A baby falls out of the sky. A childless woman catches it in her arms from her. Boom! That’s it. She’s a mum. It’s unexpected, that’s for sure. The woman is 38 – the age, thereabouts, when all your friends are having babies. That it’s an easy delivery is something of an understatement. Not IVF. No adoption. No sperm donor. No demonic mix-up at birth. Not even a partner was needed. It might sound like winning the lottery for somebody desperate for a baby, as I was: I went through eight grueling rounds of IVF to have my first child. But this woman is landed with a baby she doesn’t want. The baby is so creepy that dogs bark at it – and it’s homicidal.
Welcome to Sky Atlantic’s new eight-part horror-comedy baby, which starts this week. It’s wildly refreshing; a haywire deep dive into women’s conflicted feelings towards motherhood and babies – our own and other people’s. We’ve seen a wave of comical and groundbreaking shows about motherhood: BBC’s MotherlandSky’s Breedersand Apple’s trying. And yet, baby is the scariest show about motherhood I’ve ever seen. What’s more, I can relate to it.
Natasha’s introduction to parenting is brutal. In a scene when she’s driving home with said creepy baby, tucked into a white laundry basket on the front seat of her car, she looks as shell-shocked as I did leaving the hospital with a newborn. She’s thrust into the mum world without any warning: kids’ parties from hell, s*** going all over her when she changes its first nappy from her; sleep deprivation; other people’s helicopter parenting. But while the other mums worry about raising their voice in a moment of exasperation, or kids eating a sweet treat – all the niggly mum issues that annoy me too – Natasha is carrying a kitchen knife in case her baby pulls a fast one.
I wasn’t a reluctant mother, like Natasha. She’s played by Michelle de Swarte who had a supporting role in Netflix’s The Duchess, Katherine Ryan’s bitchy single mum sitcom. She spends most of the show trying to get rid of the baby. But I understand what it’s like to be consumed by motherhood, where every waking moment is about a tiny person’s needs, not your own. I would have moments when I’d think “Oh, I will just go to the cafe and get a strong coffee.” But no. I suddenly couldn’t go out without a pram or a baby carrier – if the baby was asleep, I would have to wait. I also felt chained to the cot. baby, however, ramps it up – giving us an extreme version of what we fear will be the worst parts of parenthood. It takes parental burnout to a new level.
All moms have bad days – included me. But Natasha’s are pretty bad by anyone’s standards. She is stuck with a murderous infant with violent powers. This baby is controlling. She it’s manipulative. And it turns Natasha’s life upside down. It makes Rosemary’s Baby and baby Damien in The Omen look like cuddly toys in comparison.
In one breastfeeding scene, the baby bites off her nipple, giving her a cheeky blood-soaked smile while its eyes turn a demonic red colour. It might be a bad dream that she wakes up from in a cold sweat. But her day-to-day existence of her is even worse – the baby goes on killing sprees. It’s symbolic; will having a baby ruin your life?
As one witchy woo character, Heather, who is a link to the baby’s traumatic past, says: “He’ll bulldoze your life. Destroy your relationships. And when he’s got him to yourself, he’ll destroy you.” It sounds more like drug addiction than having a baby.
That is how many people view becoming a parent: a loss of freedom. I too remember all the horror stories when I was expecting my first – the birth itself was nearly enough to put me off. But unlike Natasha, I really wanted kids. I had no fear of what was to come – and it was a breeze. My kids, as babies, slept all night and I didn’t even notice them teething.
Even so, like Natasha, I don’t conform to the idealized version of motherhood – all perfect, happy-clappy fun. I’m a hectic working single mum who often loses the plot. I scream at the dog and the kids, and then apologize five seconds later because I’m overwhelmed. I burn the fish fingers because my mind is elsewhere, and once, I gave my kids a day off school as I just couldn’t face the school run one more time.
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It wasn’t until The Baby’s final episode, though, that it really hit me how much I relate to this horror show. Natasha finally surrenders fully to her motherhood and her sister. Bobby is shocked at the state of her house. It’s full of baby gear: calming flashing lights around the cot, toys, kitchen shelves lined with baby powder milk, and a bathroom full of wet wipes. It looks more like a nursery school. The baby has taken OVER.
“That’s like my flat now,” I scream in horror. I look around – there’s not an inch of my home that isn’t riddled with toys, including a five-foot-tall Barbie house in the middle of my kitchen. But I’ve become so used to it, it’s the norm now. Maybe in some ways, my kids had taken over my life without me even realizing it? They might be easy-going, but I have no space for myself – mentally or physically.
baby Sent me back to when my kids were babies – mine are now four and six. It’s isolating. Just like Natasha, I was lost in baby land. When friends and family came over, I couldn’t concentrate – it’s all about another mouthful of apple puree. I’ve also lost friends to motherhood – I know what it’s like.
But, as we hear Heather say, “he may look like a baby… but he’s made of something very old, he’s our fear of being unloved, he’s a bottomless pit of need”. It’s good to see more challenging depictions of motherhood – at least the reality can’t be half as bad.
The eight-part series ‘The Baby’ will premiere Thursday 7 July on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW