Our December meet-up of the Positive Birth Movement Sheffield threw up an interesting fact: all of the mums present had enjoyed watching David Attenborough documentaries when pregnant, and one while in early labour. It seems that Sir David’s familiar voice, when combined with stirring images of the natural world, resonates particularly well with the pregnant mind. ‘Ocytocin-inducing’, was the general consensus.
Now I don’t want to overstate the significance of this finding. After all, we were working with a sample of three (numbers were low because of the icy conditions). Nonetheless, the conversation that followed brought me back to an aspect of hypnobirthing practice that I’m not sure I fully appreciated before getting pregnant. Namely, the importance of seeking out entertainment that has a positive, calming effect on the mind, and steering clear of those things that can make us feel anxious and stressed.
When I first read about this in the KG hypnobirthing course, I thought it seemed a little… precious. I found it hard to imagine that pregnancy could suddenly make me so very sensitive. But almost as soon as I knew I was pregnant, I developed an incredibly weak stomach for violence and peril on TV. First-trimester nausea made anything graphic uncomfortable viewing, and nightly insomnia gave me unwelcome opportunities to replay jarring images throughout the small hours.
We seem to have a shaky understanding of what causes early-pregnancy insomnia. From what I’ve read, it seems to be (maybe) a result of stress, hormones, needing to wee a lot, and general pregnancy witchcraft. Whatever its origin, it’s an absolute sod, creating opportunities for the mind to churn and obsess that I have never experienced during normal waking hours.
I used a lot of meditation to get me through the sleepless nights – Peter Renner and Tara Brach’s free online courses were a great help. I avoided hypnobirthing scripts, because my pregnancy felt too tentative at that stage for images of babies and birth to be relaxing, however soothingly they were presented. But on the nights when insomnia had really taken a grip, no amount of focused breathing could help. So I developed the habit of getting out of bed, making a hot chocolate, and bedding down on the couch with a hot water bottle and David Attenborough. From this point on, the insomnia was much less stressful, and nature documentaries became the cornerstone of my pregnancy entertainment.
The challenge since has been finding common viewing ground with my partner, whose tastes are unchanged. I don’t think either of us realised before quite how bleak our TV habits were. Logging onto our respective Netflix accounts makes this abundantly clear: mine (based on my viewing history) recommends prison dramas, Nordic Noir, detective series and true crime documentaries; my partner's throws up mainly corrupt cop movies, (also) Nordic Noir, war films, and documentaries about chefs (this last category is an outlier and utterly pregnancy appropriate). After weeks spent trying to find something, anything to watch together that is just… nice, I finally understand my Nan’s complaints about ‘television today’, and why people get so much pleasure from settling down to a bit of Strictly.
But what are the implications of this for an entire pregnancy? Katharine Graves suggests that pregnant women should control the TV remote, but at what gestation can you start calling on this privilege? Well, 17 weeks in, my partner and I have adopted a strategy of (partial) divide and conquer. There are a limited number of shows that we can both enjoy, and therefore watch together. These are:
- MasterChef: the Professionals;
- Peaky Blinders (I assume because Cillian Murphy’s cheek bones blind me to its colourful content); and
- Nature documentaries (Although my partner has started to rebel against these, recently describing one as ‘rubbish’ – needless to say, we had words).
We then go our separate ways. He watches the usual things, while I enjoy:
- Classics (this Christmas I finally watched It’s a Wonderful Life);
- Romantic comedies (my tolerance for schmaltz has increased immeasurably);
- More nature documentaries;
- The Crowns (I bloody love The Crown – I’m convinced this season is better than the first, but it might just be that Elizabeth II and I are now more compatible); and
- Things I’ve watched before (less perilous because I know how they’re going to end).
We have agreed that from six months, my reign of the remote control will commence, and he will watch anything I choose, even costume dramas, a genre that he persistently fails to enjoy for reasons incomprehensible to me.
The point of this post is not really to tell you what you should and should not watch while pregnant. That is, of course, totally up to you. But I do want to encourage you to pay attention to your own pregnancy sensibilities, and, where possible, make small changes to promote a positive and relaxed mind.
We often have an idea of the kind of pregnant person we are going to be; for some of us, this will be one that doesn’t make a fuss and simply gets on with things. Sometimes these expectations are mirrored by others in our private and professional lives, which can, in turn, lead to us feeling pressure to fulfill a particular role. It can be unsettling to realise that the things you consider to be inherently ‘you’ (perhaps fearlessness, physical robustness, or a penchant for true crime) can in some cases disappear overnight - and suddenly you're that person who has to close their eyes during the scary bits.
I was not expecting to feel particularly anxious or vulnerable in early pregnancy. With pregnancy and birth already such a big part of my life, I thought I would begin the experience more relaxed than most. I had never had trouble sleeping before, and in the years I’ve been working with pregnant women, not one had mentioned first-trimester insomnia to me (thanks for nothing, pregnant women of London and Derbyshire!). But pregnancy is a force of nature, and its effects can be surprising. So pay attention to how you feel, and be very clear with yourself and those around you if you think something is likely to unsettle you, even if it makes you feel like a total sap. Some anxieties we cannot avoid, but many (like Facebook rants and late-night news) we can. And if all else fails, get hold of Frozen Planet and watch a mummy polar bear play with her cubs to the dulcet tones of David Attenborough. Just make sure you turn it off before you get to the depressing bit at the end about global warming. (Sigh.)