Thursday, July 25, 2019

Infertility in Pop Culture

Did you know Norm on Cheers is infertile?

(Er, was infertile? I'm not sure what verb tense to use with a tv show character...)

I'm currently rewatching the entire show, beginning with the first episode, and, WHAT DID HE JUST SAY, there it is in the middle of season one.

Coach asked Norm why he and Vera didn't ever have any kids. Norm said, "I can't." And then in typical Norm fashion he made a joke out of it by saying, "I look at Vera. I just can't." But I know the kind of humor that can underscore infertility. And I was elated to learn that infertility was mentioned back in 1983 on one of my favorite tv shows.

It got me thinking...
What other cultural references are there to infertility in tv shows, books, movies, etc.?

The first reference I learned about was The Flintstones. Barney and Betty Rubble were unable to conceive children which led to the adoption of their son, Bamm-Bamm.

The next reference I learned about was Dr. Suess. He and his first wife were unable to have children and so they invented a daughter named Chrysanthemum Pearl, about whom they made up wild stories. (Have fun going down an internet rabbit hole with that one!)

What about you? Where have you heard infertility referenced in pop culture? I'd love to expand my knowledge on this topic.


  1. I love the Dr Seuss story, the idea of making up a child to handle all the social pieces (and with such a Seuss-y name!) is brilliant.

    Huh, I thought Shel Silverstein didn't have kids because of an intro to one of his books, but it turns out he had two.

    Dolly Parton couldn't have kids with her husband, and when she released her children's album she said, "Good didn't give me children, so I figure all children can be my children."

    I didn't know about the Flintstones, that's interesting!

    Of course there's Julia Child, and in the movie Julie & Julia there are two scenes about her longing for a baby that are just heartbreaking.

    I feel like infertility has cropped up in recent popular shows, but it usually makes me mad or ruins the entertainment piece for me: Grey's Anatomy, for one, Friends for another. And rarely if ever do the characters resolve without parenting.

    I'm so interested to see what others come up with!

    1. I think that's why I got so excited about Norm's single comment. He and Vera had obviously resolved without parenting. We definitely need more of these story lines in the mainstream!

      I watched Julie and Julia when it came out and loved it, but that was way before trying to grow my family was on my radar screen. I think I'd enjoy watching it again with my new perspective.

      Yes! I hope others comment with more pop culture references to infertility.

  2. I will always remember the beginning of the Disney animation movie "Up" summarising the life of Carl and Ellie:
    I have to cry each time I wach it...

    Also in the sitcom Friends, Monica and Chandler can't have children and go for an open adoption. There is even a scene in the fertility clinic:

    1. Thank you Lea! I forgot about Up and I didn't know about Friends.

  3. I didn't know that about Norm, Dr Seuss, or the Rubbles. I'm sure there are lots of examples, but they're not always good examples, as Jess noted. Though I remember way back in the early days of Grey's Anatomy, Cristina (Sandra Oh's character) had an ectopic pregnancy, and even though she didn't want children, she mourned the loss. I liked that. There are too many "miracle" resolutions in pop culture, to make everyone (except us) feel more comfortable.

    At an extreme, in The Handmaid's Tale the infertile women steal (or is it the men who do the stealing) the fertile women's children, and that's just appalling - even though I love The Handmaid's Tale book and TV series.

    1. Oh yikes about The Handmaid's Tale! I haven't read that book or watched the series, although I read people's blog posts about the show.

      I didn't know about Grey's Anatomy. Sounds like they handled the topic of ectopic pregnancy well!

    2. I've just watched the first few episodes of Friends from College (netflix), and they're dealing with an IVF storyline. One episode was quite good - the usual issues of dealing with injections and samples and emotions, but there were some very real and scathing (I thought) examples of "those comments" people make.

    3. A tv show commented on "those comments" that people make? I have NF so I think I'll check this out. Thanks!

  4. I was going to say "Up" but it was mentioned above. Those scenes were so sad. In "how I met your mother" Robin says she isn't able to have children but I don't think the reasons are explained. I could be wrong. In "Call the midwife" there's a former nun who marries but then is infertile due to previous radiotherapy she'd had for an illness. I thought her storyline was handled well. She ends up adopting later on.

    1. Thanks Dubliner! I didn't know about HIMYM or Call the Midwife. It's interesting how many pop culture references there are to infertility when it still feels like a topic that is not really discussed.

    2. I wrote a couple of posts about How I Met Your Mother, and the Robin infertility episode:

      The main couples in both "The King of Queens" and "Rules of Engagement" have infertility issues... and both wind up with "miracle" pregnancies, after adopting & having a baby via surrogate, respectively. Kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. :p