Hollywood and Unplanned Pregnancy

After I posted about the new show Jane the Virgin, I watched last week’s episode of Parenthood because I’m determined to see it out to the bitter end (and bitter it is indeed). After watching it, I realized there is another hit show out there besides those two dealing with unplanned pregnancy that I am following, Nashville. All three shows are handling it in quite different ways and maybe it gives me a little hope as to how writers in Hollywood are thinking in terms of unplanned pregnancy.

While it’s a storyline that’s been around literally since the birth of Christ (and even before then), unplanned pregnancy has never been given quite the spotlight it has in secular culture as it has in the last few years. Juno showed a teenager becoming pregnant after her first, and only, sexual encounter. MTV has the shows 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom which shows young girls from a variety of backgrounds and how they are dealing with pregnancy and the decisions surrounding mothering their children. The notable difference between those and the current shows Jane the Virgin, Parenthood and Nashville is that while all the women are unmarried, the new storylines on these three shows show women who are older, not fully dependent on parents and in some ways, very successful and independent. Oh, yeah, there is that piece of trash The Obvious Child which I don’t call trash because the choice is abortion but because it stars Mona Lisa Saperstein and reeks of Gillian Robespierre’s sexual childhood. I’ve seen enough of it and heard more than enough in an interview to make that judgment.

In Jane the Virgin, Jane may still be living with her mom and Abuela, but she is concentrated on a life plan of finishing school, becoming a teacher, and marrying Michael. And not having sex until she’s married to Michael. Jane’s plans get derailed in an almost unrealistic way (I say almost because we know of confirmed cases of women being inseminated with the wrong sample, so, it’s not out of reach to think a woman might be inseminated without her knowledge). Jane is worried and upset, obviously, I mean, wouldn’t you be too. And she seriously considers abortion her only option to keep her boyfriend and pursue her life. This despite being the daughter of a teenage mother who she finds out was not forced to have but quite the opposite, fought to have her. In the end, it is manipulation that she is unaware of that gets her to decide to have the baby but allow the baby’s biological father and his wife raise him or her. In just one hour, we got to see Jane go from confident young woman to scared and confused to once again knowing she can handle it. Although, the viewer knows (Jane doesn’t yet) that Jane’s plan for her baby after birth, is not as certain as it seems.

Parenthood‘s final season finds Amber pregnant. It took til the end, but Amber is finally pregnant. Amber has had her string of unfortunate events. So much so that there are drinking games surrounding her crying in any given episode. I say “finally” not because Amber has ever been trying to get pregnant, but because it would appear that Katims and team have run out of “tragic storylines” for her. And while Amber doesn’t see her pregnancy as tragic, the circumstances are less than ideal. In contrast to Jane’s reaction, despite her situation, Amber is happy with her pregnancy. It seems very counter-intuitive because she is living in Berkeley with her very secular family and her own brother’s girlfriend went through with an abortion he did not want. If anyone was going to go straight to Planned Parenthood, it was Amber. But instead, Amber has told her less than enthusiastic mother (who has since grown on the idea), her loving and supportive grandfather (who later spilled the beans to the rest of the family), and her way-to-enthusiastic ex-boyfriend, the baby’s father. When Amber told her mother Sarah, Sarah was in shock Amber would even consider having this baby. An attitude that Amber correctly labeled as “less than helpful.” Her grandfather Zeek, by contrast, was experiencing a sub-dued joy and immediately offered Amber whatever support she needed. He also gave her the encouragement to tell Ryan, the baby’s father. And it’s good she has Zeek’s support (and her grandmother Camille) because when Zeek spilled the beans to Amber’s aunt and uncles, their enthusiasm was fairly muted with uncle Adam saying, “congratulations, I guess.” When Amber got around to seeing her brother Drew in person, it was awkward because despite their closeness, he heard first from the rest of the family. Drew never questioned Amber as to her intentions with the baby but insisted on going with her to tell Ryan. He also helped Amber to realize that while Ryan certainly should be able to be a part of his child’s life, Ryan’s past and current issues (a war-vet with PTSD, drug and drinking problems and serious anger management issues) pre-cluded them raising their child together. Amber has her past, but she’s come a long, long way and is in a place where she can take care of a child, Ryan is not. Despite her family’s reluctance, Amber is ready to pursue motherhood and give her child the stable life she did not have.

Nashville‘s Hayden Panatierre is pregnant in real life, but her show pregnancy was already on the books before she knew she would be welcoming a daughter into the world. Her character, Juliette Barnes, is a woman who seemingly has everything, a successful career, thousands of adoring fans, but is lacking quite a bit. Her deprived childhood set her up to feel entitled to what the world had to offer once she hit it big which has led to a string of self-destructive behaviors. Her mother has died over the course of the show and she sabatoged a great relationship with Avery when she cheated on him with the despicable Jeff Fordham. When Juliette discovered her pregnancy, she immediately planned for an abortion, certain the child was Jeff’s a man she hated herself for every associating with. However, thanks to Tennessee state laws, Juliette’s OB/GYN had to show her the ultrasound revealing the baby was older than she thought, meaning it was Avery, not Jeff’s child (remember kids, there is no such thing as safe sex or most of us wouldn’t be here). Juliette sought out her once-nemesis now frenemy Rayna James who knows a thing or two about unplanned pregnancy at the end of last week’s episode for help with figuring out what to do about her baby and her life. Juliette has all the money and resources the girl’s on the other show don’t. Yet she can’t figure which way is up in her pregnancy.

Hollywood’s well covered that unplanned pregnancy is not ideal and brings with it lots of upsetting and unsettling consequences. But instead of showing abortion as the only choice, we are now seeing other choices being teased out as equally tenable. It was never a consideration for Amber and when stepping back and realizing she wasn’t going to necessarily lose everything by having the baby, Jane also has chosen life. Juliette, it appears, will also choose to have her baby although despite “having it all” her decision appears to be the most agonized over and contentious. Just as 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom have shown that having a baby and raising it (or giving it up for adoption) are not easy nor glamorous choices, these fictional shows don’t pretend that a decision to have a baby means a happy ending. They still show women who feel that they are (and they are) unprepared for motherhood and having a baby, but choose it anyway. The world is full of parents, teachers, movies etc who are like the mom in Knocked Up who will tell them a few hundred dollars will “take care of the problem.”  So, it is definitely an interesting trend to see these shows of women knowing the choices and choosing to give birth.