Pregnancy plots are easy, writing other choices is hard

With the recent increase in teen pregnancy rates, the hoopla over Lifetime’s The Pregnancy Pact, and the season finale of MTV’s Teen Mom airing tonight, it’s no wonder we all have teen pregnancy on our minds. In TV shows and films that deal with unplanned pregnancy, 99% of the time the woman (or teenager) will keep the baby. It is easy to see this as a glorification of pregnancy and motherhood, particularly teen motherhood. While that may be the agenda of certain parties, I think there is more to it. Namely, pregnancy is a damn easy narrative to write. Writing a story about abortion or adoption is much harder.

Let’s face it, unplanned pregnancy lends itself to story-telling, but only if the woman keeps the baby. Sexy times (exciting beginning) –> unplanned pregnancy (conflict) –> working through the pregnancy and/or relationship (gradual resolution of conflict) –> birth and chubby baby smiles (happy, heartwarming ending).  It’s the classic coming of age story, though for many of us (bad pun alert) it’s more of a coming of rage story.

It’s all right there: the classic beginning-middle-end plot, plus the opportunity for growing baby belly montages.  Lazy writers love to write about the girl who finds herself pregnant, decides to keep the baby, learns a lot about life while she’s pregnant, and then gives birth.  They are especially fond of hospital scenes with 20 people crowding around the happy new mother.  And then fade to black.  What happens after the baby comes home from the hospital, well, that doesn’t fit into the formula.  Neither does abortion or adoption.

Think about it.  How do you write a story about abortion?  It’s hard to imagine a formula because, like life, there is no formula.  The only example of a heartwarming tale about abortion I know of is this amazing short film by Gillian Robespierre.  But there is a reason this is a short film. The abortion narrative has a beginning and an end, but lacks the convenient 9 month period of character development and conflict resolution. Adoption is similarly problematic, although we do see it for one of the teen couples on MTV’s Teen Mom and in the film Juno.

Abortion does not lend itself to romantic comedies, dramas, or even reality TV, and since it’s controversial anyway, the entertainment industry is happy to ignore it.  As much as I would like to accuse the industry of a sinister plot to glorify teen pregnancy, I think the truth is simply that industry folks are lazy and formulaic plots sell.  And, as usual, it’s young women who pay the price.

12 thoughts on “Pregnancy plots are easy, writing other choices is hard

  1. The best abortion plot I’ve ever seen is the music video for Amanda Palmer’s Oasis. It intentionally pokes fun at the typical pregnancy tropes, even going so far as to have 20 happy, singing people crowding around the new non-mother during the procedure.

    BTW, congratulations on getting listed at Feministing! How does it feel to be an internet celebrity?

  2. Thank you John and dcp511!

    Thanks for linking to Oasis, I haven’t seen that before! Incredible stuff.

    And getting a link from Feministing has been pretty amazing so far. It’s exciting to see this site turn into a “real” blog, literally overnight!

  3. Juno does consider abortion. The film Waitress addresses it somewhat as well.

    Revolutionary Road has a pretty distinct abortion plot.

    ****SPOILER ALERT*****

    But then she has the abortion and dies. So, that seems to go with part of your thesis.

  4. It’s kind of like real life, isn’t it? Choose life, and there is all the conflict and sacrifice and joy of life. Choose death, and the story ends. For the baby.

  5. Choose abortion (not necessarily death — that’s pretty subjective) and the story goes on to include opportunity and adventure, as well as conflict, sacrifice, and joy of life – including children if she wants them – for the woman.

  6. Thank you!! This is something that has always bothered me, and as much as I liked Juno, the fact that the abortion story was pushed under the radar (and lets the Chinese girl get the better of her) felt unrealistic and a cop-out to me. I hate pregnancy storylines, because they are almost never well done. The only one I’ve liked in recent memory (and this is going back aways, when you consider original airdate) is Miranda’s on Sex and the City, where it’s also revealed that Carrie and Samantha have had the procedure.

    Like you said, pregnancy storylines on TV are unrealistic and poorly written. I’d add fake pregnancy to that list, too.

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