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  • Writer's pictureBrandy Norton

Infertility on screen: part 1

“This house… really ought to belong to people who have children.”

It was movie night. I thought I was sitting down to watch a light-hearted horror movie (Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice). Instead, I had stumbled on an infertility story. My breath caught in my chest as I watched Geena Davis’ character react with wide-eyed sadness to this most insensitive statement: “...people who have children.” As I kept watching, the story drew me in much deeper than I had ever anticipated. It became a story about finding light in the darkness. 

This seems to have become a recurring theme for me. I’ll sit down to watch a movie that I thought I knew, only to find - now that infertility has adjusted my perspective - it has much more to say than I ever realized. I’ve compiled the following reflections on three different movies that quietly portray infertility. All had messages that have helped me feel less alone. Perhaps they can do the same for you.

Up (2009) - You can have a fulfilling life despite your circumstances

If you have never seen Up, you’ll want to know that both the beginning and ending are almost guaranteed to make you cry. (Trigger warnings include implied miscarriage/loss and death of a spouse in old age - both happen within the first 10 minutes of the movie.) What I love about this movie is it doesn’t fuel me with sadness, but joy. Up shines a light on the beauty found in marriage: through the good times, the bad times, and even/especially the most mundane times.

The featured married couple, Ellie and Carl, have a relationship founded on adventure with a shared motto: “Adventure is out there!” They have big dreams of a family full of children, and travels to far away lands. Ultimately, their family remains as the two of them, and they quietly live out their days in their home and surrounding community. Although they do not experience the “big” adventures they thought they would have, they both discover their little shared moments were more fulfilling than they could have ever dreamed. At the end of their lives, they can say to one another: “Thanks for the adventure”.

Beetlejuice (1988) - You may open your home in unexpected ways

In this movie, Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland are ghosts trapped in their beloved home which has been purchased by the Deetzes, an offensive couple with a sullen teenage daughter. The Maitlands - who, while living, experienced infertility - jump into problem solving mode. They try to run away, but cannot escape. They try to seek help from professionals, but are rushed along - “there’s a long line of people, you’re wasting our time.” They try to fight with everything they have, but nothing changes. The Maitlands fall into despair. (All relatable infertility experiences so far.)

Slowly, the Maitlands connect with the Deetzes through their teenage daughter and realize they have a positive role to play. When they learn to welcome the once-strangers into their home, all five characters begin to experience healing and growth. The movie ends with an outpouring of love.

Julie & Julia (2009) - You may still be triggered into grief on your best days

In the movie, we see a joy-filled Julia Child. She has found her calling in life as a cook. She and her husband, Paul, have a solid marriage filled with life and love. They have a great community of friends who she and Paul host in their home. Yet, in a seemingly mundane scene, Julia rapidly moves from laughter to grief at the “wonderful” news of her sister’s pregnancy. “I’m so happy,” she sobs into her husband’s arms. (A warning, this scene will likely induce tears and grief for any viewer who has experienced a similar moment.) In a quieter scene, the Childs pass a baby in the park and share a meaningful, silent look that says: “This is not easy” and, “I know.”

The challenge, of course, with most movies is that they end with a “happily ever after”. The first two movies I highlighted above could read as the misplaced guidance we often receive: “Just move on. Then you can be happy.” What I appreciated about Julie & Julia is it shows the raw reality of infertility - your emotions around infertility may be triggered even on your best days.

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