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Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Doctor Mothers.

by Meredith O’Brien

 

Ah, Grey’s Anatomy [1] how you befuddle and intrigue me. I’ve watched you from day one, followed the ups and downs of the Meredith Grey-Derek Shepherd love affair, watched beloved cast members depart and suffered through some of your moments of weakness. But when it comes to issues related to pregnancy and child-rearing, you continue to paint a complicated yet fascinating portrait of the subject.

 

The most recent episode of Grey’s was a perfect example of how the show handles this sometimes twisty topic: In the very first scene, the marquee couple, Meredith and Derek, learned that after months of trying to get pregnant – following Meredith’s miscarriage some six months prior – that Meredith, once again, was not pregnant. The couple had visited a specialist a few episodes beforehand and were told that Meredith has a “hostile uterus,” so they know that getting pregnant again may prove difficult. However in the very last scene of that same episode, there was Callie Torres, who has been talking about her desire to have babies for years, announcing that she was pregnant by her friends-with-benefits lover Mark Sloan, just when her ex-girlfriend was pleading with her to get back together.

 

Way back in the days when Callie was married to George O’Malley, she said she wanted “a dozen” babies. Upon hearing this, the only working mom on Grey’s Anatomy, Miranda Bailey told Callie [2], "One’s enough unless you plan to put away that scalpel." Years later, when Callie was dating Arizona Robbins – a pediatric surgeon who said she expressly did NOT want children – Callie asked Bailey, whose husband divorced her because he detested her workaholic ways, when’s the best time to have a child. "The best time to have kids is never," Bailey said, adding that being a mother also provided her with "irrational, unbridled joy." By this time, Bailey herself had decided to take a few steps back from her career, giving up running a free clinic she started, in order to spend more time with her son.

 

Baby lust hasn’t been confined to just the women. After being dumped by his girlfriend, Mark Sloan jumped into bed with Callie, who’d also been dumped by her lover. Ever since his teen daughter that he never knew existed turned up on his doorstep last season, Mark has been pining away for a baby of his own. He and his baby hungry friend Callie had hoped that maybe they could adopt Mark’s daughter’s child but the daughter put the baby up for adoption, leaving Mark heartbroken yet determined to make a family.

In the last episode, it was ironic to learn that Callie and Mark are the ones who’ll be having a baby while Meredith and Derek -- the stable couple with the home and the Post-It Note marriage -- are struggling with infertility. It’s worth noting that Meredith -- who remains scarred by her lonely childhood with her cold, largely absent, divorced, surgeon mother -- used to think that careers and parenthood were incompatible. "People who want to have high-powered careers, I get that," she said once, "but they should think twice about having kids." Meredith later mused, upon observing two workaholic parents whose child was largely watched by a nanny, "Why bother having a kid if you’re only going to see it on weekends or holidays? You might as well get a cat."

 

Other characters on Grey’s have had issues with reproduction in the past. Take Addison Shepherd, Derek’s ex-wife, for example. During that conversation in which Callie said she wanted to have a dozen babies, Addison said that even though she was married and had a solid career, she never felt as though she and Derek were ready to have children. Prior to moving to Seattle, however, Addison did get pregnant during an affair with, of all people, Mark Sloan, only she had an abortion [3] because she thought Mark would make a terrible father.

 

But when Addison finally was ready to become a mother, she was told she had insurmountable fertility problems. As Addison’s character moved over to Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes’ other drama, Private Practice [4], her yearning for a child grew intense. She dated a guy, Pete Wilder, who had a baby with a woman who, after she was brutally attacked by one of her patients, fled town and left the baby with Pete. Addison bonded strongly with Pete and his son Lucas and allowed herself to envision raising him, only to have the mother return and reclaim both the baby and the guy.

 

Addison’s next beau Sam Bennett – a divorced doctor whose only child had a baby of her own at age 15 last season with her teenage boyfriend/now-husband – has told Addison that he doesn’t want any more kids, something she has not yet accepted. An opportunity to adopt an orphaned girl – their deceased colleague’s child – presented itself and Addison’s maternal longing went into high gear, but she wound up caving to Sam who said he didn’t want to raise the child.

When you look at the characters on Grey’s who are more established in their careers – like Chief Richard Webber, Owen Hunt and Teddy Altman – they too don’t have any children. (Ditto for most of the Private Practice docs.) Does this mean that in order to be successful in the high-powered field of surgery that physicians have to shelve the desire to be a soccer parent? A 2010 study from Zurich University [5], which surveyed 579 medical residents in Switzerland, said that you kind of do if you want to be at the top of your medical game. It found -- big shock -- that female physicians who had children tended to de-emphasize their careers, work part-time and seek out more flexible working arrangements than their male peers and their childless female colleagues.

 

As if to drive home that point, during the latest Grey’s episode when Meredith Grey was preoccupied with taking pregnancy test after pregnancy test in case she’d taken the first one "too early" in her cycle – hoping that just one of them would wind up being positive – she worried that she’d gone "soft" because she cared more about a potential pregnancy than she did about competing for the spot of chief resident.

 

The way Grey’s -- as well as its sister show Private Practice -- has dealt with pregnancy and child-rearing throughout its seven seasons has been simultaneously compelling and disheartening, but it does seem to be somewhat reflective of the choices medical professionals make, at least according to the Zurich University study. And that’s kind of depressing. Where do the writers go from here? How Callie’s pregnancy evolves – if indeed the writers allow her character to carry the baby to full term – should prove interesting given that this character is a successful orthopedic surgeon and the baby’s father is a top-notch plastic surgeon. Will Meredith and Derek be tormented with infertility and Meredith, who has always had mommy issues, be rendered unable to become a biological mother? All of these are unanswered questions which I lay at the feet of showrunner Rhimes [6], an adoptive single mother who knows more than a little about having a high-powered job (she runs three primetime shows now) and raising a kid.


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