When TV Became a Reminder of the Baby I Don’t Have (Yet)

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Culture & Conversation Family

When TV Became a Reminder of the Baby I Don’t Have (Yet)

Caroline Choe

It seems as if every woman on food TV has to cook with her family or someone else's kids to be relevant and relatable.

I didn’t think I was a particularly jealous person who coveted other people’s happy moments—until Food Network personality Molly Yeh became pregnant and promoted her Girl Meets Farm show with a burgeoning baby bump and obvious excitement.

As part of a big family and as an entrepreneur with a small food business, I’ve taken refuge from life’s crazy times by watching television. Lighthearted shows like The Golden Girls and Kim’s Convenience always make me smile. And as a woman chef, I’ve taken special relief and pleasure in seeing other women cook on the small screen.

But as a woman who’s experiencing infertility, seeing Molly Yeh’s pregnancy last fall and other mothers on food TV gradually began to sting a bit. A good majority of food shows with women stars play up the seemingly made-for-TV family angle, cooking for your kids: Giada Entertains, The Pioneer Woman, Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, Farmhouse Rules, and Ayesha’s Home Kitchen, to name a few. More often than not, you’ll see many women in food regularly featured on-screen and in magazines with children: Ree Drummond cooking giant meals or making care packages for her four children; Gail Simmons in a recent family photo spread for People magazine; Lidia Bastianich and Nancy Fuller cooking with their children and grandchildren; or Trisha Yearwood singing (her own hits) and making nacho salads in a jar with young musicians. Though there are exceptions, it feels as if almost every woman on a cooking show needs to have an attachment to children: whether their own or even on a kids’ competition show—and men don’t seem to have this same requirement.

Of course, Molly did nothing wrong. None of these mothers have. I felt happiness for Molly, alongside with sadness—the same sadness-happiness I felt for the seemingly hundreds of friends’ and loved ones’ pregnancies happening around me. I kept thinking here were two successes I’d been striving for: being a successful cook on food television and being a mother-to-be. And it MUST be possible to have both because I was seeing other women have them on TV. But now, in the last year as I’ve tried to get pregnant, the differences between the women on television and me felt amplified to a new degree, their lives and careers reflected in their growing families.

I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, I never worried about when I was going to get married, not even when people asked me if we were going to have kids barely an hour after our wedding was over. Nor did I worry about my polycystic ovary syndrome diagnosis. I was 22 at the time when I received it, and while I knew that getting pregnant might be difficult, my doctor remained optimistic about future family planning.

[Photo: A woman is positioned in the corner, looking up at a ceiling full of TV screens.]As I grew older and finally started trying to get pregnant—and didn’t—I began skipping over shows about pregnancy or fertility storylines because they hurt to watch. And it wasn’t just food shows that just became harder to bear. I shut off the TV during Sex and the City reruns where Charlotte struggled through the trials of IVF, hormone shots, getting her eggs tested, and a miscarriage. My husband and I ended up both being in tears together one night, watching Monica and Chandler discover they’re unable to have children together on Friends.

I’d seen these episodes many times before, but I understand the anguish with a truly empathetic and painful personal perspective. Though I couldn’t stand the characters from the show Friends From College, I could relate when one of them found out she was finally pregnant after a ten-year period of trying.

And it’s only been a year of trying for me and my husband.  I have to keep reminding myself that we can’t measure our progress by any lengths of someone else’s struggles or successes. As a friend told me, “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been trying—a year, months, weeks. In the end, you’re not successful in something you’ve wanted a long time for, and you don’t know what it’s going to take for this to happen. People need to grasp this fact.”

Usually an energetic go-getter, I’ve never taken a slower approach to anything in my life. It kills me that life has another plan of “not yet” or possibly “not ever.” Everything about fertility treatments scares me: the crash-tests your body goes through, the low success rate, the endless doctor’s appointments, the sacrifice, and especially, the financial costs.

If you believe what you see on television, you might think women really can form the life that they want on a meager salary in their dream job, a big dose of the lovin’-sharin’ life with the right partner, or the lucky break of being a food television star.

The reality of my work in the food industry demands the questions: Can I afford fertility treatments on a personal chef salary or if I’m a line cook or a server? Will my chef job be in jeopardy if I choose to take maternity leave?

The other aching side of living with infertility and loving TV is that some shows just assume that motherhood happens or happens easily. Characters get married and roll their eyes at assumptions they’ll be pregnant in months. But through the magic of TV time, babies appear quickly. 

But this is my life and not a sitcom. And there’s more to it than you can cram into a few seasons. Speaking of more, I can only wish there were more instances or depictions of people of color talking about infertility. Michelle Obama recently did, and a recent video by The Try Guys shows Eugene Lee Yang’s father revealing that he and Eugene’s mother visited fertility clinics to help conceive before he and his siblings were born.

This is where representation really does matter and where television is, if not, entirely flailing, is lagging. Perhaps the difficult conversations we’re all still trying to have is what is still getting lost in translation on our shows. Nearly every woman I’ve talked to about her fertility and family has a story. I was shocked at the measures they’d gone through to have their children—and not just in vitro fertilization: expanding fallopian tubes, intrauterine insemination (IUI), acupuncture, and a whole collection of fertility drugs and alternative treatments. All met with a giant “maybe” that they would work.

I’m still torn between wanting more television shows that depict infertility struggles with painful accuracy and not wanting to watch the ones that do. I watch these shows when I’m able. I turn off the TV when I’m not. Nonetheless, I wait for the baby I don’t have yet, but am still hopeful I’ll get to meet someday.