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

Working Mom Issues On Grey's Anatomy.

Forget about all the hub-bub over Elizabeth Vargas' paper-thin "20/20" segment that was supposed to provide an in-depth look at the struggles of mothers and their work. Watch "Grey's Anatomy" instead. It's here -- on one of the few TV programs run by a real working mom [1] of a small child -- that you'll get a down-to-earth dissection of contemporary motherhood and the working world, dovetailed by the consequences of those maternal decisions.

And I'm not just talking about the character of Dr. Miranda Bailey, the mother of a baby boy who has spent the past several episodes battling the sexism of her colleagues who think that she should either be all-surgeon or all-mother, nothing in between. Motherhood and women's work choices -- as well as society's response to those choices -- are put under a non-judgmental microscope, particularly during last night's episode.

Take a throw-away conversation in the observation room where Dr. Bailey, Dr. Addison Shepherd and Dr. Callie Torres are watching surgery on a 5-year-old girl who was accidentally run down by the family's SUV driven by the nanny (who's emotionally closer to the girl than the girl's career-oriented parents). Bailey asked uber-successful ob/gyn Shepherd if, before she was divorced from McDreamy, she'd ever thought about having kids. "I wasn't ready," Shepherd said.

Dr. Torres said she loves kids. Wanted a dozen of them.

Then new mom Bailey raised her eyebrows and said, "One's enough, unless you plan to put away your scalpel." (Even though I adore the Bailey character, this is the same argument made by the controversial Linda Hirshman who tells women to have one kid then go back to work, lest they let down their feminist foremothers.)

Later, when speaking again with Shepherd, Bailey said that she'd left work early one day so she could rush home to feed her baby his favorite solid food -- peas -- only to find that he'd changed his favorite food. "Life moves so fast," Shepherd said.


At the end of the episode, Bailey stole away into an office, called her house and insisted that her husband wake up their son Tucker and put the phone next to his ear so she could sing an achingly moving rendition of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child." To hell with whether any of her critical colleagues could hear her singing. There she was, in her white doctor's coat, singing goodnight to her baby via cell phone. After weeks of trying to prove to her colleagues that she could be both a good, strong surgeon AND a mom, Bailey seemed to be finally coming to terms with her dual roles and the compromises she'd had to make.

Meanwhile, Dr. Meredith Grey was serving as the mouthpiece for those who disagree with moms who work full-time when their children are young. Grey and Bailey were on the case of the 5-year-old whose parents were too busy with work, who didn't know how to sing her special goodnight song and who hated the nanny with whom the daughter had intensely bonded. During the girl's operation (the child had two surgeries), Grey -- whose own hot-shot surgeon mother never had time for her -- started trash talking the girl's parents.

Bailey: People do the best they can Dr. Grey.

Grey: People who want to have high-powered careers, I get that. But they should think twice about having kids.

Bailey shot a seething glance at Grey who immediately started to back off her comments. "What . . . I should be home with my baby instead of being with this little girl?" Bailey asked.

Later, when in the company of a fellow intern, Grey continued her lament, which, it seemed to me, directly related to her own bad childhood experience of feeling pushed aside by a successful mother (her dad left the family): "Why bother having a kid if you're only going to see it on the weekends or holidays? You might as well get a cat."

The inherent sexism of all of this -- the fact that all the focus is typically on the moms and their career choices -- was given voice by the attorney-mother of the injured 5-year-old. When remarking about how very attached to the nanny her daughter Mia was, the mother said to Grey: "That's my fault, according to my husband, because I'm a working mom. He's a working dad, but apparently that's not the issue. I love my job. I love Mia more."

The mom's last moments of dialog in the episode didn't seem self-serving, they seemed honest: "I'm not good at the mom stuff. I'm good at my job." Now, had a dad said that, he might've been praised for providing for his family and excused from all that feelings stuff just as long as he was there for the weekends and holidays. But for a mom to say that . . .

After watching "Grey's" this season, I've felt as though more intriguing issues have been raised about parenthood than are being addressed in the news media. And on this show, we see the issues personified with flesh-and-blood, politically incorrect characters and hear a variety of views. And I find it fascinating.

If you liked the recent episode of "Grey's Anatomy," I think you'll love to hear the 13-minute podcast [2] from the executive producers, Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers. During the podcast, you'll glean various insights into the show, including Rhimes' favorite scene, where her alter-ego -- Dr. Miranda Bailey -- sang "God Bless the Child" to her infant son via cell phone.

In discussing how parenthood was addressed in the episode, the producers also mentioned a scene I hadn't thought about: The scene involving whip-smart surgical intern Dr. Cristina Yang who Dr. George O'Malley had told his sick father was the best intern on staff. Yang later told George's dad, who was hospitalized with a heart ailment and newly-diagnosed cancer, that his son was not only the best intern on staff but he was an extraordinary person. And for that, Yang said, his father should be proud of the job he'd done raising him.

And George's father became teary-eyed. And he did indeed smile, proudly.

It was a bright and shiny moment amid the sadness.

Meredith O'Brien is a longtime journalist and mother of three. She teaches journalism at the University of Massachusetts and writes the fabulous Parenting Pop Culture: TV. Movies. Motherhood and Apple Pie blog [3].

 

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