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What Watching 'The Great British Baking Show' During Pregnancy Meant to Me

1. I read that after my baby is born, she’ll recognize voices she heard regularly from inside the uterus. I don’t go out much anymore, but she’ll know my voice, my husband’s. And she might remember gentle British accents, satisfied hums over pie and drizzle cakes, laughter. I’ve watched an episode of  “The Great British Baking Show” (GBBS) almost every day throughout my pregnancy.

I used to be afraid of having a psychotic episode while pregnant. During these periods, I become obsessed with running away. I imagined the hormones crashing through my body, stepping off a train platform in a far-off town. Or, my preferred route, walking north until I hit someplace wooded and remote.

I haven’t run away or become psychotic. I never miss weekly appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist. I use a pillbox with 28 compartments. And for an hour most days, while my husband rides the train home from work, I watch Britain’s top amateur bakers smack bread dough, pipe buttercream onto ginger biscuits.

Some of the bakes aren’t very good. I say that lovingly. Because they’re fantastic compared to the lumps of gray goo I’d fling out of the oven. Especially under that kind of pressure. And the mistakes might be one of my favorite parts of the show. The close-ups of the other bakers whispering encouragement. The judges throwing in an obscure positive comment about adequately-sieved raspberry coulis.

I arrange the right pillows behind my neck and back, and I forget for an hour about my pelvic pain and insomnia. The baby kicks, I talk to her.

2. In Lamaze class, I’m instructed that I need to relax between contractions. In a gap of a minute, I need to rest, even doze if I can. Lamaze class is over Zoom, and the teacher watches my husband and I practice our poses and breathing. I start out thinking I’m pretty good at breathing because I meditate sometimes. But I get confused right away with the first variation, trying to imitate the teacher’s sighs.

My teacher emailed us suggesting that we pretend to be in labor for several hours, timing contractions every 10 minutes or so. I look at my calendar, but I’ve got other things I’d like to do every day. I count six weeks until my due date.

In several hours, I could watch a third of a season of GBBS. But, given that time, I wouldn’t watch three consecutive episodes. I’d watch three semifinals from different seasons, the patisserie-themed challenges. The bakers are at their peak, competing for the honor of baking their best for the final. Honor and friendship are the only prizes on GBBS, other than a glass cake stand. I’d shuffle through the seasons. Disappear into the theme song, soothing strings and piano. A layer of pastry, then butter. Pastry again.

In class, I breathe, imagine my body wracked with painful contractions. Then in the 60 seconds of relief, I try to relax, as fast as I can.

3. “You sound good,” my therapist says over the phone.

She says this most sessions. My psychiatrist agrees. The most time I’ve spent depressed in bed during the pregnancy is a couple days. And, even on these days, I usually leave bed for at least a few hours, even if only to sit in front of the TV watching “The Great British Baking Show.”

I’m not sure what my OB thinks of my stability. For the first two trimesters, I message him twice a week with confused complaints, show up to my monthly appointment going down a list of 12 questions. “A couple more,” I say. “This is the last one, sorry.”

He’s troubled when I mark on the questionnaire that I’ve had self-harm thoughts recently. I tell him that I don’t plan to do anything, that I’m talking to my therapist and psychiatrist and husband. “I’m actually doing pretty well,” I say. I don’t know how to explain that I’m used to these thoughts in the background, the volume low lately and easily dismissed.

4. The bakers are always shocked when they win. The camera pans to their face, and they gasp, clutch their chests. Even if they outperformed everybody else the whole episode, turned out near-ideal Chelsea buns, Swiss rolls with dizzying swirls. They never see the win coming.

I’m often surprised, too, because something happens to my brain when I watch “The Great British Baking Show,” where I barely remember who baked what. By the time the bakers reach the third challenge, all the doughs and creams have blended together in my mind, no matter how many times I rewatch. I just have a general sense of contentment and appreciation, for these people, their dedication to braiding bread. For at least one hour of the day, I’m enjoying my life.

Usually I rewatch old seasons, but in September the brand-new season started releasing an episode every Friday. I convinced my husband to join me watching last year’s season, and he agrees again this year. We admire gorgeous pavlovas, cheer for our beloved bakers, my husband’s hands resting on my belly to feel the baby kick.

“She heard you!” I say.

“She wants to meet us!” he says.

5. I thought for many years that I was too unstable to care for a child consistently. I haven’t had a major mood episode for almost three years now. I ask myself whether the changes have stuck, how long is long enough to tell a good run.

I’m hoping my daughter and I will get a lot of time together. Enough time for enough good memories. She won’t remember our daily routine now, working to her favorite Joni Mitchell, preparing a smoothie since she craves fruit. Heading out for errands, our hour of tarts and Victoria sponges. I wonder if she’ll be very different on the outside, or if I’ll recognize her personality from her spirited movements.

For our baby’s first Halloween, we’ll dress her up as a loaf of bread. My husband will put on a long dark wig, and I’ll wear a colorful necklace. We’ll talk in British accents, commenting on dough aeration and distribution of fruit. I don’t think any of it will be familiar to her, even though she spent so many hours listening. We’ll tell her again.

Image of “The Great British Baking Show” kitchen via Facebook

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