This Storyline in 'Midnight Mass' Is an an All-Too-Real Horror for Many
Recently, a new miniseries premiered on Netflix called “Midnight Mass.” It has garnered a lot of attention, with many struggling to define precisely what it is. I have seen it described as a religious drama, a supernatural horror, and a thriller. I honestly don’t think any of those descriptions are wrong. Perhaps they are all right, especially when tied together. However, while multitudes have tuned in for the supernatural storyline, there was another, much more natural storyline within that resonated with me much more deeply.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead.
Towards the beginning of “Midnight Mass,” we meet the character Erin Greene, played by Kate Siegel. She is first introduced as the childhood sweetheart of another prominent character in the series. As the story unfolds, we learn that both characters have fairly recently returned to their hometown, a small island that relies heavily on the fishing trade for its residents’ survival and prosperity. Erin Greene herself has returned home after leaving an abusive marriage.
In one of her first scenes, it is revealed she is approximately 20 weeks pregnant, already beginning to show. Despite the prospect of potentially raising her child alone, she happily attends a prenatal exam, listening to her baby’s heartbeat and catching glimpses of her through an ultrasound. In another scene, she can be seen helping assemble a crib for her child. She is often seen absentmindedly but lovingly cradling her stomach with her hand. It is clear that, no matter how this baby was conceived, Erin is looking forward to her arrival and will be a loving, doting parent.
And then the unthinkable happens.
One day she is pregnant. The next, she is sitting on an exam table and her doctor is telling her that she cannot find the baby’s heartbeat. Distraught, Erin asks her to check again. Nothing. In utter disbelief, she goes to the mainland for a second opinion. There is no heartbeat. There is no baby.
As I sat there watching this portion of the storyline develop, a lump grew in my throat. A giant pit began to grow in my stomach. My eyes welled up with tears. Because I have been exactly where she was, pregnant and excitedly planning for my unborn baby’s arrival one day, and with an empty womb the next. Except it wasn’t some supernatural force that invaded my womb and took my baby from me. It was appendicitis.
I was six-and-a-half months along. My then-husband and I had picked out a name and a theme for decorating our new baby’s room. Friends and family were excited to meet our upcoming little bundle of joy. Prenatal visits all went well. Our baby was healthy and would be with us soon.
And then the unthinkable happened.
It started as a cramp in my side. I initially shrugged it off as growing pains from my body expanding to meet the needs of the growing fetus inside me. As the pain slowly started to increase in intensity, I wondered if perhaps I had slept wrong, pulled something, or if my baby was oddly positioned and hitting a pressure point. At one point, I began to pace throughout my apartment, hoping to “walk it off,” much like my coaches and gym teachers years ago used to suggest when dealing with cramps. Eventually, the pain grew too steady to ignore and I went to the emergency room.
Please know that at no time did I fear for the safety of my unborn child. My cramps and pain were in my side, away from my uterus. I could feel my son actively wriggling and kicking inside me like he did every morning of late. I had honestly experienced worse cramps in my side following rigorous workouts in the past. I had no reason to fear for my baby’s life. I went to the emergency room merely as a precaution because the pain had grown steady and persistent.
It was appendicitis. My blood pressure was dangerously low. I didn’t even realize how pale I had become. I had just thought it was a cramp in my side. I was rushed to surgery before my appendix burst. As I counted backward, waiting for the anesthesia to take effect, I was pregnant and my baby was fine. When I woke up, he was not.
One day I was joyfully pregnant, the next day, I was not.
Much like Erin Greene’s character, they could find no heartbeat. The ultrasound could pick up nothing, as well. And much like Erin Greene, I tearfully pleaded with my doctor to check again. I asked for other doctors and nurses to check, as well. No matter how many times anyone checked, the result remained the same.
It seemed impossible. He was just there. He was fine. He was healthy. We had a name. We had a crib. Everyone was expecting him. This wasn’t supposed to happen. None of this made sense. My mind raced, trying to make sense of it all, but I was at a complete loss. I couldn’t make sense of any of it.
As I watched Erin Greene’s character in the aftermath of her great loss discussing her views on death, even that resonated deeply with me. When asked what she thought happened when you die, she spoke not of her own death, but of her daughter’s. She spoke of envisioning a heaven where her baby could live on, surrounded by love. She described a beautiful place where one day she could be with her baby again, see her, hold her, and they could finally be a happy family together.
I know those feelings all too well. Though I have struggled with my faith over the years, I was raised Episcopalian. Grasping at straws in the aftermath of my own great loss, the idea that there might exist a heaven where my son could live on and I could one day meet him was one of the few slivers of hope I clung desperately to in those darkest of days. It was easier to accept than that he was just gone. Dead.
Even the way other characters in “Midnight Mass” reacted to Erin Greene’s loss was completely relatable. I know all too well how those awkward apologies for my loss feel, those downcast eyes when they feel so bad for you that they cannot even meet your gaze. Even worse are those situations where people don’t even acknowledge your loss, acting as if you were never pregnant, as if your baby never existed at all. In those moments, you feel like you’re losing your mind and the world is completely upside down. You want to grab ahold of them and shake them, scream in their faces, scream right at them. You want to demand that your baby was real, demand they acknowledge that fact, demand they reassure you that you’re not “crazy.”
But the reality is that they’re gone. Nothing you could say or do would bring them back. Life goes on. Everyone else continues living around you while you’re stuck in this living nightmare that just doesn’t make sense. As painfully nonsensical as it feels, at some point you have to accept that it is what it is and continue living yourself, even though the very idea of it breaks your heart to pieces.
Many people, myself included, tuned into Netflix’s miniseries “Midnight Mass” not knowing exactly what to expect. A religious drama, a supernatural horror, a thriller perhaps. What I was not expecting, though, was how deeply one small part of the storyline would resonate with me. That part of the story was not fictitious, at least not to me. While the underlying cause of the loss was obviously different, the end result was exactly the same. Her performance in the aftermath of her loss felt completely genuine and believable. I know because I lived through it, too.
Image via Netflix.