Bojack Horseman’s Cat Miscarriage Is So Realistic it Hurts

Screenshot via Netflix

I was lucky in every way with my miscarriage, except for the
fact that it happened.

It occurred very early in the pregnancy, required no surgical
intervention, and was followed almost immediately by another
pregnancy that went to term (although got harrowing right before I gave
birth). By chance, I was in Boston, city of a thousand gleaming
hospitals, on a holiday weekend with virtually no wait in the
ER. Family was nearby to drive me home. There was tea and
margaritas with girlfriends, a unwaveringly supportive
partner—and a caring doctor who took my panicked calls from her
own family vacation.

Ten days of discomfort, some blood tests and ultrasounds, and
it was over.

But like everyone whose wanted pregnancy turns out to be a
mirage, my quiet, small loss affected me in a permanent way.
The few weeks my husband and I knew I was pregnant and no one
else did are like a missing jewel. During those days I believed
that the stars were aligned: I had a special secret, an amulet
I could hold up and say: okay, everything in the world is bad,
but this is good. And then it was gone.

I traveled back to that interlude of sadness recently when I
watched Bojack Horseman character Princess Carolyn
suffer her fifth miscarriage towards the end of the show’s most
recent season. P.C, an anthropomorphic cat who is a big-shot
Hollywood manager, has suffered many of the indignities that
successful and professional women do—condescension, betrayal,
sexism—and transcended them.

That’s one of the reasons her loss hurts so much. Like we do
with a Peggy Olson or Olivia Pope, we can’t help wanting
someone like Princess Carolyn to be as happy in life as she is
unstoppable in the workplace.

We want her to get what she wants. And she can’t.

In the most wrenching sequence, Princess Carolyn, who has had a
brutal day, goes to the doctor excitedly to check on the status
of “Philbert,” her imagined future kid—and receives an
offhanded and callous response: There is, in fact, no viable
pregnancy because she’s had what’s called a missed miscarriage.

When Bojack shows these
small bitter moments in women’s reproductive lives as exactly
that, it makes them feel more profound.

The reality of the miscarriage happening as it does on the
show, by diagnosis in a sterile office, feels revolutionary in
its realness. On TV or film, a miscarriage often means a
dramatic fall down steps, weeping, bloody sheets. Similarly, an
abortion is usually a fraught, tense decision— another trope
that Bojack Horseman undermined last season by showing its
other primary female character, Diane Nguyen, making a straightforward decision to terminate a
pregnancy
. And the subtleties go further: Diane’s decision
annoyed Princess Carolyn. Now we know why. This, too, is
honest: while the show stands behind both women, it’s human and
understandable that Princess Carolyn, who has trouble staying
pregnant, would be frustrated by Diane’s decision.

When Bojack shows these small bitter moments in
women’s reproductive lives as exactly that, it makes them feel
more profound.

What has lingered with me in particular is the way the lost
pregnancy is revealed to Princess Carolyn on an
already-terrible day—one in which a major client of hers fires
her and her longtime rival sneers in triumph.

As it did for me, and so many who go through this, the
miscarriage rewrites P.C’s entire self-narrative. If she had
been fired that day but still had her cherished dream of
Philbert, she might be able to say, “Hey, tomorrow is another
day, up and at ‘em.” But without the hope that’s been
bolstering her, she spirals—going from denial to anger to
lashing out, pushing her boyfriend Ralph into a breakup fight.

The writers offer a cruel joke to help drive her to the edge.
At dinner, before P.C. tells the truth, the restaurant is
patronized by a series of famous “Carries” and “Careys”
[Underwood, Mariah] who are introduced as “Miss.” The audible
pun assaults our ears: Miss Kerry, Miss Carry, Miss Carrie.
Princess Carolyn has to just sit there and hear it.

Because early pregnancy and miscarriage are kept so secret,
there’s no recourse for Princess Carolyn to turn to everyone in
her life and demand a break from it. As Peggy Orenstein
wrote in a memorable essay on
the subject
: “Without form, there is no content. So even in
this era of compulsive confession, women don’t speak publicly
of their loss. It is only if your pregnancy is among the
unlucky ones that fail that you begin to hear the stories…
Women you have known for years — sometimes your whole life —
who have had this happen, sometimes over and over and over
again. They tell only if you become one of them.”

Orenstein touches on something else. For those of us who are
militantly pro-choice, it can be extra difficult to articulate
our pain publicly; to say, I don’t believe a life has been
lost, but I’m still really sad. Because what’s been lost is a
potential for my life, a pathway I was counting on.

Princess Carolyn doesn’t
have any kind of sisterhood on the show, but her story makes her
part of our sisterhood, the sisterhood of pregnancy loss.

In my own case, once my pathway disintegrated, I spent a lot of
time sitting in Soho by myself and watching pregnant women go
by, feeling satisfyingly bitter. I drank a lot of strong coffee
and margaritas. I wrote tortured journal entries. A friend who
had been through the same thing counseled me through the
experience by text, day by day. Since then, other friends who
know my story have reached out to me during their own
miscarriages and I’ve comforted them the same way I was
comforted: with emojis, and lots and lots of “I know”s. It’s a
chain letter you don’t want to be part of, but lean on all the
same.

Princess Carolyn doesn’t have any kind of sisterhood on the
show, but her story makes her part of our sisterhood, the
sisterhood of pregnancy loss. Instead, she replaces the dream
of Philbert with two other somewhat pie-in-the-narratives: the
story of Ruthie, a descendent of hers who will narrate this
story in the future (in space!) and a script that comes across
her desk called “Philbert” that she decides to champion without
reading. The revelation at episode’s end that Ruthie is a
construction devastates the viewer, but is a testament to
P.C.’s strength of will.

She does get some reassurance towards the season’s end, from
Bojack Horseman himself, cad though he is, who tells her she’d
be a great mom—without even knowing what she’s gone
through.

It’s a tiny redemption, in a season which riffed repeatedly on
the mistreatment of women’s bodies over the generations. In the
course of 12 episodes there’s a lobotomy, street harassment,
neglect of the elderly and force-feeding diet pills. The way
the male doctor announces Princess Carolyn’s miscarriage feels
like the cherry on top, a reminder that callousness towards
women’s needs isn’t a thing of the past.

Bojack Horseman, with all its sad animals, is in
essence a show about human suffering. But because of its humor
and good nature, it functions as a celebration of suffering,
too, a reminder that our pain is what connects us, at least in
the fleeting moments we allow it to. For me, Princess Carolyn’s
story was both those things at its core: a reminder of my
suffering, and also of the way it connects me to other women
(and cats).

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