Here I Fiona and Sada Croppedam!  Four weeks postpartum.  I am beginning to emerge from my cocoon of sleeping, eating, and nursing – though it’s hard to incorporate much else into our routine just yet.  This postpartum period has been much more enjoyable than the first. I think the biggest reason is that I had a much more realistic idea of what to expect.  So, if you are an expecting first time mom, I hope you’ve found some real talk about what postpartum is like on our blog.  Though it may sound scary or overwhelming, the more realistic ideas you have the better equipped you’ll be to cope with the transition.  

This time around, I’ve worked really hard to embrace the feeling of being stranded with a nursing baby.  Having a 3 year old around means I don’t usually get much time to read or watch Netflix.  So, I’m actually grateful for the excuse to plop on the couch for an hour or close my bedroom door at 8pm and snuggle in bed for the night.  This is all made possible by a small army of family who has helped out to keep my older daughter happy, fed, and entertained.  All this down time has given me the opportunity to catch up on one of my favorite (slightly guilty) pleasures – Jane the Virgin.  ***Spoiler Alert *** Season 2 starts with Jane’s transition into motherhood. Though her situation is as dramatic as the best daytime soap opera,  there is still some realistic plot around the postpartum experience.  There are parts I’ve loved so far – like seeing a lead character breastfeeding, and parts that have been a little cringe worthy.  It’s made me reflect on what TV often gets wrong and right about postpartum experiences and how that impacts those of us in the real world.

Jane_the_Virgin_logoHere’s what they get right on Jane the Virgin (JTV):

  1. JTV did such a great job of depicting how overwhelming bringing a new baby home can be.  This is one of the few shows I’ve seen that spent the better part of an episode focused on the transition home with a new baby.  
  2. Focus on breastfeeding.  I was really blown away by the amount of time the show devoted to breastfeeding.  In the first episode Jane is worrying about her milk coming in (been there with both babies). They also show cluster feeding, Jane walking around with a breastfriend buckled on (also been there), and her attending a lactation support group.  Jane even asks her mom to “shove my boob into Mateo’s mouth like a hamburger.”  This hit a nerve with me as I remember breastfeeding being a totally hands on experience the first time around.  
  3. The show also does a pretty accurate (at least in my experience) portrayal of the challenges of meeting your own needs as a mom.  In the first episode Jane’s family colludes to force her to take a shower – it has been almost a week since she’s showered.  In the moment Jane chooses a nap instead (good job listening to yourself, mom) and finds time to shower a little later.
  4. One area that the show does a good job illuminating is generational child-rearing differences. Jane’s mom is encouraging Jane to give up on breastfeeding in order to take care of herself a little. This means that Jane has to firmly communicate to her mom that breastfeeding is important to her and that she wants to stick with it. Jane’s mom says she’s just trying to help because Jane seems so stressed (this conversation felt so familiar).  Jane does a great job telling her mom exactly how she can help in a way that doesn’t undermine Jane’s parenting values.
  5. The show also does a good job showing Jane wrestle with her identity as a mother and work to integrate her pre-motherhood self into her new role as a mother. Jane’s pregnancy was unexpected (hence the show’s title) and she was on the brink of pursuing big educational and professional goals.  As a new mom, Jane is struggling to find a balance between her personal goals and her role as a mother – which I’m sure many of us can relate to.

What they got wrong on JTV (in my humble opinion):

  1. Though they spend a good deal of time promoting breastfeeding, the show depicts a lactation group as a slightly competitive and uncomfortable setting where the lactation consultant  asks Jane to show her breasts to the group.  The show perpetuates the stigma around breastfeeding support groups which means some moms won’t get the help they need because of these unrealistic stereotypes.  
  2. The show glosses over the physical recovery that can take a few weeks or more after birth.  In the first episode of the season Jane is running around (literally) hours after giving birth.  By weeks 2-3 she seems to have joined a mommy fitness group, and she is quickly squeezing back into her pre-pregnancy clothes so she can go out on the town drinking and dancing the night away.  Everyone is different, but generally the recovery from birth will be a bit slower.  Even if moms are feeling good, physically, shortly after birth, they still benefit from rest.  The depiction of Jane getting right back into her pre-pregnancy routine perpetuates the idea that moms need to bounce back quickly.
  3. My excitement about Jane’s breastfeeding was quickly dashed by the short duration of her breastfeeding relationship with her son. Spoiler alert, I think she lasted about 3 months.  Though I hated to see breastfeeding depicted as unsustainable for a busy mom, I know that this is the reality for so many moms who don’t have the support they need to continue breastfeeding for as long as they like. So, even though I would love to see a television show character nursing a baby for 1-2 years, I know that’s not realistic for many working moms – let’s keep fighting for long-term paid maternity leave and breastfeeding friendly work places!
  4. JTV shows Jane’s baby constantly sleeping either in the stroller or his crib.  This imagery contributes to misconceptions about how and where newborns like to sleep.  My baby literally does not sleep anywhere but in a carrier or snuggled in my arms.  Since it’s my second baby I was prepared for this reality, but I really struggled with my first – who had similar sleeping habits. I was expecting the baby that “goes to sleep” in a crib while I go about my business. I know there are babies who sleep like little Mateo but I also know there are lots of new parents who struggle to integrate the reality of their baby’s sleep habits with their expectations.  Seeing TV babes easily put down to sleep in their crib sets some parents up for unrealistic expectations. 
  5. I was also a little disappointed to see the show praise the cry it out method of sleep training over other methods.  This season Jane’s baby goes through a sleep regression around 8-10 months. Jane tries some gentle sleep training techniques that aren’t very successful in getting baby to sleep for a longer stretch.  Her grandmother urges her over and over to do cry-it-out and says the baby needs “tough love.”  Eventually Jane tries this and magically after 10 minutes of crying the baby is peacefully asleep presumably for the rest of that night and every night thereafter. I won’t dispute that cry-it-out may yield this result, and may be the right choice for some parents – I’ve heard many folks report how well it worked for them.  I just wish it weren’t shown to be such a miracle solution – I’ve also heard many stories of cry-it-out not working for families. I am not super surprised that the show would go this route, it is probably the most commonly accepted approach to sleep in our culture, I just hope all the new moms watching take this episode with a grain of salt and make informed choices that work for their family.

Overall I think JTV does a great job of showing some of the ups and downs of being a new mom.  I encourage anyone who is stranded on the couch or up in the middle of the night feeding a baby to dive in and enjoy the show for it’s humor, ridiculous plot, and entertainment value.  You may see yourself in Jane’s experience, or you may not. We are all different.  Personally I’m enjoying seeing a new mom portrayed so in-depth on TV (there must be some female writers that recently had kids on staff).  OK, gotta go catch another episode while I can still use the nursing baby as an excuse! 


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