“Jane the Virgin” loves babies. LOVES them. Given the way the show began, it’s not wholly surprising that babies are central to every character’s personal arc, and to the arc of every possible relationship vector.
When Alba (Ivonne Coll) advises Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) halfway through this week’s winter premiere (Jan. 23) to be more open-minded about Rogelio’s (Jaime Camill) plans to have a business-deal baby with a relative stranger, reminding her that “babies have come into this family in stranger ways,” she is not being glib: Just two and a half seasons in, Rogelio’s will be the fourth to grace our screens. Babies are this show’s lifeblood.
But so is choice — or at least, the right to it. One of the most revolutionary elements of “Jane the Virgin,” when it premiered back in 2014, was the dramatic question pinned to its goofy telenovela premise: Taking an accidental artificial insemination as a given, what are all the possible choices a woman might make? Which is the right one for this specific character, in this specific situation, with this specific set of beliefs — and dreams, and needs? (Never: Does this character have access or funds toward every single option she might want or need to consider?)
Jane (Gina Rodriguez) herself never seriously considered abortion — but that’s because of who she is, a nuanced, multi-dimensional character of faith — not because of compulsion by the studio, or legislative imposition. Equally multi-dimensional and unconstrained by these barriers is mother Xiomara — who, when faced with a surprise pregnancy after a one-night stand with ex-husband Rogelio’s rival, did in fact choose to have a medical abortion. Each woman’s choice fit her needs, neither was stigmatized, and both led to larger and affecting story.
Both moments appearing on a television series as part, but not by any means the entirety, of a woman’s story: That’s revolutionary.
Rogelio and Darci’s (guest star Justina Machado) path to parenthood is set up to be just as revolutionary, or at least, transgressive. Opposite the spectrum from abortion is IVF: Both use technology to affect biology, both give women sovereignty over processes we still tend to treat as naturally or divinely determined. There is just something about pregnancy and parenthood that for some seems to defy any attempt by doctors or technology — or less-romantic legal agreements — to skirt unplanned intervention. The fact that Rogelio and Darci are not only blasé about the process, but totally in sync with each other about what one would expect to be the more fraught details of their co-parenting contract… Why, it goes straight against common decency!
And yet it is a choice that fits completely with these two complex characters, one every bit as valid as Jane’s choice to see a pregnancy through in which she had no hand, or Xo’s to terminate one she knew she did not want (or, in its time, to have carried Jane herself). Our IRL world is teed up to change dramatically this year, with access to reproductive and women’s healthcare eroding across the country.
Had that been the future a nascent “Jane the Virgin” faced while in development, who can say how Jane’s and Xo’s, and Rogelio’s, and Petra’s lives would have turned out? Certainly the character work would have been just as rich, and the performances just as compelling — but the stories told would have been so very limited. A show wholly about women, their relationships with family and their own bodies, requires our belief in women’s autonomy — that women are people; that their bodies belong to them and not to us — in order to go anywhere at all.
As it stands, “Jane the Virgin” is telling us week after week that there are an uncountable number of ways to make a family, but no one way to do it wrong — so long as you love your babies enough to be honest with yourself and your family about the best outcomes you can provide, and so long as you have the freedom to see the actions that support those outcomes responsibly all the way through. What may appear at first as yet another insane twist is really just a natural development in the story “Jane” has always told.
Now, whether or not Rogelio can keep his sudden romantic feelings for Darci in his pants long enough to see their co-parenting contract responsibly all the way through? Well, that’s the whole point of a telenovela…
“Jane the Virgin” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.