Bluey Has Taken the Easy Way Out On Infertility

Those going through infertility are owed our compassion. Why can’t fiction mirror real life? 

Bluey Has Taken the Easy Way Out On Infertility
Bluey Season 3, Episode: The Sign. Credit: Ludo Studio

It’s barely more than a glimpse; really just a flash. But there, towards the end of The Sign, the new, extra-long, much-discussed series finale of the hit kids’ show Bluey, is the eponymous cartoon dog’s Auntie Brandy. And there is Bluey’s mother, Chilli, caressing Brandy’s very pregnant stomach. 

Why do infertility storylines always have to end with pregnancy, IVF’s version of “and they all lived happily ever after”?  Not to point out the obvious, but that’s not how it happens in real life. 

Bluey centers on a family of Heeler dogs—a mom, a dad and two daughters—as they learn big lessons during small moments of family life: trips to a playground; school dropoff; visits to the supermarket. Kids see themselves in the antics of Bluey and her sister Bingo; parents catch glimpses of their own experiences in mom Chilli and dad Bandit’s eye rolls and hungover groans. 

It’s no wonder viewership has grown astronomically in recent years. In a single week in January it was streamed for 1.5 billion minutes—that’s 25 million hours (or 150 million 10-minute episodes). 

Part of Bluey’s allure is that it treats complex subjects with the gentle pragmatism kids need to properly process big ideas. In one episode, Bluey finds a sick budgie which later dies, then insists on role-playing the experience again. At the end, as her sister goes off-script, Bluey shrugs: “It’s OK. It’s out of our hands.” She has learned that certain things—life and death; anarchic sisters—are beyond anyone’s control.

Which is why the decision to show Auntie Brandy in the full bloom of pregnancy is so jarring. 

When the original episode introducing her character was released, the infertility community was abuzz. In the episode, Auntie Brandy has been estranged from Bluey’s family for a while, presumably because it was too painful for her to be around kids. Chilli, the mom, explains it in terms kids can understand: “There’s something Auntie Brandy wants more than anything,” she tells Bluey. “But she can’t have it, and there’s not really anything anyone can do.” 

Infertility seemed impossibly complex for a kids’ show—but Bluey navigated it with grace.  

For lots of kids watching, it would have been relatable, too. Infertility affects one in six people and those who have been through it (myself included) often say the pain of seeing others so easily achieve what they can’t, drives them to do what Brandy did, and avoid the pain by isolating themselves. ‘Solutions’ to infertility don’t work for everyone: the success rate of IVF is only about 36 percent, and it is prohibitively expensive. Adoption is not always the magical happy ending pro-lifers insist it is. That means many of the kids watching Bluey will also have an aunt or an uncle they haven’t seen in a while.

On TV the infertility plotline so often seems to have a happy ending, like Monica and Chandler’s adopted twins on Friends, or Charlotte’s surprise pregnancy in Sex and The City

It would have been completely in character for the creators of Bluey to simply sit with Brandy’s childlessness; to show kids that, as with the budgie, life is an unpredictable, untameable thing and that we can’t always have what we want, even if we really want it.

But Bluey’s creators took the easy way out. That is understandable—who likes a sad ending? And it’s disappointing, too. Family members like Auntie Brandy, who are going through involuntary childlessness, are owed our compassion. That difficult ending might not be what we want—but sometimes realism is what we need.