“A Quiet Place is a 2018 horror film about a family’s life of near-complete silence in a world overrun by bloodthirsty, echo-locating alien creatures, in which any noise above a whisper will elicit violence and death…” writes today’s guest writer, offering up a vivid metaphor of post-loss fear. After her first child, a daughter, was born still in 2013, guest writer Samantha Durante Banerjee found her way to the Star Legacy Foundation and now dedicates her time to advocating for stillbirth research, education, and prevention.
A Quiet Place (or as it could alternatively have been titled—stick with me here—90 Minutes in the Life of Pregnancy & Parenting After Loss) is a brief window into a world where the slightest miscalculation or momentary lapse in vigilance spells certain death for those you most love.
We watch with bated breath as two parents labor tirelessly to create some semblance of a life for their children, all the while nagged by the soul-shredding doubt of knowing there’s some small detail they must have missed, some tiny error that’s bound to result in this family's destruction. It’s a study in complete mental exhaustion, a visceral nightmare, a relentless but ultimately fruitless battle against ravenous, deathly forces completely beyond any one person’s control.
For 90 minutes, the audience is plunged into a world of insidious, slinking, cloying fear, where death loiters brazenly on every street corner. For 90 minutes, viewers are gripped by a simmering existential terror, a primal sort of slobbering mind-beast that greedily sinks its claws into the soft parts of your flesh until you bleed. For those of us who’ve had the privilege of braving a subsequent pregnancy or raising a child after our loss, it feels cathartically, strikingly familiar.
I don’t believe it was the filmmakers’ intention, but A Quiet Place happens to be a spot-on symbolic immersion into the world of postpartum anxiety. Oh, the bereaved parent’s battered psyche goes while watching the film unfold. Yes. Hello, old friend.
This is what it feels like to be ravaged by anxiety, that savage bitch that spoils the most precious gift of a living child clutched in your arms or cradled in your belly. Anxiety, like those freaky bat-monsters from the film, just doesn’t give a shit, and will gladly eat you alive regardless of on which side of your birth canal your baby happens to reside. It’s a perfect microcosm of how I experienced the first two years of my son’s life, from his conception through his first birthday: an all-consuming, buzzing terror that never, ever, ever wanes.
Is this familiar to you, too?
For the entirety of his infancy, every time my son went to sleep, I said goodbye. Do you know how many times a baby goes to sleep in his first year of life? 2,558 times, in my son’s case, according to the app on my phone (welcome to millennial parenting).
2,558 times I watched my son close his eyes and fully expected to never see them open again. 2,558 times I laid him down and checked religiously for suffocation hazards, strangulation risks, illness, fever, random death-bringing objects falling from the sky, all knowing it was likely in vain anyway. 2,558 times I settled in half-conscious to that desolate, zombie nightmare land of PPA sleep, waiting, waiting, waiting for the buzz of a monitor to tell me that my child was dead (again). “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” they say. Ha!
And never mind the waking hours: the visions of smashed skulls and broken necks with every slog up the steps, every drive in the car, every white-knuckled stroller ramble down a hill. Of delicate, still, blue-tinged skin buried in the inviting, suffocating folds of a fluffy couch, a soft bed, an overtired caregiver’s arms. Of a fledgling immune system stricken and overwhelmed by a well-meaning visitor’s murderous germ hoard. Of an inactivated alarm panel blinking innocuously as a menacing intruder slips through the darkness, bringing depravity and mayhem to the sanctuary of our home.
This is the consolation prize awarded to every bereaved parent: the mind’s ceaseless spinning, conjuring all the myriad ways your baby could die, backed by the hard-won knowledge that it most certainly could happen to anyone at any moment, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Of course, this is a truth universal to all parents. This is why the horror genre has always been so effective: at its core, a thriller is an allegory for raising children in a world where, in truth, we have absolutely zero ability to keep them safe.
Try as you might to think through every hazard, protect against every possibility—methodically, diligently, even obsessively—there’s always another razor-toothed monster lurking silently around the corner and waiting to claim your child’s life. A cord accident. SIDS. Placental abruption. Respiratory distress. A jackpot in the genetic mutation lottery. Just like the mother in the movie, we all have our lists, our coulda-shoulda-woulda, if only we’d known. But we didn’t know. You did what you could, everything you could, regardless of what poison guilt may inject into your heart.
And did it help? Not one goddamn bit.
Most of the time, most parents can gently and oh-so-carefully push this uncomfortable, jagged-edged, ticking time bomb of truth aside. But us medusas, the bereaved, are no longer blessed with that luxury.
For all of its misery, a horror movie feels somewhat like a victory, in our defense: She’s not crazy! She’s not overreacting. She’s not ‘helicoptering’. She’s just had the misfortune—and found the courage—to face something you haven’t.
But if you want to try—the movie beckons—if you want to acknowledge that ugly, terrifying truth to which we’re all beholden—if you want to know what it’s like to step into her world, just for 90 minutes—I’ll be right here.
As we reckon with the monstrousness of What Happened, the rest of the world trudges along, oblivious. Knowing what you know—how fast and how randomly fortunes can shift—how do you feel in a world that doesn’t?