. After she suffered multiple miscarriages, she underwent IVF successfully, and she and ex David Arquette are the proud parents of daughter Coco.

-Brooke Shields underwent seven rounds of IVF to get pregnant with oldest daughter Rowan, while her younger daughter Grier was conceived naturally. Not only do I commend her for being open about her infertility, but for speaking openly about her bout with post-partum depression as well. These are subjects that need to be okay to talk about!

-Nicole Kidman first became a mother in the early 90s, when she and then husband Tom Cruise adopted daughter Isabella and son Connor. After marrying Keith Urban, she gave birth to daughter Sunday Rose, and they later had daughter Faith via surrogate. She has said that in her efforts to expand her family over the years, she has had an ectopic pregnancy, mulitple miscarriages, and fertility treatments.

-Hugh Jackman and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, adopted two children after multiple miscarriages.

-Celine Dion welcomed son Rene-Charles in 2001 after several years of tying unsuccessfully to conceive (including miscarriage and fertility treatments) and undergoing IVF. In 2010, she gave birth to twins after six rounds of IVF.

-Mariah Carey had trouble conceiving, and after a miscarriage, was put on progesterone both before conceiving and during her pregnancy with twins Monroe and Moroccan.

-Khloe Kardashian has famously been struggling to conceive throughout her marriage to Lamar Odom. After consulting a fertility specialist, she learns that she doesn't ovulate (having the same issue, I empathize) and her uterine lining isn't thick enough to support implantation (she was prescribed pills to remedy this). As awful as infertility is (and trust me, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy), I think that Khloe is good for bringing more awareness. She's honest about her struggle, doesn't try to sugarcoat anything, and remains positive, even though she's been trying to have a baby for over three years.

Infertility in Movies

-Cynthia & Jason, Couples Retreat

Admittedly, I have not seen this movie yet, but I know the basic premise. Jason and Cynthia have gone through multiple failed attempts to conceive, and their marriage is on the verge of collapse. They tell their friends that as a last attempt to save their marriage and avoid divorce, they are planning to go to a couples therapy resort. That's as far into it as I'm going to get, since I haven't seen the movie and the rest of what I do know is irrelevant. The reason I included this is because infertility is something that truly can rip a marriage apart. Infertility is not easy at all, and (in my personal experience, anyway), men and women go through it and deal with it differently. As stressful as infertility is on the individual, it's important to remember that it's stressful on the couple as well. You're facing this together, not alone, so make sure to rely on one another.

-Ellie & Carl, Up

Infertility is tackled in the first few minutes of this animated film, and boy, do those minutes pack a wallop of emotion (and without saying a word!). Carl and Ellie meet as children, grow up and get married, and want to expand their family. The next thing you know, Ellie is sobbing in the doctor's office, having been told that she can't have children (and possibly that she has suffered a miscarriage as well, since they had been putting together a nursery).

Ellie is deeply affected by the news, and spends her days sitting in silence, seeming to have lost her joie de vivre (and I've definitely been there a couple of times through my own infertility struggle). When Carl shows her the adventure book she had been keeping since childhood, it reminds her that having a baby was not her only dream, and the two of them are shown to have a happy, loving life, even without a child.

It's seriously probably the most tear-inducing five minutes you will ever watch in your life.

Infertility in Television

-Meredith Grey & Derek Shepherd, Grey's Anatomy

After having a miscarriage in the middle of a hospital shooting, Meredith learns that she has a "hostile uterus". They undergo fertility drugs (including Derek administering a shot in Meredith's butt while in the elevator at work). They go through heartbreak after heartbreak, with no pregnancy, and it's only exacerbated when Callie gets pregnant from a one-night fling with Mark. Meredith's jealousy is something that I think most infertile women (and definitely I!) can identify with. When Callie and Arizona are in a wreck, and Callie (and therefore the baby) are endangered, Meredith feels guilty over her previous feelings.

Eventually, Mer and Der decide to adopt Zola, an African orphan receiving treatment at the hospital. After some bumps in the road, Zola is officially part of the Grey-Shepherd family, and Meredith is (surprise!) currently pregnant with a boy (which is maybe the thing that bothers me about this storyline. I'm thrilled that she was able to conceive -- as I hope I will, one day -- but everybody has a story like "Well so and so adopted, and then BOOM, she was pregnant!". It just seems so trite, and almost like a stereotype, if that makes sense).

-Robin Scherbatsky, How I Met Your Mother

Robin's story is a little different than most. She knew that she didn't want to have children. Then she found out that she couldn't. As she tells the story to the kids she never had, she admits that she is glad they don't exist. So you may be wondering why I put her on the list. Even though Robin did not want children, she mourned her infertility because it took the choice away from her. And that's what infertility does to ANYONE it affects. I am child-free, but it's not my choice. If I had a choice, I'd know what it's like to have a healthy pregnancy and the joy of being a mother. Though Robin had lead a child-free life by choice, the choice was no longer hers to make (and yes, adoption, IVF, etc. are always an option, but we're just talking traditional pregnancy here), and THAT is what bothered her. I think that's an important thing to remember. And on top of that, Ted went on to say that although she never became a mother, she led a full, happy life without children, which is also something important to show. 

-Frank Jr. & Alice, Friends

Phoebe's little brother marries a much older woman (his home ec teacher, actually, so that part isn't particularly realistic), and they want to have a baby. The only problem with that is that Alice can't have a baby. So they ask Phoebe to be their surrogate. She eventually accepts, and undergoes IVF treatments, and ends up giving birth to triplets.

-Monica & Chandler, Friends

This was probably my first real introduction to infertility. I've been a die-hard Friends fan since I was a little kid (it was actually my favorite show for quite some time, and still one of my all-time faves). In "The One With The Fertility Test", Monica and Chandler head go have fertility tests done after a year of unsuccessfully trying to conceive. While they remain hopeful, they learn that Chandler's sperm has low motility and Monica's uterus is an inhospitable environment, so they are unlikely to conceive naturally.

In "The One With The Donor", the doctor explains their options to them, and they seem to like the idea of a sperm donor. Chandler thinks he knows the perfect guy, so he brings him home so Monica can decide how she feels about him. He seems perfect, but ultimately, Monica decides that she doesn't want to have a biological baby with anyone but Chandler, and they decide to adopt. They eventually end up adopting twins (a surprise to them, but a pleasant surprise!). Granted, all of this happens much more quickly than it usually does in real life, but the pain and the process are all realistic enough (to me, anyway) to be included on this list.

The absolute best part (for me, anyway, and other than when they bring home the twins) is when Chandler is trying to convince the birth mother, Erica, to let them adopt her baby. He tells her, "My wife's an incredible woman. She's loving, and devoted, and caring. And don't tell her I said this, but the woman's always right. I love my wife more than anything in the world. And kills me that I can't give her a baby. I really want a kid. And when that day finally comes, I'll learn how to be a good dad. But my wife...she's already there. She's a mother...without a baby. Please?"

I can't watch that episode without bawling. Heck, I got a little teary-eyed just typing it.

Have any of these celebrities/characters changed the way you see infertility? Have they helped you become more aware of what infertility is and what it's like?

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