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How *NOT* to Do a Talk Show on Infertility

Posted Oct 24 2012 6:50pm

So, I just watched the Ricki Lake Show for the first time since she’s been back on air this season. I had heard rumblings on the media circuit that Ms. Lake was looking to do a show on infertility. Today, I saw on Facebook that her infertility episode was airing across the nation. I hoped as hard as I could that she would do it justice.

When I hopped on over to the official Ricki Lake Facebook thread promo-ing the show, that hope quickly faded . (Fair warning: prepare to be infuriated when you click over to that link.)

I watched the show at 4pm today and I’m glad I did. First, let’s start with the positives: she did a show on infertility, so we’ve gotta give her credit for that much. Hooray for awareness-raising!

…And that’s where the credit stops.

Here’s the episode promo:

Even on the show’s website, they tease the episode thusly: “Ricki explores infertility to expose the extremes that couples go through to conceive.” And explore the extremes she did.

Let me break down the entire show for you so you don’t have smash your face against your palm over and over like I did for 60 minutes.

1. Say hello to Jenelle, a 30-something woman married for 12 years who’s tried many, many, many times to get pregnant. She lost her job AND her house because they’ve spent over $70,000 on treatments and she’s missed so much time from work. Yanno, a very typical, everyday story of the 7.3 million people facing infertility in this country. Also, she is overweight. This is an important detail for point #4.

2. Say hello to two other ladies, who don’t get couch time with Ricki but share front-row honors instead. One of them, a redhead, has unexplained infertility. The other woman, a pretty young blonde woman, has PCOS. And she explains, in ALL her medical wisdom, that PCOS causes infertility because when cysts rupture, “they destroy your ovaries and that’s why you can’t get pregnant.” *facepalm*

3. Welcome Dr. Potter from HRC Fertility, who quickly explains that PCOS is ACTUALLY an endocrine disorder that affects insulin resistance, impacting a woman’s ability to ovulate and THAT’S why you don’t get pregnant. Thanks, Dr. Potter! *sigh of relief*

4. And now Dr. Potter is giving Jenelle a free cycle of IVF from HRC Fertility! Ummmm – awkward. What about the two other women sitting right next to you who were also brought on to share their infertility stories? The redhead chick looks kind of pissed. Add to the fun: commenters in the Ricki Show Facebook thread have been fat-shaming Jenelle AND saying she doesn’t deserve the cycle because she’s broke, and fat broke ladies who can’t take care of themselves or their finances don’t deserve to have kids. Classy.

5. Welcome Rosie Pope of Pregnant in Heels! I’ve never watched the show but she’s got a quirky accent. South African maybe? I don’t know. She’s talking about dealing with an ectopic pregnancy and hocking her new book, .

6. Meet Sara Connell, author of ! Her 60-year old mom was the surrogate for her grandson. Today I learned that apparently while ovaries age, uteruses don’t. Neat. I won’t lie, this segment was kind of cool. And I really dug her the color of her top. I’m really into royal cerulean blue right now.

7. Meet the world’s creepiest dad, Trent Arsenault, a man who calls himself – wait for it, wait for it – a DONORSEXUAL. He’s fathered 17 kids (soon to be 25) and he’s never had sex! The FDA has ordered a cease and desist for his fresh donor sperm activities. Dr. Potter is concerned about Trent’s lack of proper FDA procedures for giving away his sperm for free through the internet and literally does this in a room of his house. I’m more concerned he couldn’t wash the dirty dishes in his sink for his b-roll exposition footage. Gross.

8. This is going to sound horribly, horribly racist, but, well – it looked horribly, horribly racist on the show. Saints alive, they brought in a REAL Chinaman* to talk about Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture! Meet Dr. Mao, the “God of Fertility,” dressed in a brown mandarin collar tunic and heavily accented but still intelligible for TV. As an Asian woman, even I had to step back and be like, “…the fuck, Ricki? The fuck is this?”

*And even though I’m Asian, the use of this word is never okay and yet, it’s the first thing that popped into my head when Dr. Mao came on screen looking like he just finished laying down ties for the Transcontinental Railroad. We get it. He’s Chinese. I also get exactly how producers of this show needed to make TCM and acupuncture look “legit” for the camera. Thanks for bowing to the lowest racial denominator to make your point.

9. Meet a couple from Australia! With 3 boys! And they want a girl! So Ricki introduces the concept of gender/sex selection and “designer babies.” Because nothing says “this depicts the pain and heartache of infertility” like parents – without fertility issues – who want to pick and choose the gender of their babies. Fair and balanced, indeed!

10. Time to bring it on home with comments from the audience. Some lady talks about how she froze her eggs at age 37 to bank for the future. Single at the time and now partnered, she decided to try FET with her frozen eggs. Except, bummer, all 18 of her frozen eggs got destroyed in transit to her clinic because they were packed wrong. Ricki clucks along and shakes her head in sympathy at this “cautionary tale.” Because if there’s one thing infertility patients and the people who love them need, it’s more cautionary tales.

11. A woman asks the panel of experts on stage when it’s time to stop trying. Dr. Potter basically says never stop trying. You’ll get there, someday, somehow. None of the other experts add anything to this. It felt like poor editing.

12. A very tearful blonde lady with this adorable ponytail tries to choke out the idea that IVF isn’t just science – it’s a gift, a miracle. Again, I think this was more poor editing because I think this woman had more of a story to share but oops – out of time! So it got cut down to this stunted sentiment instead.

13. And that’s a wrap! There you have it. Roll credits. Tune in tomorrow and all that jazz.

Look, it’s not the worst depiction of infertility I’ve ever seen. But it certainly didn’t help us, either. I felt dirty watching this episode, like somehow, this amazing pregnancy I’ve been blessed with was less the result of science, nature and maybe even G-d, and more the result of some circus freakshow. I really felt like Jenelle and Sara and Rosie and all the patients on the show were all being held in this uncomfortable gaze of the public eye, like, “wow, these women are weird” and less of “wow, infertility is a soul-wrenching experience.”

As excited as I was at first that Ricki Lake was doing a talk show on infertility, I almost wished she hadn’t at all. We’d be better off as a community for it without having to combat this latest deluge of stereotypes and scenarios in the extreme.

Shows like these remind us that we need more projects like Faces of ALI out there, to make infertility more “the neighbor next door” and less “the cover of the National Enquirer.” We need compassion and understanding, not some circus barker poking his cane into our ribcages.

Did you tune in to the Ricki Lake Show on infertility today? What did you think?

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