Infertility as Period Drama

WARNING: This could contain Downton Abbey spoilers.

I’m a Downton Abbey fan. Actually, I’m a most things Masterpiece fan. I was weened on PBS, and as a result I have a soft spot in my heart for period dramas.

Downton Abbey had me at hello. Gorgeous costumes, beautiful sets, Mary Crawley who reminds me of myself… if I had been born the daughter of an Earl in the 1900’s. The show is in its final season, and it has taken some truly absurd turns. Sometimes it feels like Dallas set in the English country side, but whatevs…

There is a plot line this season which hits a particular sore spot for me. One of the characters, the long suffering Anna, seems to be having repeat pregnancy loss. According to her count, she has had two– maybe three– miscarriages. This isn’t the first time infertility has been hinted at… My spirit animal, Mary Crawley, was having difficultly delivering an heir so she mysteriously went to a doctor who mysteriously fixed it all up. There is no explanation, just that everything is fiiiiine now. And a few scenes later, she’s pregnant.

giphy (1)

“Leave me so I can die barren and alone in a shanty.”

So… back to Long Suffering Anna… Anna is married to guy named Bates who’s sole purpose seems to be getting accused for murder. (But he is a sweet loving man, honest!) In the past few episodes, Anna has confessed her multiple miscarriages to Bates who is all “You can’t have a baby? NBD. I love you, girl.” Anna is all “I can’t give you what you want. We’ll be miserable and childless forever.” Note: this conversation always seems to happen in the boot room where they are cleaning other people’s shoes.

I’ve had a funny reaction to these boot room heart-to-hearts. On one hand, I feeeeeel this. Though I thankfully have never had a miscarriage, I have had the “Leave me so I can die childless and alone” conversation with Mr. O, as have most infertile people at some point in their journey. Thankfully both Anna and I are married to fundamentally decent people who think more of us than we do ourselves. (And thankfully this is where Mr. O’s similarities with Bates end.)

On another hand, I’m annoyed. Now that I can witness this with some distance, thanks to time and fiction, I just want Anna to stop whimpering. He says he loves you. You’re enough. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Yes, I know this sounds heartless coming from someone who spent YEARS feeling sorry for herself, this blog being exhibit A, B, and C. Still… I’m tired of all the crying in the boot room.

This week, we learned that Anna’s problem is… an incompetent cervix, easily fixed with few stitches. By golly, it is practically painless! She won’t even need to go to hospital! Hoorah, hooray!

And now is when I get annoyed again. At the writers for trying make this something you just solve with a few stitches. Because we don’t really get to see the toll this takes on Anna. We likely won’t see how Anna walks on eggshells during her pregnancy because she is vaguely terrified her baby will slip out of her vagina… likely in the boot room while she is polishing Lady Mary’s shoes.

It’s strange to see something so personal dramatized as entertainment or a plot twist. I wince a little every time.



  1. thebarrenlibrarian · January 17, 2016

    I had similar feelings. It’s like it takes YEARS for most infertiles to get a real live baby that came out of them, if they ever get that. But this 1925 drama is like NBD, this is easily fixed? I’m not hoping for struggles for her but….I wish they would at least make the next few episodes display how hard pregnancy after infertility is.

    • thecommonostrich · January 19, 2016

      Especially when some of the story lines that are far less life changing go oooooon and oooooon… I can see why people who are pro Anna and Bates want a happy ending, but then why not just let them have a baby and leave it at that? Why this weird attempt at making their happily-ever-after more fraught, unless you plan on exploring that additional level of drama?

      I realize I’m debating why fiction can’t be more like real life which is totally absurd. But in a strange way stuff like this perpetuates a lot of misconceptions about what it is like to be infertile and cope with that diagnosis.Yeah… if it were just as easy as a stitched up cervix, this wouldn’t be so fricking hard.

      • thebarrenlibrarian · January 20, 2016

        I was happy that this week when mary said she was “so happy” Anna at least said “I can’t be happy yet.” THAT was the most realistic thing that’s been uttered in regards to this situation on that show.

      • thebarrenlibrarian · January 20, 2016

        aaaaand I just realized I may have spoiled it if you haven’t watched this week.

        I have so many sorries…

      • thecommonostrich · January 20, 2016

        Hahaha… I’m all caught up, so nothing spoiled.

  2. spiteorflight · January 18, 2016

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I regularly watched the 90210 reboot a few years ago, and towards the end one of the characters (Erin Silver) decides to go through IVF because she carries the brca gene, etc etc. Anyway — whoever was responsible for writing and researching those scenes did a hilariously bad job. Like, she only had one shot to do a fresh cycle, because she got OHSS and if she did it again “she could die.” Not to mention the fact that she was a 20-year-old, single, unemployed college student, who lived in her sister’s converted garage. Also her gay BFF Teddy changed his mind about giving her his sperm at the last minute and then they had to go to court.

    • thecommonostrich · January 19, 2016

      See… I think that there is enough drama in IF that you could probably just make a good soap out of it as is. Why all the additional crap like court cases? (Because it is TV, that’s why.)

      Do you know of any portrayals of IF that aren’t completely ridiculous?

  3. bionicbrooklynite · January 27, 2016

    Infertility as Period Drama. I see what you did there.

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