The release of Master of None season 3 brought with it a nuanced look at a family planning experience that has gone largely unrepresented in media: the fertility struggles of a single, lesbian woman. Season 3 centers on the relationship of Denise (Lena Waithe) and Alicia (Naomi Ackie); after the couple divorces in episode 3, episode 4 zooms in on Alicia’s path to single parenthood and the unique challenges she is faced with overcoming.
That Master of None season 3 episode 4 was released during Pride Month is extra significant in that it shines a much-needed light on the inequities that the LGBTQ+ community is faced with when it comes to family planning. It allowed those who have lived similar experiences to see themselves represented on a major streaming platform and know they’re not alone, and it allowed allies to see where there is critical progress yet to be made.
For the entirety of the hour-long episode, we follow Alicia as she fights, grieves, and finally succeeds at getting pregnant via IVF. One of the most startling reveals for me, a cisgender, heterosexual woman who has not yet even tried to become pregnant, is explained when Alicia first sits down with her fertility doctor to discuss the costs associated with using assisted reproductive technology: that there is no insurance code for “single and desires pregnancy” or “gay and desires pregnancy.” While there are codes for scenarios as unlikely as “being attacked by an orca,” the very common reality that a single person or LGBTQ+ couple needs fertility support in order to become pregnant has been wholly disregarded. Alicia’s insurance policy covers IVF, but only if you are able to prove the insured person has been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant with a partner for months – something a single lesbian woman couldn’t possibly prove.
The expenses associated with Alicia’s IVF treatment are only increased by her decision to use her friend Darius’s sperm rather than donor sperm from a bank. Since Alicia had not been intimate with her friend previously to assume risk, the doctor explained that they would need to test his sperm before it could be used for her IVF. For cis-gendered, heterosexual couples, this is yet another bypassed cost.
The financial, physical, emotional, and mental strain of the entire process is only exacerbated by the fact that Alicia is embarking on this path without the support of a partner. During her first round of IVF, we watch as she endures the pains of injecting her body the prepare it for IVF and having her eggs retrieved, the anxiety of waiting to learn if any of the embryos were viable, and the grief when she found out it had been unsuccessful. When she finds out all of that time, money, and love did not result in a pregnancy, she is alone.
This is where the audience gets to see another side of family planning that deserves far more attention: the importance of a village of support, no matter what path to parenthood you’re on. A network that goes much deeper than the presence (or lack thereof) of a romantic partner, significant other, or spouse. Alicia’s mother offers handholding over the phone, encouraging her to overcome the fear of injecting herself in the stomach and pushing her to try another round of IVF before giving up. Darius is there to lift Alicia’s spirits on her birthday.
The greatest support Alicia receives, which must not be overlooked by the viewer, comes from Nurse Cordelia. From start to finish, Cordelia, a Black woman, takes on the unofficial role of doula for Alicia. She reminds her to think positively about the process, she grieves with her over the phone when bad news arrives, she stays by her side when it all feels like too much to bear. And, in the end, it is Cordelia who tells Alicia she is pregnant. It is Cordelia with whom Alicia celebrates her dream finally becoming reality. This is fitting, as without a nurse like Cordelia who knew that Alicia’s heart and mind needed to be tended to as much as her reproductive organs through the IVF process, Alicia may never have made it to the finish line.
So with that, let Master of None not only turn allies’ attention to the reality that reproductive health equity has not been achieved and offer education on family planning beyond the heteronormative, but let it also prove to medical providers in service of LGTBQ+ people that if you are not incorporating the unique needs of your patient into your plan for care, you simply are not doing your job.