Opinion: ‘This Is Us’ Didn’t Do The Premature Birth Experience Justice
THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS MENTION OF PREGNANCY LOSS.
[Warning: The below contains spoilers from the following This Is Us episodes, “The Waiting Room” (season 3, episode 15) and “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” (season 3, episode 16)]
When I found out Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) high-risk pregnancy would take a turn for trauma, I felt uneasy. I knew an on-screen loss would be an automatic deal breaker for me. A quick Google search eliminated that possibility so I could proceed to watch. I still had my reservations. I wanted to give This Is Us (TIU) writers and Metz’s acting the benefit of the doubt. But I cringed at the possibility of an inaccurate portrayal of the sacred nature of this scenario.
I can’t speak for other preemie mamas, but from my own experience, I just can’t relate to Kate.
And it’s not solely her birthing experience, but also her entire struggle with infertility and pregnancy. I know TIU prefers to show events over a larger period and not linger on the day-to-day details, yet a great deal lacked for me in terms of realism. As a fellow mother who struggled with infertility, I cheered for Kate when the Reproductive Specialist decided to give her medical case a chance. I held my breath during her egg retrieval and fertilization process until she ended up with one viable embryo.
But for someone who had an automatic high-risk pregnancy, where were any of the symptoms? Hello, morning sickness? Emotional train-wreck? The urgency to nest?
Even leading up to her Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes (PROM), A.K.A. water breaking, there were no story clues or plot build up.
I make these critiques from personal experience. Unlike Kate, whose portrayed only high-risk qualifier other than weight was her advanced maternal age, I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), or severe morning sickness. I could not physically stomach anything but plain spaghetti noodles for weeks, lost 15 pounds, and required hospitalization for fluids.
This was also my first pregnancy after years of infertility. Without even a prior miscarriage, I still endured debilitating anxiety throughout the first and at least half of the second trimester. The popular thought is you’re ‘out of the woods’ after the first trimester, until you go on online support groups and read multiple horror story posts a day of people who “have to leave the group” because they experienced an unexpected loss in the second and even third trimester. To retain my sanity, I got off the cyber chat boards and forums.
Because of an anterior placenta, I didn’t feel baby kicks for a long time. Now, I’m not sure if I ever did. What I thought was a foot pressing on my stomach from the inside turned out to be contractions. I learned this information during a routine ultrasound at 25 weeks when the doctor sent me straight to the hospital from the appointment to try to stop the early onset of labor.
The hospital succeeded to halt my labor, but hours before discharge from hospital bedrest, my water broke at 26 weeks.
You would think a hospital is the least stressful place for this to happen and that would make my occurrence more ideal than Kate’s. But her level of calm throughout the entire process was too eerie for me. My water breaking sent me into a straight panic. When the nurses responded to the call button, my demeanor alarmed them into thinking I was in pain.
Of course, we didn’t see everything that happened with Kate and Toby (Chis Sullivan) during the delivery part. But we do know it could only have been long enough for the entire immediate and extended family plus Madison (Caitlin Thompson) to remain in the waiting area.
I continued my hospital bedrest for two-and-a-half weeks after my water broke. At 28 weeks, like Kate, the nurses whisked me away in a stretcher for an emergency cesarean section (c-section). And, like baby Jack, my son’s heart rate had dropped.
Unlike Kate, though, I didn’t see my baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) the same day. I suffered from Postpartum Hemorrhage after the surgery and had a Bakri balloon placed to compress the bleeding inside my uterus. I was not permitted to leave my recovery room until after its removal, which delayed me from a visit with my child.
Even during and for some time after the delivery, I did not know the fate of my little man. I delivered my son at 9 p.m., and it took until 3 a.m. for a Neonatologist Fellow (a physician in training) to come to tell me if my child even survived.
Also, unlike Kate, when I did get to visit my baby in the NICU, I didn’t look great. Not saying she seemed red carpet ready or anything, but she didn’t have the appearance of someone who underwent major surgery on post-op pain medication.
My last bone to pick with the whole situation is her lack of true concern. With his appropriate display of post-traumatic birth experience anxiety, Toby seemed more believable to have been the one who gave birth than Kate. I get she may have been exhausted or holding her emotions in, but she almost seemed immature in her attempt to be positive and move forward with haste.
I won’t even get started with how idealistic the NICU room on set was.
Premature birth is sanctified. My suggestion to the writers of the TIU script is to stop going for the immediate shock factor of throwing any possible life and relationship scenario into the show and spend a little more time delving into character development and depicting true experiences with precision.
My final thoughts: the mama in me wishes fictional baby Jack the best. The preemie mama in me, still in trenches of the aftermath ramifications of a child born too soon almost two years later, hopes the show doesn’t let the entire Toby/Kate/Jack family walk away and proceed into parenting unscathed.
I take back the “final.”
To be fair, I wrote this piece last week (season 3, episode 15) and held off on publishing to see if this week’s (season 3, episode 16) episode would get better. Within the first two minutes, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) announced only two days passed since the birth and proceeded to hug a standing Kate. No back pain from the epidural? Out of the wheelchair already? Still a positive attitude in a peaceful NICU setting? All wrong.
And, in Toby’s defense, I was not a better parent “because I grew the baby inside of me.” I was right there with Toby and all his emotional chaos.
“Tubes, tape, needles, and pain.” This I can connect with.