Stillbirth. When it happens, there’s no roadmap to deal with it. Never before has there been a feature film addressing the painful subject, until now. Return to Zero, starring Minnie Driver, debuts on Lifetime television Saturday, May 17, at 8 pm ET.
It’s not something that people talk about much in public. The loss of a child is a devastating grief like none other, whether through stillbirth, miscarriage, disease, or accident. It’s still an uncomfortable, taboo subject in our culture.The groundbreaking film Return to Zero pierces the veil of silence in hopes of helping people to grieve and heal. The film acknowledges the reality that these babies exist, and that it hurts, for as many as one out of four American couples.
Return to Zero is an independent film based on the real-life experience of writer/director/producer Sean Hanish and his wife Kiley, who lost their baby boy Norbert a few weeks before he was born. The grief almost tore their marriage apart, but somehow they found their way back to each other. The film is a mixture of fact and fiction in the dramatization of that journey, portray the emotional truth that they and others experience in going through the earth shattering reality of stillbirth.
Some of the dialogue in Return to Zero is exactly what happened in real life:
“The medical scenes, when my wife was told by the doctor that our baby had no heartbeat, being asked if we wanted a cremation or burial for our son when he was still in the womb, the actual stillbirth itself—those scenes are 100% accurate often down to the dialog. In fact, we use the actual diagnosis of our son in the film as well as some of the beautiful words that were said at his memorial service.”
Minnie Driver told ET, “I’ve never done anything harder in my life than this film.” The Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominated Driver stars as Maggie, with Paul Adelstein as Aaron, a successful couple excited about the arrival of their first baby, doing all the normal things that people do when preparing for a child. Only the story doesn’t end with a healthy baby. The death of their son in the womb plunges them into a raw, devastating hurricane of emotions, with people surrounding them who don’t really know how to help them.
The writers find moments of humor that are interspersed in Return to Zero, because they say that stress can certainly lead to some funny moments.
“But the idea that that sadness makes the story less relevant is not fair,” Driver tells the Times Colonist, “and I’m so happy that it’s going to be out there, because it is a hard, hard film but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to remind ourselves we can survive loss.”
The website for Return to Zero offers many resources for people dealing with the loss of a baby, at whatever stage. Kiley Hanish helped to create the film, and she, an occupational therapist by trade, has begun hosting retreats for bereaved mothers. Information about the retreat may be found there, as well as a discussion guide, and helpful links to resources.
The film sensitively points out things that are helpful to say, as well as those things that should never be said to hurting parents. There are no words to fix the pain, and no one expects that. Sean Hanish offers this advice to those who want to comfort parents, counsel that applies to just about any difficult situation:
“I honestly think that acknowledgment doesn’t have to be a big thing. I’m really sorry you have to go through this — that’s all you need to say and all you need to hear…. Please don’t try to fix it or explain it.”
“Return to Zero – three minus one equals zero.” The film is now available on DVD and makes its television debut on Lifetime television on May 17. Return to Zero is for anyone who has experienced the loss of a child, and for the people who love them.