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Ana’s Pregnancy Scare in 50 Shades Darker; or How Even Adults Don’t Know How Babies are Made

I decided to read a few pages of 50 Shades Darker while I ate my morning yogurt, and I had an epiphany for why shows such as MTV’s 16 and Pregnant exist.  If grown women who HAVE CHILDREN do not understand how human beings procreate, then what hope do we have of squirrel-brained teenagers (apologies to the non-squirrel-brained teenagers who just believed for a moment that I was lumping them in with the others and calling all teenagers “squirrel-brained teenagers”) understanding how babies are made and therefore avoid having them?

While this is just a tiny scene within the book, stop reading if you don’t want any spoilers at all.


So the gynecologist who makes house calls shows up to give Ana her Depo-Provera injection because she stopped taking the birth control pills she was on.  She asks Ana when her period began.  It is currently Sunday in the book, and Ana says that her period began two Wednesdays ago.  For those keeping track at home, this means we’re on CD12.  The doctor has her take a pregnancy test because Ana stopped taking her birth control pills a few days earlier.  She tells Ana that she could be pregnant (“You could be pregnant,” she says matter-of-factly).  On CD12.

I want to explain to EL James how babies are made and how pregnancy tests can be used.  Actually, let’s just skip to how pregnancy tests are used because I’m fairly certain that she has the sex thing down.  Until implantation has occurred and the body starts producing enough hCG to have the hormone spill into the urine and trigger a positive pregnancy test, there is no point in peeing on a stick because it will never tell you whether or not you are pregnant.  If a doctor truly wanted to be responsible and check for pregnancy prior to giving a Depo-Provera shot, she would draw blood which can alert the doctor to hCG levels in the blood stream.

I’m not asking for people to be knowledgeable in all stages of embryonic development.  I’m not asking for writers to understand the function of pinopodes.  I’m just asking for some good, old-fashioned understanding of timing.

Ovulation occurs mid-cycle, perhaps even around CD12.  And then implantation occurs anywhere from 6 to 10 days post-ovulation.  Hence why you couldn’t use a pregnancy test immediately after having sex and know anything (and you certainly couldn’t use a pregnancy test before ovulation occurs).  In fact, it will take days after implantation occurs until there are enough mlU of hCG in your urine to trigger a positive test. (Each test has an hCG sensitivity threshold with some tests turning positive at 25 mlU and others waiting until 40 mlU to turn positive.  Hence why doctors would want a blood test since urine tests don’t give them a number — it just lets them know if there is enough hCG in the urine to get over the test’s threshold.)

I guess I don’t understand why Ana and Christian are trusting a gynecologist who either (1) doesn’t understand how the menstrual cycle works or (2) loves to waste pregnancy tests.

And beyond that, she gives the Depo-Provera injection on CD12.  While I’ve never taken Depo-Provera, I do know that almost all hormone-based forms of birth control are timed to certain parts of your cycle.  My understanding of Depo-Provera is that it is always given within days after your period begins, and doctors will wait until your next period to start that.  I’m giving EL James a pass on that one for the moment because perhaps there are doctors who begin it mid-cycle who can chime in to say this is kosher…

There were so many simple ways for EL James to introduce a pregnancy scare.  For instance, the doctor could say, “I’m going to start the Depo-Provera, but before I do, just to be safe, I’m going to draw some blood and test it to make sure you’re not pregnant.  You can never be too careful.”  There.  Done.  Makes sense.  You get Ana to freak out over the possibility to being pregnant, and she gets to watch Christina pale when she passes on the news to him.  And teenagers everywhere are not fed misinformation about women’s health in the process.

By this point, it is so clear that Ana will become pregnant by the third book that I don’t understand why Vintage didn’t just have the author leave handwritten notes in the margins of the books saying things like, “do you notice how often I’m bringing up birth control?” or “did you just see how Christian reacted to the idea of a pregnancy?” or “I want to leave nothing subtle: please notice how often I am bringing up these plot points so you can predict that Ana will become pregnant in book three!”

Of course she will become pregnant despite being on numerous forms of birth control because Ana is soooooooooooooooooo fertile that Christian simply has to look at her and she falls pregnant.

I imagine that somewhere in an alternate universe there exists Characterland, and Ana from 50 Shades of Grey and Bella from Twilight are having lunch (by which I mean picking at their salads because neither slender girl likes to eat — and if you ever forget that, the author reminds you in the next paragraph.  Somehow they both get by on 30 calories per day) and clucking about how fertile they are.  Ana is moaning about how easy it is for her to get knocked up, and Bella is mentioning how she knows she wants to have a summer baby next time so they’ll just have sex in September.

And somewhere, at a nearby table, Clare from the Time Traveler’s Wife is trying not to cry into her napkin as she listens to their conversation.  Because while she’s happy that those characters all get pregnant and deliver a live child, all she has to show for her struggle to procreate with the love of her life, Henry, are numerous miscarriages.

I’m going back to my yogurt now.  All I want to say is that when I rule the world, pregnancies in books and movies are going to get a whole lot more realistic.  None of this fudging of science facts in order to create a plot point.


1 Katie { 05.24.12 at 10:50 am }

Thank you for writing this! The whole pregnancy/birth control aspect of this series drove me crazy – among other things, of course. Yet another piece of fiction that perpetuates myths about the female reproductive system. I can’t wait until you rule the world and set the record straight. 😉

2 KeAnne { 05.24.12 at 10:53 am }

I would vote for you to rule the world. Have you read Jasper Fforde’s books? I can see these conversations happening in the world he creates.

3 k { 05.24.12 at 10:57 am }

OMG this kind of thing DRIVES. Me. batty. Seriously. Like the show Private Practice for example. The practice has a fertility specialist. And apparently an embryology lab since they perform IVF (although that lab looked like my high school science room). Couple comes in seeking IVF and they just so HAPPEN to be able to do a retrieval on the same day. Really?????? And if they say they’re “implanting” an embryo one more time I may just throw my tv out the window.

Why, with the plethora of information out there, do writers not do the smallest amount of research to make things remotely realistic?

4 Lollipopgoldstein { 05.24.12 at 11:01 am }

This also occurred recently in a House episode (we’re on season 5 now, but this episode was in season 3 or 4). The woman was doing fertility treatments but taking birth control pills at the same time to keep from getting pregnant. Because apparently, the RE isn’t actually monitoring her and looking at hormone levels. La la la, just closing my eyes and just doing IVF with noooooooooo blood draws, la la la.

Seriously people, the second I get into power, passing a law that says all fictional pregnancies need to be realistic AND that 12.5% of fictional women of childbearing age need to be portrayed as infertile.

5 Elizabeth { 05.24.12 at 11:08 am }

You know I get twitchy about something similar but different – phases of the moon. I get twitchy when a children’s book shows a picture of a crescent moon rising just after sunset, because that could NEVER HAPPEN (this earth and this moon, anyway). If you see a crescent moon just after sunset, it is setting, not rising. Fact. But yeah, it seems almost like in books like these Science become this deus ex machina that can be used however the author wants to make the plot do what they want, regardless of actual human biology or anything like that.

6 ANDMom { 05.24.12 at 11:17 am }

On the Depo Provera – you can generally start hormonal birth control methods any old time in your cycle you want. Depending on where you are in your cycle it won’t be effective, and it could cause more breakthrough bleeding, but if you’re sure you’re not pregnant you can, technically, start it.

7 Lisa @ Hapa Hopes { 05.24.12 at 11:35 am }

I had to stop watching House because of all of the misinformation. I’m an audiologist and holy crap were they doing it wrong. Hell, they didn’t even have audiologists. Surgeons did my job… incorrectly. But it made more sense when I watched the finale and heard the producer use the word “handicapped” to describe House. Obviously, she’s not up on her PC lingo and probably doesn’ t know that she isn’t. EL probably doesn’t know that she doesn’t know about reproduction. Just like you didn’t know that you didn’t know that if Bella wanted a summer baby, she should have sex that same summer because her gestational period was apparently only 1 month long. September sex would give her a fall baby.

But you should still rule the world. Make people get child rearing licenses before they procreate while you’re at it, okay?

8 Sharon { 05.24.12 at 11:48 am }

The irony of this post? The readers who make up the majority of this blog’s audience are among the population who DO understand how ovulation and pregnancy tests work. 😉

These things throw me off in books and movies all the time, too. (Oh, and your pointing out the lack of subtely in the foreshadowing in the book reaffirms my decision to skip these books. What bad writing.) And don’t even get me started on the inaccuracies in most lawyer TV shows.

9 a { 05.24.12 at 12:06 pm }

I got stuck at a gynecologist who makes house calls. Anything beyond that is not even fiction, it’s fantasy. Therefore, storks deliver babies and fairies place them in your womb – blood tests are unnecessary and so are urine tests. You should be checking the garden for glowing lights under the leaves at night, obviously. (Yes, I had to Yahoo (I don’t Google) that one)

10 loribeth { 05.24.12 at 12:14 pm }

Anyone remember that short-lived (thank goodness!) series from a few years back, set at a fertility clinic — “Inconceivable,” I think it was called? I watched a few episodes just out of curiosity to see how (in)accurate it was. Ugh. :p

You may rule my world anytime, Mel. ; )

11 loribeth { 05.24.12 at 12:17 pm }

Re: “Inconceivable” — it ran for just two episodes in the fall of 2005:


12 Alexicographer { 05.24.12 at 12:18 pm }

I’m with @a, I’m sorry, you lost me at “the gynecologist who makes house calls…” HAHAHAHA. Oh, that was a good one.

13 JB { 05.24.12 at 12:23 pm }

Great post. Just goes to show how much people believe without actually checking the facts. The scary thing is, how many people read this and never, ever thought twice about it?

14 JM { 05.24.12 at 12:30 pm }

You HAD to bring up Time Traveler’s Wife. Cue the Thursday morning tears. (and jeez, I’m only on BCP right now, not even the IVF meds again, just call me a hysterical woman why you’re at it, k?)

15 Jill { 05.24.12 at 12:37 pm }

I don’t know why I was so naive to think this, but after learning every intimate, graphic detail about conception, how to monitor for ovulation, the most “advantageous” positions, etc. through years of infertility and miscarriage I came to believe this was common knowledge for all women. That was, until I had a conversation with my sister (who would be sitting at the table with Ana and Bella) about ovulation. She thought women ovulated for 2 weeks starting right after AF finished up. I was speechless. I guess I was still stuck on the concept I learned growing up studying for exams. The more you know the better you do. How was it that my sister who’s knowledge of conception seemed nonexistant was passing the “exam” with flying colors (2 kids, both conceived in first month trying) while I was failing miserably despite having studied for the “exam” like my effing life depended on it? Ah the irony of life… I suppose I would have been just as clueless as she is if my exam would have gone as easily as hers!

16 Orodemniades { 05.24.12 at 1:13 pm }

House calls?

That’s crap even for fan fiction.

17 Chickenpig { 05.24.12 at 1:16 pm }

I HATE it when pregnancy is used solely as a plot device. The one that really gets me is the character Christina on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. She is, from what I can tell, the ONLY character that is totally opposed to having children, and yet she has had TWO unplanned pregnancies, one that was ectopic and the other which she aborted. WTF??? She is a top notch surgeon who doesn’t want to have children, but she doesn’t know how to use birth control?

I’m not sure I want to be there when Ana gets knocked up, I’ll probably hurl.

18 Nicole { 05.24.12 at 1:20 pm }

On Guiliana and Bill she said her gestational carrier could have a false positive because of all of the hormones she was taking. Last I checked GCs don’t take trigger shots and progesterone and estrogen are not HCG!

Also… a lot of the women on I didn’t know I was pregnant claim they had their period the whole time. Even more baffling on that one is women who have had children going on to not know and give birth on the toilet… WTF?

19 Jendeis { 05.24.12 at 1:24 pm }

I can’t wait for you to be Queen of the World. Could you do something about all this traffic, please? 🙂

20 Tiara { 05.24.12 at 1:47 pm }

Why is there a house call making gyno? Can’t Ana just go into an office? Sorry, my only knowledge of 50 SOG series is what people are blogging about…

21 Gail { 05.24.12 at 1:53 pm }

I’d love for you to rule the world and I like your idea of setting the misinformation straight. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve overhead conversations at the store or school or even at parties where women don’t have a clue how their own bodies work. Granted, I don’t have a medical degree, but I figured out pretty early on how it worked and knew how to prevent pregnancy when I wasn’t ready and knew what to do to get ready, even though I never conceived. It usually takes all my effort to bite my tongue and not say anything to these unknowing women. My favorite was the women at a party who told me she was pregnant and then in the same breath lamented that they had wanted a May baby, but had missed the window and got a June baby instead. Must be nice to be that freakin’ fertile! I so wanted to reply that we’d missed our window for a 2012, 2011 and a 2010 baby, but we were hopeful for a 2013 baby!

22 Ellen K. { 05.24.12 at 2:42 pm }

Oh, God, I remember “Inconceivable.” It opened with a white couple’s jaws dropping when a biracial baby was delivered by their white surrogate (the little hussy had hooked up days after her ER). And the obstet floor was on the same floor as the RE clinic. And the RE nurse gleefully steered a triplet stroller through the RE waiting room. The most irritating first 10 minutes of any pilot episode ever.

23 Trisha { 05.24.12 at 2:46 pm }

Thus the reason I stopped reading after the first book. So glad I didn’t have to read that because I might of chucked my kindle out the window and then E.L. James would owe me a new one.

24 Meghan { 05.24.12 at 2:48 pm }

I hate this! I faithfully watch a soap opera (hanging head in shame) and when they ran an infertility story line I emailed them every single day with the inaccuracies in that episode. They eventually dropped that arc and then a few years later the character had a fancy new surgery called Fertility Reconstruction Surgery. Now wouldn’t that be nice??

25 magpie { 05.24.12 at 2:56 pm }

Yes, please, run the world. (I’m so glad you’re reading these so I don’t have to.)

26 Amber { 05.24.12 at 3:12 pm }

And to think I was considering reading these! Bleh, no way!

27 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.24.12 at 3:19 pm }

So funny that you brought up Clare because I just finished TTW. And it bugged me for a similar medical reason.

Last year a family friend had to have a leg amputated due to a necrotic foot. I asked my parents why the friend had to have the LEG amputated, when it was just the FOOT that was compromised, and the answer was that there is some medical reason why foot amputations are rarely done — it’s usually done just below the knee (circulation, probably, I don’t know). Seems like that 8 inches of leg wouldn’t be useful without a foot).

Point being, the plotline was ruined for me, for the same reason EL James’ was for you.

28 Rebecca { 05.24.12 at 3:59 pm }

I’m writing a YA novel about a teenager who has an abortion.

29 Heather { 05.24.12 at 4:34 pm }

This cracked me up. I had to go with “suspension of disbelief” in order to enjoy most of the content of the books. But yeah, the ease of pregnancy got me, as it does in most books where they think of babies and it happens.

30 Brookes4boys { 05.24.12 at 4:41 pm }

I just finished the entire series, and while it certainly wasn’t the best written books I have read (and I don’t get the hype at all) I have to disagree on this one point. I think she was testing whether Ana had ovulated in that scene, not whether she was pregnant. She says when she pulls the stick out of the urine “you haven’t ovulated yet, so you should be in the clear” or something to that effect.
I agree with all other points though. Especially the comment about Christina on Greys Anatomy, grrr!

31 Tara Dawes { 05.24.12 at 5:58 pm }

Oh sweet God, yet another reason for me not to read these “books”.

32 Sarah Q { 05.24.12 at 7:08 pm }

I couldn’t finish these books. If only because of how often the word envisages was used.

33 S.I.F. { 05.24.12 at 8:53 pm }

Ohmygosh I love you so much for this! This whole series has me rolling my eyes and unable to even think about touching them. I haven’t heard a single thing about them that makes me want to read them!

34 Sunny { 05.24.12 at 9:24 pm }

SOOOO irritating! This reminds me of an episode of “Rules of Engagement,” a show that became so ridiculous I haven’t watched it in forever. But anyway, the infertile couple decides to try IVF. She has her transfer, and then the next day, the doctor CALLS HER AND TELLS HER IT DIDN’T WORK. Seriously. *eye roll*

35 amelie { 05.24.12 at 10:34 pm }

Sorry to correct you – but, – a woman can ovulate at any time during a menstrual cycle – even during or directly after her period. Some women ovulate almost immediately after going off BCP, others take months to resume a normal cycle. I can’t tell you the number of young women I’ve known who have become pregnant during times when they think they are “safe”, and in fact it was the very first speech the gyn gave my own daughter during her pre-college check up. I had already given it to her many times! There are lots and lots of missed two pills how did I become pregnant babies out there. I’ve even known pregnancies occur while a person was still bleeding after giving birth (babies 10 1/2 month s apart!) Now a pee on a stick test so soon – that won’t work. The idea that a woman can only become pregnant “mid-cycle” is one piece of mis-information that those of us who work with young women are constantly trying to correct.

36 Lollipopgoldstein { 05.24.12 at 10:41 pm }

That is true, Amelie, but if that was the case, that woman wouldn’t have a cycle of normal length since once ovulation occurs, the LP could only be 10 — 14 days long. Therefore, the woman would know that she ovulates early because her cycle would be abnormally short and she would have had that checked out by an gyn. Since Ana has a “normal” cycle — by which it fits into the time frame considered unremarkable to a doctor — she would never be pregnant by CD12. Since she just had an exam with the same doctor in the last book.

Absolutely, girls do need to be educated about their cycle; about how and when they can get pregnant.

37 Mali { 05.24.12 at 11:55 pm }

Great post (and comments). You can pretty much count on an infertile woman understanding how the reproductive system works much better than someone who gets pregnant easily. (A friend once told me how to take a pregnancy test! As if infertile women never take them? http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/02/im-infertile-not-stupid.html)

There’s a Kate Atkinson book (Behind the Scenes at the Museum) I can’t read because it begins with the protagonist being conceived – showing conception occurring immediately after ejaculation. I persevered for a few pages, and threw it down in disgust. I have never finished it, and in fact it has turned me off the author as a whole.

38 loribeth { 05.25.12 at 9:47 am }

If I ran the world, I would give a copy of “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” to every high school-aged girl. I considered myself fairly well informed (& I probably was next to many of my peers), but I learned SO much from that book.

39 TheStorkWhisperer { 05.26.12 at 4:10 pm }

Talk about 50 shades of dumb!

40 Battynurse { 05.28.12 at 4:32 am }

Great post and so true. That said I never stop being amazed at how few women have no clue how their cycles work and at what time of the month they get pregnant. I’ve seen tons of new moms with 9-10 month olds at home and even the amount of nurses who are clueless is alarming. I remember in nursing school hearing an instructor (whom I really liked and respected!) state that every woman starts her period exactly 14 days after ovulation.

41 Guera { 05.28.12 at 8:21 pm }


42 Barb { 05.29.12 at 12:57 am }

Love it

43 Holly { 05.29.12 at 9:12 am }

I’m with Amelie on on this. But, I guess I’m sitting at that table with Bella and Ana because it took me just one cycle to get pregnant. I can’t believe people are aggravated about this. It’s a BOOK. FICTION. Get over it!!! Not everyone knows or cares to know about the details of how a woman’s reproductive cycle works. All I knew when I was “trying” (didn’t take much of that…) to get pregnant was that you ovulate sometime around 14 days after your period starts. That’s all I needed to know! The comments just sound like a bunch of women who want to start a bunch of drama. GET THE EFF OVER IT!!!!!

44 Diana Lee { 05.30.12 at 5:15 pm }

Yet another reason why these books are super duper lame-o.

45 Carol { 06.03.12 at 8:07 pm }

oh boy…thank goodness pregnancy is over for me! could you even guess why so many times Christian asked about her pill…geez uz. I’m only reading for the erotic parts since I’m too damn old to do them!

46 Liggy { 06.04.12 at 9:23 am }

Glad you could set the record straight on ovulation and pregnancy. I was beginning to wonder if anyone else out there realizes that, especially back when Sara Leal publicly claimed that she worried about being pregnant almost immediately after having unprotected sex with him. I thought, really, now? How can anyone know that soon?

47 Jessica { 06.05.12 at 7:02 pm }

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I have not read the remaining two books only because the first was not written well. Everything you point out is what drives me crazy about this series and why everyone is so obsessed with it, is beyond me.

48 BerryCNM { 06.11.12 at 12:44 pm }

The timing of the Depo shot doesn’t bother me so much as the implication that she was LATE getting her Depo shot at 13weeks. Depo injections are intended to be administered every 12-14weeks, and recent WHO recommendations even suggest that they may be effective for up to 17weeks. Do I recommend that women push the envelope and wait 17 weeks between Depo injections? Absolutely not. Do I counsel women that no method of birth control, aside from abstinence, is 100% effective? Absolutely. I enjoyed the books, as a fictional read – just wish ELJames would’ve done a smidge more research – she got pregnant because her Depo isn’t 100%, not because she was late.

49 MamsBear { 07.13.12 at 5:56 pm }

FYI she does an ovulation test, not a pregnancy test. Hence she says Ana should be fine cause she has not ovulated yet.. Although it is not very clear since the type of test is not specifically named an ovulation test makes sense, a pregnancy test does not. And hormonal BC can be started at any time… However you have to be on it for 5-7 days (depending on type) before it is effective. Just like if you take antibiotics it will mess up your BC and it is not magically effective the day you stop taking them, you have to wait until your body has time to adjust to the hormones again.

50 anrim { 07.19.12 at 2:04 pm }

I loved it! hilarious, sarcastic, and well written. I don’t understand why heroines start out as interesting characters and then they turn idiots. Ana has no life, no goals, no nothing-same goes for Bella. Please read the rest of the book so I can read your comments about ana sending personal emails from work.. thanks!

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