A little while ago, I wrote an entry extolling the feminine virtues of Jane the Virgin. How so much of the storytelling includes plotlines and details that are firmly rooted in what is considered (whether justly or unjustly) the feminine sphere, and how it continuously manages to treat each of those feminine aspects with validity and respect: things ranging from motherhood and pregnancy to romance novels, telenovelas, and plastic surgery. I talked about all this in a general way, but today I just want to pick out Jane the Virgin‘s depiction of pregnancy and new motherhood and talk about just how blown away I continue to be with every episode.
I’m going to preface this by saying I’ve never been pregnant and I have no children of my own. I do work in a preschool with extremely young children, but as an administrator not a teacher. But even still, I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent, educated adult woman who has a basic understanding of the mechanics of pregnancy and new motherhood.
Except apparently no. No. The amount that I don’t know and that I am learning about through a goofy telenovela on the CW is astonishing.
Now, whether I should already have been educated on all these aspects of pregnancy and motherhood (and subsequently, the state of the American public education systems and its sex ed and heath classes) is a conversation for another time. But I will instead start a conversation on why is this the first time I’ve ever seen these stories on television. Because that’s the truth of it. They’re never ever told. Women get pregnant and we have a few laughs at their weird cravings and hormonal mood swings. Kids are born and there’s the requisite episode or two where new parents complain about their lack of sleep. Maybe we might be treated to an episode where a parent (and by parent, I basically mean mom) needs some an emergency babysitter. And then that’s it. Magically, the life changing event of having a child falls into place.
This is definitely not the case when it comes to Jane the Virgin. Sure, we have the big melodramatic storylines of crime lords like Sin Rostro and Mutter, or the hilarity of Rogelio trying to navigate his career post “Passions of Santos,” or the romances of Jane, Michael, Rafael, Xo, and Rogelio, or whatever the Hell’s going on with Petra and Luisa. But the challenges of parenthood are sewn into the fabric of every one of those stories. Jane learning and struggling and triumphing with new baby Mateo is just as important and prominent a story line as anything else.
Just this first half of the season alone, we’ve seen Jane and Mateo struggle with nursing – both Mateo being unable and unwilling to latch as well as Jane planning and then having to replan her nursing schedule. We’ve actually seen Jane onscreen pumping breast milk, and seen her making the choice to have a social life – getting drunk at a club and pumping and dumping at Lina’s birthday party. We’ve seen Jane make mistakes – letting Mateo spend too much time on his back and neglecting his tummy time, resulting in the need for a helmet. We’ve seen Jane freak out at Mommy and Me classes when Mateo lagged behind the other blinkers. We’ve watched Jane struggle to sleep train her son – seen her trying multiple methods until she was able to get it right. And most recently, we’ve seen Jane attempt to negotiate dating with a son at home.
Jane isn’t a perfect mother. She struggles through all the changes and stages of Mateo’s development. She tries and she stumbles and she makes mistakes and she tries again. And it’s glorious to see. It’s incredible to see how difficult parenting a new child is, how much it absolutely does not simply fall into place. Mateo has to be taken into account during every decision Jane makes, and we see that happening. She agonizes over whether she’s being selfish for spending time away from her child to follow her dreams and go to grad school. She makes the incredibly hard decision to break up with Michael (twice) because his actions put Mateo in danger and she can’t have that near her son. Mateo is always, always there – even when he’s not visibly on screen.
Along with just the challenges of being a new mom, Jane addresses the additional undertaking of being a single parent. Jane and Rafael haven’t been together for basically any of this season, but they’ve still had to co-parent Mateo. They come from different backgrounds, they have different values, and they don’t always agree with the choices the other has made. They ended up in couples counseling after getting into a fight so bad they each threatened the other with legal action over their rights to Mateo. They were able to hash out some of their issues with each other (Rafael lying to Jane about his involvement in Michael getting fired, Jane being blinded to potential dangers to Mateo by her feelings for Michael), but they’re far from a happy couple.
Even when it comes to me deciding which guy I want Jane to end up with, a lot of my feelings come directly from Mateo. When it comes down to Michael and Rafael, I’m on Rafael’s side all the way (well, really I’m on Jane‘s side). Both Michael and Rafael have made mistakes in their respective relationships with Jane, but Michael’s two major mistakes – the ones that actually cost him Jane – came from putting himself first. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s a single guy who doesn’t seem to be close to his own family (do we know much about his family other than that one sketchy brother the writers forgot about?) so there’s no reason he wouldn’t be used to putting himself first. But Jane is a mother now and being with her, especially being as seriously with her as Michael wanted to be, comes with a set of parental responsibilities. He has to give up that self-centered thinking. But he let Petra continue with her plan to adopt Jane’s baby even though he knew she was a suspect in the Sin Rostro case and kept the secret from Jane, potentially putting the baby in the hands of someone incredibly dangerous. And then he got belligerent and violent with Rafael, which in my opinion is bad enough on its own but it’s even worse that it happened in front of Mateo and resulted in Mateo getting hurt. This isn’t to say the Rafael hasn’t made mistakes when it comes to his relationship with Jane, but the major mistake he made this season, the one that cost him Jane, was made with Mateo at the forefront of his mind. Nadine, as a person in league with Sin Rostro, was dangerous. Sin Rostro had kidnapped his son and murdered his father. And Michael let her walk away. Should Rafael have lied about his involvement in turning Michael in? Absolutely not. But turning Michael in and protecting his son was not a mistake. Mateo is at the forefront of Rafael’s actions. But he’s not at the forefront of Michael’s. That’s something Jane has to consider.
As I watch each episode and Jane goes up against her next parenting challenge, I’m always trying to think of other shows that have told these stories. And I’m always at a loss. We get stories of parenting when kids are teenagers. When it’s emotional health and self esteem and boyfriends and sex. And if they’re young children, we’ll occasionally get stories when it’s something out of the ordinary, something scary or sad. But not these every day stories. Not these stories where it’s making sure your kid becomes a functional human being who knows how to eat and talk and poop correctly (I will be pretty shocked if we don’t get an exciting potty training arc). Not these stories of just making sure your kid hasn’t died by the end of the say. And I’m not sure why. This is a fascinating part of life. At least it is on Jane the Virgin.