'I'm dating to fall in love with the guy who could be the father of my children,' declares Kristy Katzmann in Fox's newest TV matchmaking endeavour, Labour of Love. At 41 years old, she has frozen her eggs, determined that she will become a mother soon, and is dating to find a father, a co-parent and perhaps a romantic match.
Fifteen men will live next door as they endure challenges to showcase their personality, fatherhood skills, chemistry with Katzmann, intelligence, and overall compatibility with Katzmann's life. In each episode's finale, Katzmann eliminates one or more men with the phrase 'I don't see us starting a family together.'
For a show following a reality TV formula, down to Katzmann's former stint on The Bachelor, the show shines a refreshing spin on 40+ dating. Co-host Kristen Davis, who herself became a single mother of adopted children in her 40s, commiserates with Katzmann on the challenges of dating when it feels like 'the clock is ticking,' and celebrates her decision to move forward with her motherhood goals. Katzmann comes across as confident and certain of her next steps in life. She states clearly that she will become a mother, with or without these men; she prefers a copartner for the journey, but is willing to go it alone if it does not work out.
To help Katzmann select, the men face a gauntlet of challenges, from the realistic (a sperm sample is requested during the first episode) to the hokey (the men are tested on their 'protectiveness' during a fake bear attack). The qualities that Katzmann seeks in her perfect sperm donor, her perfect co-parent, and her perfect romantic partner are at times at odds with each other, lending a clear tension to her decision-making. As expected on a reality show, occasional drama emerges, and Katzmann must distinguish between fame-seekers and aspiring parents. The show delves into contentious topics, exposing differences and prompting deep conversations about parenting preferences, lifestyle, ability to interact with children, communication and trust. But the show also considers controversial questions that bioethicists and parents-to-be have debated for decades, like gender preference. Ultimately, this is a show about one woman's journey, and Katzmann eliminates men whose lifestyle, parenting attitudes, timeline, and perceived seriousness do not match hers, while keeping her romantic preferences in mind.
However, the show glosses over a common potential challenge facing aspiring parents in their 40s, even with eggs frozen: will it work? The introduction to the show features Katzmann's fertility specialist stating, 'the fact that you froze your eggs, I think this is going to work out well.' The show projects confidence by labelling Katzmann 'mother to be,' circulating cups with 'world's greatest dad' and 'world's greatest mom,' and gifting 'future mom' and 'future dad' shirts during a date.
What remains not discussed is the possibility of IVF challenges, or options like adoption or surrogacy. As Katzmann later states, 'I thought as soon as I decided I was ready, I would get pregnant.' The show could have better prepared viewers, the potential fathers, and even Katzmann for the reality of IVF. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's annual assisted reproductive technology (ART) report, results from the fertility clinic that Katzmann is expected to use, shows that just 15.9 percent of transfers to women of Katzmann's age group (41-42) resulted in a live birth.
While the show makes a valid attempt to delve into the world of aspiring parents over 40, viewers should be reminded that Katzmann's journey involving extensive access to IVF is not universal. At the moment, access to IVF and other ART's is prohibitively expensive for most Americans. In the United States, where the show took place, most IVF procedures are not covered by health insurance and a single IVF attempt typically costs $10,000-$20,000, with multiple attempts usually needed for a successful pregnancy. Similarly, the show glossed over the fact that Katzmann's willingness to be a single mother comes from an incredibly privileged standpoint. Motherhood, especially single-motherhood, lends itself to different societal connotations across socio-economic statuses.
Finally, while Labour of Love attempts to be forward-thinking, it remains steeped in the DNA of reality TV dating shows and is overwhelmingly conservative, gendered and reflective of an era of 'traditional family values.' From the word 'fatherhood' stamped on a wall in the men's house, to Katzmann's dad pulling a contestant aside to discuss how he will 'provide' after Katzmann stated her intention to maintain her successful career, to the potential fathers discussing fatherhood in superficial ways. For a show embracing nontraditional motherhood, it would have been fitting to embrace nontraditional father figures, to acknowledge modern partnerships, and make room for nontraditional romances.
In the end, Labour of Love is the story of one woman's journey to motherhood. While fraught with problems, the show was a bold first step for primetime television. If nothing else, I applaud Katzmann's common refrain, 'I'm going to become a mother, with or without a man.' This next generation of women is taking control of their reproductive destiny in ways our grandmothers would have never dreamed, and I'm glad to see that mainstream media is finally starting to catch up with the times.