In retrospect, Mother! wasn't the best movie to watch while pregnant.
I had just struggled through my first-trimester morning sickness in September when I went to see it. I wasn't prepared — and this will be the first of many spoilers — for Jennifer Lawrence's character giving birth to a baby boy, then a cult of wackos tearing him to pieces and eating him.
And, like that, the nausea was back. Mother! was just the start of disturbing scenarios I watched involving pregnant women and mothers.
I didn't realise how bleak the outcomes could be for childbearing women on screen until I got pregnant. Had pop culture always been this way, and I hadn't paid attention? Whatever the case, movie and TV mums have had a rough go of it recently. One positive pregnancy test is all it takes, apparently, for a woman to be at heightened risk of agonising death or terrifying misery.
By contrast, men — the good guys, anyway — are nearly impossible to kill, regardless of parental status. In Dwayne Johnson's upcoming Skyscraper, he's already short a leg when he outruns machine gun fire, then leaps about the length of a football field from a crane to a building. (He's doing it for his wife and kids who are in peril, of course.) The trailer turns his survival into a cliffhanger, but we know he'll be safe, as he always is in the Furious franchise. During the last in that series, all the main players lived — except the mum in the crew.
If judging by movies and television, you'd think just about every expecting lady is at risk, given all the homicidal maniacs around. The plot of the recent Netflix series Alias Grace hinges on a pregnant woman's murder. Top of the Lake: China Girl kicks off with the image of a pregnant prostitute being stuffed in a suitcase and dropped off a cliff into the sea. And a pregnant detective in Liar gets drugged and raped; at least she survives.
As a viewer, you can't always predict what's coming. I didn't expect, for example, a Thurgood Marshall biopic would feature a traumatic pregnancy. Yet a major humanising aspect of Marshall is the fact the lawyer's wife suffers the latest in a string of miscarriages.
Then there's Fifty Shades Freed. A movie about kinky bedroom activity should be safe, but (a) Anastasia Steele gets pregnant, (b) husband Christian Grey considers leaving her over it and (c) a stalker kicks her in the belly. Good news, though: Her unborn is fine. And the threat to her life makes her husband realise he does, in fact, want to be with her, even if she's going to become something as unthinkable as a mum.
Once the baby is on the outside, female characters aren't necessarily safer. You could see it coming, at least, in The Snowman, about a killer who preys on mums. And the trailers for Suburbicon and Wonderstruck hinted the mums weren't going to last to the end.
Survival isn't always the best result, though. In one week in November, three new movie releases featured mothers in searing but distinct agony: Mudbound dramatises not only a miscarriage but a character whose son is mutilated by the KKK; Wonder features every mother's nightmare when a newborn is whisked away at birth due to life-threatening complications; and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows a mother seeking justice after her daughter is raped and murdered.
Three Billboards was a reminder that there's a fate worse than death for mothers, and it's seeing your child go first, and recent movies have had plenty of that, too, including In the Fade, Wind River and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
I was so over maternal grief by the time I saw Hostiles. A woman sees Comanches scalp her husband and kill her two daughters. When she's fleeing for the hills, an arrow sails through the newborn she cradles. She survives and travellers find her. Soon she's wailing and clawing at the rocky earth, set on digging her family's graves herself. By now I felt burned out and wondered when the last time was that a movie or show gave viewers the full scope of what a typical pregnancy and motherhood were like.
Other than the prickly relationship between mum and daughter in Lady Bird, the closest thing I found to accuracy, surprisingly, was in raunchy animated Netflix comedy Big Mouth. In one episode a pillow gets pregnant (don't ask) and experiences real-life indignities.
"You think I'm disgusting, don't you?" the pillow cries to the father of her child. "I'm huge! I'm bursting at my seams." That's right, the only character I could relate to during my pregnancy was made of down feathers.
And then there was A Bad Moms Christmas. The sequel was nothing special, but after Hostiles and Mother! it was an antidote to all the pain and loss. The women in the comedy didn't pretend motherhood was a picnic, but they were having fun anyway.
At the press screening for that movie, I felt something new — and it wasn't just an appreciation for a story that didn't torture women and their offspring. I felt my baby move for the first time.
And, for a moment, despite all the cautionary tales, I felt maybe everything was going to be all right after all.