Once upon a time there was a heroine called Daenerys Stormborn. She freed slaves and conquered nations and (quite literally, in some cases) burned down the patriarchy. She also – because of some shenanigans involving a deal with a witch – couldn’t have children and she was sad about that. But it was by no means the defining factor in her life.
Obviously, I am aware that Daenerys Stormborn is y’know, fictional – but as someone who has been trying and failing to have a baby for several years now (no witchy explanations in my case as far as I know), there’s something intensely comforting about a character who is portrayed as having these problems but who is in no way defined by them. After all, when you’ve flown on a dragon to rescue a group of hardened warriors from a bunch of ice-crazed zombies, the working order of your womb seems less of a thing.
But I’m nervous, you see, because the buzz seems to be that Daenerys’ story might well end happily (read: married with a baby) ever after, after all. There was an awful lot of speculation about her inability to produce an heir in the most recent series of Game of Thrones and Jon Snow has already told her not to be too sure about anything, with a look so intense and full of potency that he might as well have shot magical sperm out of his eyes while doing it.
The thing is, though, I don’t want to be told that the chance that I may still be able to get pregnant is where I should be pinning all of my hopes for future happiness. Too often in books and films and TV shows, infertility is treated as a plot device that can only be resolved with a bouncing bundle of joy.
Take Gavin and Stacey for instance (if you haven’t seen it, go and watch it immediately because it’s fundamentally funny and brilliant). When the titular characters can’t conceive, the advice is mostly ‘Hang on in there, it’ll probably happen anyway’ – which it does, of course, in a scene notable for Gavin’s triumphant cry: "My balls work, my balls work!"
While on the one hand this is moving and lovely because good TV makes it hard not to be happy when nice things happen to characters you care about, on the other it was the massively predictable choice for a heartwarming grand finale. How much more interesting might it have been for the show to have ended with the two of them heading off to travel the world? Or opening their very own dating agency and launching some sort of Barry/Billericay exchange programme?
Or, less flippantly, working through their sadness but finding that life could still be worthwhile even without a child?
Arguably, the same is true for Bridget Jones. Despite her early fears that she may die alone and single, whichever version of Bridget’s future we embrace sees her happily "sprogged up" (to borrow a phrase from the smug marrieds she deplores). And in Bridget Jones’s Baby in particular, producing a tiny person from your vagina seems to function as a sort of human full stop to the story: 'And then she had a baby. The End.' Even if I weren’t struggling to conceive, I’d find this pretty depressing.
It doesn’t help that characters with fertility problems who aren’t ultimately on a journey to parenthood are often either completely invisible or else portrayed as fundamentally broken. According to The Girl on the Train, all I’ve got to look forward to if my uterus doesn’t get its act together is divorce and alcoholism and maybe a bit of melancholy sketching, if I’m really lucky.
Obviously, there’s a place for examining the very real pain and grief that can occur when women (and men) have to come to terms with the children they will never have. But all too often, the stories we see around us present this in an utterly binary way. Either have a child and end your story with love, joy and fulfilment. Or don’t and accept a lifetime of sorrow.
It’s no wonder, then, that Daenerys, who has thus far been too busy kicking ass and taking names to get too gloomy about the baby thing, feels like an important role model. And to be fair, she’s not utterly alone…
There’s also Ellie from Disney’s Up. (If you can get through the opening 10 minutes of this film without sobbing, then you’re a steelier person than me.) We see her miscarry and grieve and rebuild a life for herself. And through her relationship with Carl – and his relationship with Russell – the film actually rather cleverly examines the notion that there’s more than one way to have a family.
Still, when we’re having to rely on fireproof queens and cartoon characters for our most positive representations of infertility, maybe something has gone awry in the way society treats this subject.
And that’s why I really, really hope that Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons isn’t somehow only made complete by Jon Snow’s magic penis.