I wasn’t sure if I would write about this, and if I did, what I would say. But on the theme of “representation matters,” it sort of feels like the more we say about this, the better.
Chilli Heeler had a miscarriage.
The mom from the incredibly popular kids TV show “Bluey” lost a pregnancy. We don’t know when, if it happened before or after Bluey or Bingo or how far along she was in the pregnancy.
But we know now. And it matters, a lot.
There has been speculation about this since the episode “The Show” premiered on April 4, 2020, in Australia. If you haven’t watched “Bluey” and you’re in the U.S., you can find this episode on Disney+. “The Show” is episode 16 in Season 2.
Each episode of “Bluey” clocks in at about 8 minutes, and there are 52 episodes a season. The show has won awards and broken records for viewership in Australia and internationally.
A quick note about the Heeler family: Yes, we’re talking about cartoon dogs. Their name is derived from their breed, the blue heeler and red heeler. Bingo is the younger child and Bluey is older. The dad is Bandit, and the mom is Chilli. They live in Brisbane, Australia, where Ludo Studio, the production company behind “Bluey,” is based.
And a quick note about miscarriage: It’s defined as the loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks. A pregnancy loss after 20 weeks is a stillbirth. According to the March of Dimes, 80% of miscarriages happen before the 12th week. The experience is very common but little talked about, leaving many people who experience pregnancy loss feeling alone. I speak from experience on that one.
What happens in ‘The Show’
“The Show” takes place on Mother’s Day. Bingo, Bluey and Bandit bring Chilli breakfast in bed, but Bingo trips and spills the tray carrying Chilli’s breakfast. Bingo runs from the room crying, and Chilli encourages her to have a little cry, pick herself up, dust herself off and carry on.
“The show must go on,” Chilli says.
Then Bluey has the idea to put on a play about how Bandit and Chilli met. The key moment in the episode happens when Bingo, playing Chilli, has a balloon under her shirt to represent Chilli’s pregnancy with Bluey. The girls get carried away horsing around, and the balloon pops.
Many parents instantly became obsessed with this moment, because the view turns from showing the balloon popping, to Bandit grabbing Chilli’s hand as her smile fades.
Did Bandit react this way because he was worried Bingo would be even more upset, thinking she ruined Mother’s Day? Or was Bandit reacting more sympathetically to Chilli, knowing how she might associate the balloon popping with her own pregnancy loss?
It turns out that it’s the latter, and we have confirmation from “Bluey” creator and writer Joe Brumm himself, thanks to the new book “Hard to Bear: Investigating the Science and Silence of Miscarriage,” by Isabelle Oderberg. (I haven’t read it, but I just bought it on Kindle.)
Important note here: Major credit goes to the “Gotta Be Done” podcast, @blueypod on Instagram, for finding this excerpt in Oderberg’s book.
Oderberg reached out to Brumm to settle once and for all what she called the “heated online debate” around the episode.
He said yes: “‘The Show’ indeed does point at Chilli having a miscarriage.”
In his response to Oderberg, Brumm said that in the episode, Chilli passes down her coping strategy to Bingo. He was inspired by a person who had a miscarriage and had to “pick herself up and keep going” to take care of her children.
For anyone who has experienced pregnancy or infant loss, this thought is a familiar one.
And having it represented in a show for children and families is incredibly important.
Why this matters
Before I had my son, I was pregnant six times. Casey was my seventh pregnancy. I had another very early miscarriage, called a chemical pregnancy, after he was born.
“The Show” is especially poignant for me — because I had a miscarriage on Mother’s Day in 2015.
We were so excited. We took my mom to breakfast that morning for Mother’s Day, told her about the pregnancy, gave her a little Brighton charm to represent her first grandchild, who I thought was growing by the minute.
As soon as we got home from breakfast, I knew something was wrong. I started to cramp. Then the spotting began. I called my doctor, and she was blunt but still tender: She said I knew what was happening, and I knew what to expect, and if anything seemed out of the usual, then I should go to the emergency room.
Yes, by that point I had three miscarriages under my belt. I knew what to expect with them, and I knew what was normal for me. It still makes me feel like I’m trying to breathe underwater when I think about that.
I spent that Mother’s Day curled up and crying, either on our bed or on the bathroom floor.
I’ve hated Mother’s Day ever since. I’m not sure if you noticed — probably not — but I really stay off social media before and during Mother’s Day celebrations.
With each of my miscarriages, I felt exactly the same way as Chilli: “The show must go on.”
It always seemed that the world around me didn’t allow for or understand my need to slow down and grieve. After that Mother’s Day miscarriage, I took one day off from work and tried to go back to the office too soon. I was a mess, I was still bleeding and cramping, and thankfully, I worked for someone who is incredible and kind and told me sternly that I needed to go home.
But I had the mentality that it was “just a miscarriage,” something that had been hammered into me over years and years of watching others go through it and have to act like it didn’t affect them, like it was just another day.
My first miscarriage was even more traumatic because it was the result of a sexual assault when I was 18. On top of not reporting the assault to the authorities, I also didn’t seek adequate medical care after the miscarriage, because I didn’t fully understand what was happening and I didn’t want to face the reality of the situation. Years later, I would wonder if that had anything to do with my lost pregnancies. The guilt was unimaginable.
The first time I watched “The Show,” I picked up on that subtle yet poignant moment when Bandit grabbed Chilli’s hand. But I thought, no way. There’s so little representation of miscarriage in pop culture, nonetheless in children’s programming. My heart both sank and soared.
It’s important to note, this isn’t the first sensitive subject “Bluey” tackled. The first season featured the episode “Early Baby,” with Bluey and her friends re-enacting a baby’s premature birth. As the children role play, they tell each that they have to be “the bravest they’ve ever been.”
In another first-season episode, “Bumpy and the Wise Old Wolfhound,” Bluey and Bandit endeavor to cheer up Bingo, who is being treated in the hospital with an ailment that is never disclosed. (An awesome move on the part of the show’s runners, because the episode can apply to any ailment.)
There also seems to be some indication that there are fertility issues in Chilli’s family. When her sister Brandy comes to visit in the Season 3 episode “Onesies,” it’s pretty clear that Brandy has struggled with either difficulty getting pregnant or difficulty staying pregnant. The episode features a shot of Brandy reaching out for Bingo as Bingo runs away from her.
In a voiceover, Chilli explains to Bluey that “there’s something Auntie Brandy wants more than anything as well, but she can’t have it, and there’s not really anything anyone can do about it.”
“Why can’t she just have the thing she wants?” Bluey replies.
“Because it’s not meant to be,” Chilli says.
Cut to me watching this for the first time, sobbing.
There is something truly special about “Bluey.” It’s a show that manages to transcend generations while actually having a heart. Talk to any “Bluey” fan, and they will happily tell you about the first episode they watched that made them laugh out loud, and the first episode that made them cry.
In fact, they’ll probably be more excited to talk with you about the episodes that made them cry: “Bumpy and the Wise Old Wolfhound.” “Camping.” “The Creek.” “Flat Pack.” “Baby Race.” “Rain.” “Onesies.”
Don’t forget “Sleepytime,” which The New York Times named one of the best episodes of TV for 2020.
As someone who experienced multiple miscarriages and still struggles with the mental and emotional fallout, watching that moment in “The Show” between two cartoon dogs made me feel very seen.
It’s important that people who experience miscarriage know they are not alone, and that their grief is valid. Not just for their mental health, but for their physical health as well, so they know it is OK and safe to have difficult discussions with their doctors about what happened.
And having confirmation that this is another example of pregnancy loss representation in pop culture makes it all the more meaningful.
SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER!
Get on the list now for my Weekly Wellington Mom newsletter, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday morning with the latest news and things to do in Wellington and the surrounding area.