The Problem With Becky's Surrogacy Storyline On Roseanne

The whole point of ABC's Roseanne reboot is to show what “real life” looks like for everyone who doesn’t qualify for a guest starring role in a Real Housewives franchise or a Keeping Up With The Kardashians episode. Executive producer-slash-showrunner Whitney Cummings said as much earlier this year, revealing the revival's writing team even brought in blue collar focus groups to get to the truth of certain Americans' situation. That’s why we see the Conner family, just over 20 years after their iconic sitcom ended, dealing with “average” 2018 problems like health insurance failings, polarizing political views, and what to do when you have both a stray handgun and new children in a house.
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So, when viewers look at Roseanne, they’re supposed to see their own world reflected back at them on screen. Except, among all the heartland realness, there’s one jarring element sticking out like a sore thumb. Everyone, how is Becky Conner’s (Alicia Goranson) entire pregnancy scheme built on a lie as massive as the 43-year-old faking her age?
At first, it sounds like Becky’s possible pregnancy might bring the Conners to another Real Talk chat in the same way Mark’s (Ames McNamara) gender non-conforming outfits or Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Jackie Harris’ (Laurie Metcalf) 2016 election feud does. This time, it seems possible the Roseanne family will have to question their own beliefs on what “My body, my choice” really means to them and how they view motherhood. The story certainly starts to walk down that road when Roseanne threatens to kidnap the prospective baby Becky could have and Conner patriarch Dan (John Goodman) angrily storms out of dinner upon hearing of his daughter’s plans.
Dan’s beer-in-hand rant over Becky’s decision has a decidedly anti-choice flavor as he rages to his wife, “In this family, if you get pregnant, you’re gonna have the baby … we’re gonna raise the baby.” Hypothetically, it would be interesting to see how those conservative values collide with Becky’s working class woes. After all, she’s only planning to be a surrogate, and use her own egg in the process, to gain the kind of financial security unavailable to her as a widow in the service industry without a high school diploma.
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Instead, any of that deep-dive complexity is dropped in favor of the comedy of Becky keeping up her age-based lie. As the maybe-mom-to-be explains in the revival’s premiere, “Twenty Years to Life,” she told Andrea (Sarah Chalke, who played replacement Becky in the 90s), the woman she may surrogate for, that she’s 33-years-old. As a joke, 43-year-old Becky adds that her very fake age is her “skin age” according “to the lady at the MAC counter.”
But, the local cosmetics counter employee isn’t an actual expert, or a viable form of identification, like, say, a state I.D. or medical records. Those very official items also happen to be exactly what would be uncovered in the surrogacy process, as opposed to what a local makeup artists thinks. As Becky herself says, she has to sign a medical release form and go for a check-up in order to begin her pregnancy. Becky's age would be roughly the second piece of information Andrea would find out from the early steps of the surrogacy process.
So, Roseanne itself starts this lying plotline by pointing out how impossible it is.
Second episode “Dress To Impress” furthers the impossibility here by giving us our first comprehensive look at Andrea, who is obviously meant to play the irritating liberal elitist to the Conners' folksy, brash charms. Andrea complains of anxiety on international flights, considers ionized water in glass bottles the perfect hostess gift, and assumes Roseanne had a birth plan in 1970-something. While all of that is supposed to read “annoying,” it simply suggests the totally type-A Andrea isn’t the kind of person who wouldn’t run a full background check on Becky, or take three seconds to read the medical charts of someone who would be carrying her child. This is a woman who comes equipped with a checklist on an iPad to meet Becky’s family and quiz them on their entire medical history, mental illness included — she’s not going to simply miss the fact her surrogate knocked an entire decade off of her age.
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While all of this makes very little sense in the Roseanne world, Becky’s decision is also pretty detached from the realities of conceiving after 40. As The New York Times reported in 2016, CDC research says at age 40, there is less than a 30% chance an IVF procedure with a fresh egg, as is Becky and Andrea’s plan, will conclude in a live birth. In that same article, Dr. Mark V. Sauer, the former director of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center’s IVF clinic, explains the period between 35 and 40 represents “terminal decline in normal [fertility],” and may lead eggs, and therefore babies, with abnormalities.
Becky is three years past that period. That means Andrea very seriously deserves to know what risks could be ahead by using Becky as a surrogate. Not only could Andrea’s prospective baby be facing serious medical complications, but Becky might not even be able to conceive at all — especially since no one seems to know the Conner woman needs the optimal care for someone her age. Of course bringing a healthy baby into the world at 43 is possible, but it’s a lot less likely when everyone is treating you like you’re 33. All together, it’s pretty dark to watch Andrea dream of Becky giving her a child when there are all of these complications at play.
One can argue Roseanne is just a comedy and the surrogacy storyline is merely a ploy to bring Alicia Goranson, the original Becky, who left the sitcom for a couple of years during college, and Scrubs alum Sarah Chalke, who played Becky 2.0 during Goranson’s absence, face-to-face. But when the series’s very vocal purpose is to confront real-world issues with real-world stories and attitudes, it shouldn’t treat something something as serious as fertility as a shruggable joke.
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