That HIMYM Infertility Episode: Looking Into the Abyss

“As deep and poignant as the episode was, I guess there are some abysses you just have to look away from.”

Esse Quam Videri, poster on the AV Club discussion board

Monday afternoon, West Coast Time

A blizzard of tweets began to fly from my ALI twitter friends about something that was afoot on “How I Met Your Mother”. HIMYM is a show I watch religiously, in order: I have seen every single episode sequentially until this current season. Because like a dolt, I forgot to DVR my season pass and I want to watch it with Darcy, not online (it’s a rare show we both love), so I had consigned myself to catch it when the DVDs came out. I take a stubborn pride in watching all my favorite shows in order.

The reaction was pretty phenomenal, though, about HIMYM. I haven’t seen such a stir since PETA’s vasectomy campaign.

Well, I had to watch it now.

So I did. Holy crap on a stick. !SPOILERS!

The show begins with a twist: the conceit of the series is that Ted Mosby is telling his two children in 2030 the story of how he met their mother. Almost every program starts with Bob Saget (as the voice of the older Ted) saying something like, “Kids, you know I spent a lot of time in bars,” or “I did a lot of stupid things in my day.” Or “Kids, did I tell you about the time I got a butterfly tramp stamp?” Ted tells a lot of inappropriate stories to his teenage children. But this episode shows a different boy and girl than Ted’s usually pictured duo and Robin is doing the voiceover to HER future children. As the show progresses, Robin tells the story of how she thinks she’s pregnant, finds out she’s not pregnant, is very happy not to be pregnant (“Sorry kids!”) then her OBGyn calls to tell her (in blurred specifics we can’t hear) that she will be unable to have children, ever.

Robin, who has long proclaimed that her career is more important than her than having children, is absolutely devastated by this diagnosis. I assumed this meant that she would eventually figure out a way to have children or adopt, but as Robin sits on a park bench in solitude in present day, coming to terms with her infertile status, she starts speaking to her raven-haired girl and Neil Patrick Harris doppelganger. (He’s supposed to be their father, according to Robin.) Here’s the full speech:

“So kids, I settled in for a Christmas alone. I appreciated that Ted wanted to cheer me up. But honestly, it wasn’t necessary. So I can’t have kids. Big deal. This way there’s no one to hold me back in life. No one to keep me from traveling where I want to travel, no one getting in the way of my career. If you want to know the truth of it, I’m glad you guys aren’t real.” Cut to Robin’s children, who fade off the screen like ghosts, clearing the way for a shot of Robin sitting on that park bench alone, while it snows.

“Really glad,” says Robin who looks utterly bereft.

(The actress who plays Robin, Cobie Smulders, did a pitch-perfect job in this entire episode)

The show wraps up by Ted saying that Robin turned out to be many things, but she was never a “pole-vaulter”. (“Pole-Vaulter” is the show’s euphemism for being a mother.) But one thing Ted says she never was: alone.

I’ll admit that I started sobbing when her children receded slowly away the frame. I’ve been on two message boards (EW and AV Video Club) and most commenters (male and female) said they felt “kicked in the gut”, “devastated”, “sad”. Some reported their own troubles conceiving and received positive, encouraging comments (and not one of those comments said “Just Relax” or “Just Adopt” either) and some were just angry that the writers could DO this to Robin.

What I think this episode did is frame infertility for those not in the know. Robin is a beloved character, a friend almost to people, and to see her diagnosis, her reaction, and her goodbye to the dream of children was heartbreaking. I have to hope that some empathy was gained.

On the other hand: the abyss. When I was going through infertility, if I had seen that episode in the middle of the my treatments, I would have been very disturbed. Robin’s Abyss: the hole in her life where we know no children will be was visible. That empty, sad park bench haunted my nightmares last night. I know that my worst waking nightmare was that I would have to face that abyss. So I definitely sympathize with Starfish Kitty Dreams about her reaction.

What do you think of this episode? Educational and full of heart? Too difficult to watch?

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18 Comments

Filed under Infertility

18 responses to “That HIMYM Infertility Episode: Looking Into the Abyss

  1. Wow, I cried just reading your recap. Some things I just can’t watch – like I don’t think I will ever watch Up. It made my husband cry!

  2. I cried again reading your recap too. I would have been mad if the episode wasn’t true to our lives and our emotional states, but it was deftly handled so I loved it. While I was gutted by the episode, I also cheered aloud – because the episode satisfied me from an advocacy standpoint and because we’re all part of this shitty club but we’re together in this. And now Robin is now MY PEOPLE!

  3. Liberalgranola (twitter)

    My heart sank when those kids disappeared but I, too, was thankful that they showed the emotions so accurately. I also appreciated that they ishowed Robin’s struggle with telling her friends and the reasons that she chose not to tell them.-I can totally identify with that. And when Ted went on to describe Robin’s adventures, fulfilling life and how she was never alone, I cried because I was HIMYM validated the choice to be child free.

  4. Just like you, as those children faded from my computer screen, I lost it. And for awhile after the episode ended, I was still emotional. I almost teared up again just now reading this post. I’m not a regular HIMYM viewer but after reading your post yesterday, I watched it online last night after putting the twins to bed. So many TV programs get it WRONG. It’s weirdly reassuring that this one got it right.

  5. Also, if I had watched that in the middle of treatments I’m not sure I could have handled it. I was a lot like Robin – single, career minded, never openly talked about wanting children. But to think that I would never know the joy of being a mother and to relive that through her eyes – that pain is tremendous.

  6. Loved it- and that last line made me bawl my eyes out.

  7. kate

    I couldn’t help but love how it was done. So often the fact that someone can’t have kids is glossed over, just a quick explanation for an adoption story line, or a joke about a couple overly enthusiastic about something else. This was poignant and compelling. Childlessness is heartbreaking for someone who isn’t sure they wanted a child, even more so for those desperate to have one, and the general public should be shown this kind of reaction.

  8. Crys24

    Great post! I agree with you and hope some empathy was gained by those unfamiliar with the unique pain we (in the infertility community) experience.

  9. Okay, I need to see this show. I love HIMYM, but I don’t watch it religiously because Tim hates sitcoms (I’m not sure what’s wrong with him). I wonder how it will effect me, because I read Starfish Kitty Dream’s post as well, so I was torn. But I feel that as someone who wants more people to understand what this is like, I need to watch it for proof that some people are starting to get it. Thanks for this recap, because now I’ll make sure to watch it. Do they post them online? My on demand seems to only have old ones.

  10. I saw the show too — bawled over it (especially Ted’s final line) & blogged about it. There were a couple of things that irked me about it (how does one get an infertility diagnosis from a pregnancy test??), but overall, I thought it was amazing — and, as you said, that Cobie Smulders was amazing in it.

    • Rachel @ Eggs In A Row

      I see things like that and go crazy all of the time…like, this one credit card commercial where the woman is obviously 5 months pregnant or so, and then surprises her husband by letting him see 3 cribs…it’s triplets! And they didn’t find out until she had gained at least 20 pounds! Grrr.

      That being said, I definitely want to watch this episode.

      • Ah!! I HATE that stupid triplet ad!!! As someone who went through a multiple pregnancy that was monitored from the first month, it drives me nuts. NO ONE in this day and age would ever find out at 5 months that, “whoops, it’s triplets!” SO DUMB!

      • Esperanza

        Maybe she knew all along it was triplets and she didn’t tell him until then because she was afraid he’d freak out and leave her. Now THAT would be a credit card commercial! ūüėČ

  11. Esperanza

    I really appreciated so much about that episode (I never watch that show but I don’t feel that kept me from really connecting with the episode in a powerful way). One thing I loved was that after she found out she couldn’t have kids there was not one joke about not needing to worry about BC after that and I also appreciated her comment that she hadn’t wanted kids anyway so better to happen to her than someone else (of course even when she said it you could tell she was devastated, but I appreciated the sentiment). For some reason that really struck a cord with me.

    The one thing I really didn’t appreciate was how she was just told that she couldn’t have kids and that was that. It was never explained why that was the case and it didn’t portray how most women are not told they can “never” have kids but that it will be very hard and likely not happen but that there is still a slim chance she could have them. That little light of hope shining through the crack in the doorway can be harder to deal with than just knowing you can never have kids. A definitive diagnoses means you can move on and make your next choices accordingly. That slight ray of hope that most IF patients have to contend with, means they need to make painstakingly difficult decisions about how they will use their resources (not just their money and time but also their emotional wellbeing) and what risks they’re willing to take. That was the only beef I had with the episode.

    But the last scene, where the kids vanish from the couch, was so eloquently done that I had to forgive any earlier misgivings.

    This episode was so great because it gives people a taste of what those with IF go through. If she could feel that kind of pain and longing when she hadn’t wanted kids, what must it be like for someone who does want them? I just love that the topic was broached at all. The fact that it was done so well is really quite shocking.

    I was talking to Mi.Vida last night about Gulianna Rascnic (I’m sure I’m butchering the spelling of her name there) and how I was kind of thankful that her first two IVF attempts weren’t successful. Of course I don’t wish that kind of emotional devastation on anyone, but it’s beneficial for our community that the public is seeing that IVF does not equal a live baby, that in fact a pregnancy from IVF (or any pregnancy) does not always equal a baby. I’m so sorry that she has to go through what she does, but the silver lining is that at least people are learning about what IVF can really mean. Maybe the next time they see a “Win a baby” contest on TV or the radio they will know what is really being one, just the small chance to have a baby.

  12. I finally watched it tonight. I thought it was perfectly done. I am so glad they brought the topic of IF into the show. It is something that will grow with the show and they will get into it more later. I can’t wait to see what they do next. I can see how it would be upsetting, but I am personally in a good place mentally right now and Loved it. I to am thinking about writing them and thanking them.

  13. I don’t watch the show, but when I saw my tweet stream fill with mentions of how powerful the episode was, I googled it to read the synopsis. Wow. I couldn’t have watched that episode while in treatment, and I’m honestly not sure if I could watch it now. So very powerful, and I am amazed that a show went there and got it pretty much right. Kudos to HIMYM!

  14. Wow, haven’t seen that episode yet. It is heart wrenching just to read your description. I’ll have the Kleenex box handy. After having 2 children back to back with no issues, followed by 4 miscarriages, the visual of losing “the dream of children” is very powerful to me.

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