The first episode of Sky Atlantic’s new miniseries The Baby is enough to put women off having children for life. It follows chef Natasha (Michelle de Swarte), who gets more than she bargained for on holiday when a young mum falls to her death from a clifftop in front of her. Moments later, the dead mother’s baby drops from the sky and into her arms. But this is no ordinary baby. This, it turns out, is a demon baby who has been terrorising and killing mothers for at least two generations. He selects them, strips them of their identities, burns them out and ultimately destroys them.
For many mums watching at home, The Baby may not be as far-fetched as it initially seems. Women are still seen as primary caregivers often receiving little support from male partners in heterosexual relationships, the workplace and our patriarchal society. Take Natasha’s friend Mags, who is straining under the weight of new motherhood. She can’t hold a conversation, is physically and emotionally exhausted and, in one scene, receives some awkward questions from her friend. Natasha asks if life is better since Mags had a baby. “It’s just a lot,” she replies. “But is it any better?” “Dunno. It’s hard to explain.”
The Baby, made by an all-female creative team, dares to ask these questions where other shows might not. What if motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? What if I don’t want to be a mother? From a young age, girls are given dolls to nurse and are slowly conditioned by society into thinking motherhood is the norm. The Baby shows a different and more realistic side: one where women are forced to give up their identities, social lives and careers in a world that doesn’t support them in doing one of the most important jobs on earth.
Later, we discover that the terrible tot’s original mother, Mary (Sex Education’s Tanya Reynolds), was a lesbian trapped in an unhappy, heterosexual marriage during the 1970s when it was even more difficult to come out. She leaves her husband for Nour (Seyan Sarvan) but discovers weeks later that she is pregnant. Mary books in for an abortion but it’s stopped by her husband with the full support of the medical team who were meant to care for her. Things get worse for Mary when the husband imprisons her and forces her to give birth against her will. Along the way, she is drugged, sedated and force-fed. “It’s not good for the baby,” one doctor says when she gets upset, before injecting her with more tranquilisers. Her welfare is not even a consideration: she is a body not a being.
Some viewers have described Mary’s situation as extreme, but is it? Women in America have recently lost the right to decide what to do with their bodies after Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 case that made abortion legal on a federal level, was overturned by the Supreme Court. The only people in charge of women’s bodies should be women themselves. The effects of not having this right, as we see through Mary, are devastating. She suffers a mental breakdown and takes her own life. As Natasha says later on, Mary’s baby is as much a victim of this too because he is “a product of trauma” after being unwanted and seeing his mother die.
At the same time, the show tackles the reasons why we have children too – something rarely discussed. We see how Natasha’s own mother abandoned her and her sister Bobbi (Amber Grappy) after not being able to cope. Bobbi was a sticking plaster – an attempt to “bring joy” to a struggling marriage. “That’s a lot of pressure,” Bobbi says, completely broken from the fallout of why her parents had her.
The Baby may be a work of fiction, but it’s far more realistic than it seems. We need to be having honest conversations about just how difficult motherhood is – and how unattainable modern standards are. When motherhood is thrust upon Natasha, she loses her life as she knows it. She’s a ghost of her former self, trying to live up to what she thinks is a “perfect mother.” People talk about her through her baby – not her personality, nor her previous high-flying career. A woman shouldn’t have to give up her life in a world where we’re more than able to offer help. But nor should women be forced to become mothers either, because as The Baby shows, the effects of that are the most detrimental of all: it could literally kill us.