Warning: This post contains spoilers for the season finale of Black-ish.
There is no other way to say this: Shit got real on Black-ish last night — just as Tracee Ellis-Ross warned us it would. What started as a light hearted foray into Dre’s attempt to throw a lit co-ed baby shower turned unexpectedly into a birth episode. In the middle of Dre’s party planning, Rainbow visits the doctor because she’s experiencing headaches. It turns out to be a symptom of dangerously high blood pressure caused by preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that poses a risk to both baby and mum. As a result, Rainbow is forced to have an emergency C-section, two months before her due date. The medical crisis brought forth a side of the Johnson family that viewers have never seen before. Instead of laughing, I was holding back tears watching the season 3 finale.
Directed by Eva Longoria, last night’s episode not only deviated from the normal Black-ish routine, it took a unique route in representing pregnancy on-screen. With the exception of medical soaps like Grey’s Anatomy and period dramas like Downton Abbey, on TV pregnancy is often idealised and treated like an experience that everyone goes through in the same way. It almost always ends in an overdramatised but complication-free delivery scene, with a healthy (and usually 3-months-too-old) baby to show for it. Women have been giving birth since the dawn of humanity, it’s true. But the process of bringing children into the world isn’t always pretty, and it’s rarely easy. Maternal mortality is still a thing.
While it may not be a common scenario to see on a family comedy, life-threatening complications during pregnancy can and do happen. Dre was right to fear for his wife’s life when the doctor told began rattling off terms like “DNR (do not resuscitate)” and their procedure to “save the mother first.” The scene that finds him fearfully crying into his mother’s arms is not an unfamiliar sight to neonatal nurses. Nor is the moment on the operating table when Rainbow, finally overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, breaks down crying as Dre comforts her.
Because Rainbow is pregnant at the age of 40, introducing these complications is a realistic turn of events for Black-ish. It's sad when neither Dre nor Rainbow get to see or hold their new baby because he is born prematurely and has to be rushed to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Not even Charlie’s random appearance at the hospital — and his insistence that his newly dead mother’s soul now inhabits baby Devonte’s body — could lighten the mood. But I’m glad Black-ish made that call. The show has never shied away from tackling difficult topics head-on, and I'm glad they added an unflinching look at pregnancy and delivery to the list.