Recently, television is starting to depict the early trials and tribulations of motherhood. From “Jane the Virgin” to “The Mindy Project,” female protagonists are struggling with life post-baby. Unlike other shows that portray pregnant women one episode and then well-groomed infants on their hips the next episode, “Jane the Virgin” and “The Mindy Project” are taking a deeper dive into the difficult and messy obstacles that new moms tend to face.
“Jane the Virgin” may have the most absurd premise of any television show to date. It is about a young girl who is accidentally inseminated with a stranger’s sperm during her regular check-up at the OB-GYN. The show satirizes telenovelas with an omniscient narrator who sounds like a sexy Latin soap opera star. Jane ends up falling in love with her fetus’ biological father, who happens to be the owner of the hotel in which she works. Despite this over-the-top plot line, this show actually has many realistic features about the early stages of motherhood.
1. Love is never simple. Jane was engaged to her boyfriend when she found out she was pregnant via another man’s sperm. She then starts to have feelings for the sperm’s proprietor, and finds herself in a strange love triangle. Jane feels even more conflicted after having the baby. I don’t know many women who find themselves in comparable situations per se, but I do understand the dramatic change that occurs when you transform from a couple into a family. Having a baby does create a kind of love triangle. When a new mom has a limited amount of energy, she has to figure out when to direct that toward her child, and when it goes to her partner.
2. Breastfeeding is hard. Jane had always planned to breastfeed, and is blindsided when she encounters multiple obstacles following her delivery. She feels pressure to nurse, but the baby won’t latch. Her milk isn’t coming in. She’s distraught at the thought of having to introduce formula. It seems like the end of the world. Many new moms can attest to all of the above.
3. Hygiene takes a backseat. After giving birth, taking care of the baby becomes the priority, and taking care of yourself is bumped down to the bottom of the to-do list. Jane’s family stages an intervention after they determine that she hasn’t showered in a week. Once they seem relieved when she finally starts heading toward the bathroom, she changes her mind and decides that what she needs most at that moment is a nap, rather than a shower. Sleep over suds. Always.
“The Mindy Project” is about a high-achieving doctor who is a romantic at heart. The show tracks her numerous relationships, work ups and downs, and her cultural background (being a first-generation American with traditional Indian parents). When she gets pregnant with her current boyfriend and co-worker, they decide to get married and start a family. The plot deepens to include the array of emotions she experiences during her pregnancy, birth, and aftermath. “The Mindy Project” exposes Mindy’s vulnerable side during this period, and illustrates universal themes that resonate with news moms:
1. Determining a work/life balance is always rough. Mindy’s boyfriend assumes that she will want to be a stay-at-home mom once the baby is born. The truth is that Mindy misses her work once the baby arrives. She tries her best to be the picture-perfect housewife, but she’s bored and wants to return to her office. Mindy struggles to come to this conclusion, and then avoids confronting her boyfriend about her wishes. I don’t know one mom who accurately predicted how she would feel after having a baby. It’s also unlikely that your partner is always on the same page regarding childcare expectations. Arriving at a work/life balance that works for everyone involved is never simple.
2. Having a Baby is All-Consuming. When Mindy is on maternity leave, she plans to clean the apartment, cook dinner, and tend to her baby all while looking impeccable. She soon realizes that just caring for her child takes up most of the day. We all think that we’re going to be the one that can “do it all.” But the truth is, there are things that will have to give. Just making sure your baby is alive at the end of the day should be considered a success.
Both “Jane the Virgin” and “The Mindy Project” offer a refreshing glimpse into motherhood. Rather than representing it as seamless, both shows encapsulate the mixed feelings and hardships that are coupled with the beautiful moments. They cover sensitive topics with a sense of humor, but without diminishing the way in which these issues weigh heavily on moms.
In many ways, Jane and Mindy represent modern women today. They are smart, driven, and strong-willed. They want to be good mothers, but make mistakes, doubt themselves, and flail a little along the way. This new trend of illustrating the good with the bad will hopefully make new moms, like myself, take a step back and laugh rather than compare ourselves to the perfect women we’re used to seeing on screen.