Tonight, there was a movie on Lifetime Television. A movie that many people won’t watch because of the subject matter. A movie that others will watch to find normalcy. A movie that will break some, heal some, and help some. The Return to Zero movie had it’s premier tonight. As promised, here are my thoughts on this movie.
First, I am lost for words. The movie focused well on all the parts experienced by parents who have lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth. This movie, was based on a true story of the passing of Norbert Krekorian Hanish who was born still on July 12, 2005. I met Sean Hanish (Norberts father) at the annual Walk to Remember last year.
Sean spoke about his upcoming movie and I wasn’t sure if this would ever really make it into mainstream TV because of the content…stillbirth. I took notes during the movie. Notes about how I felt, statements, and the feelings I shared with the main character (Maggie). I shook for the first 15 minutes of the movie. I was numb, scared of what was to come. Scared of reliving the feelings of losing my Ruby when Maggie sat in the room and they couldn’t find the heartbeat. The commercial break that came shortly after just brought more numbness. I was relieved to have my online friends from my Stillbirthday group, who watched as I watched, cried as I cried, and healed as I healed.
I was impressed with the doctor who called their baby by name (Arthur in the movie) while they sat in a room hearing of their options for delivery. I was annoyed by the social worker who began asking questions that—as a bereavement doula, I felt were completely unnecessary for the time in which they were presented. This family had just lost their baby, why was she asking if they had discussed what they wanted to do with their baby? Ugh!
At the memorial service for Arthur, Maggie’s sister said a few words that I thought were wonderful. “Arthur was never hungry, never cold. He only experienced love. For a baby, a day is 100 years.” He was loved. I was appalled by her mother’s response (as I am sure others were including Maggie), “Everything happens for a reason.” We all hear that. It sucks…don’t say it.
I wept as Maggie walked in a field overlooking the city. She was smoking and drinking alcohol, which was something both her and her husband Aaron turned to during their grief. All I could think about was, she is supposed to be holding her new baby, nurturing him, loving him, and here she is…walking all alone, with nothing to hold. Nothing to show of her pregnancy. Nothing to show of her motherhood.
Arthur never got to see everything they prepared for him. There were clothes he would never wear, toys he would never play with, a crib he would never sleep in, and a painted wall with appliqués that he would never see which they pulled from the wall and painted over the blue after the loss.
Aaron gave Maggie a birth present. He had been saving it to give to her following a live birth but didn’t know when the right time was to give it to her so over dinner, he presented her this gift. She didn’t want it stating who would want a gift to remember the worst day of her life. She called her uterus a lethal weapon (as many loss mothers do).
They visit with the perinatologist and are given the results of the autopsy. Once the reason was revealed the perinatologist goes on to state that 1 in 160 babies are stillborn. As Aaron is looking for answers on why the condition of his baby wasn’t diagnosed prior to birth, you can hear a baby’s heart beating on a Doppler in another room. Another true account of how we often are managed during pregnancy loss.
The movie does well showing how men and women grieve differently. We are so engulfed in our own grief that we have a hard time seeing outside ourselves (if ever). With this movie, you can see Aaron grieving and Maggie grieving. You observe that they aren’t talking to each other at all even though Maggie is a therapist (I think). This brought awareness on so many levels.
I was happy (as anyone can be) that this movie focused on the aftermath of the loss and not just on the drama associated with the loss. Maggie doesn’t ever speak the words that her son died, that she has a dead baby or anything that recognizes the death of her son. She attends her sisters baby shower (I couldn’t have done this, I can’t believe she did). While there, a Christian woman approaches her and tells her that this was in God’s perfect plan.
After the woman stops talking, Maggie takes her glasses off and for the first time nearly states that her son is dead but replies “God’s perfect plan was that I would experience a loss so great, so devastating, that I would lose my faith in God?” I could relate to these thoughts and feelings in every way. I too lost my faith in God. While I have it now, I didn’t following my loss. You read about it in my book so you know that I felt this way too. I don’t understand (and still don’t understand), why God would allow such pain to be experienced. I know I was meant to write and share my story and I always say that this is the reason for my loss and for my pain (to bring healing to others) but it’s still so painful. I know in Heaven we won’t experience this pain.
Miscarriage and stillbirth were compared twice in this movie and both times Maggie stated that miscarriage and stillbirth were not the same. Now, I don’t like the way the first person brought this up in the movie and I was appalled by the nonchalant way this woman discussed it but it definitely didn’t help me feel like I have the right to grieve my loss. This is discussed in the Return to Zero Discussion Guide. I am glad they talked about this.
I think the first time I saw Maggie have any real tears was when she was talking with her doctor during an examination and the doctor revealed that she lost her son at seven months gestation. I absolutely loved how she shared her feelings. “You’ll always be Arthur’s mother. Be proud of that. He is.” She also made a statement to the effect of “You will forever be available and treat that child better than anyone ever can,” when talking about a future child. This scene brought up a wealth of emotion.
I was overwhelmed with guilt. I did not feel that way when my son was born. In fact, that is part of the premise of my next book. I don’t think I treat my second son any better because I lost Ruby. If anything, I am scared to love him.
Around six months after the loss, after she finds out her husband is cheating on her, she says, “My baby died.” Aaron also says his baby died too. She asks for a divorce at this point but he doesn’t want a divorce. Maggie discovers she is pregnant again. The movie then flashbacks to the delivery of Arthur.
I wept as she was pushing and Aaron was trying hard to be there for her. Holding her leg as she pushed and suffered with each agonizing push, he held back his cries for her. He tried to be strong for her…he was. I wept as Maggie screamed while pushing, “Come on baby, you can come out. It’s mommy. I love you!”
Arthur was born silent. He was handed to his mother who held him briefly and then she handed him to his father who immediately kissed his forehead and rubbed his cheek. These are the moments I wish for all my stillbirth clients. I wish they would cherish these moments and not be afraid. I wonder if Maggie and Aaron were so accepting of this because the doctor had prepared them and told them to take the time to love him?
They spent an hour with Arthur and had pictures taken but the nurse came in and took him and placed him in a cardboard box. I will never understand that (the box) and I don’t understand why they only had one hour with him. Maggie described that one hour: “Hugging him, kissing him, it was the most beautiful hour of my life. I didn’t want it to end.”
I feel that many women can relate to some of the statements Maggie made about after the loss. “The pain…I love it. I embrace it. I am afraid if I let it go, I am going to lose the last little piece of him that I still have.” “No one tells you about the relationship that begins with them after they die. If I can quiet my head down enough, I can feel him, I hear him.” When she is describing her feelings during her rainbow pregnancy (pregnancy following a loss), she says she is afraid to get close and she is afraid of everything. This follows along the lines of the survey I recently took. Many women share these feelings.
Maggie visits her mom and reveals she is pregnant. Her mother makes that dreaded statement again, This was like the eighth time I wanted to kill her mother. She seemed so dismissive of Maggie. I wonder how she feels about this movie in real life? Maggie then makes the statement, “Miscarriage is not the same thing as a stillbirth.” I tried not to tune out and I was surprised at her mothers response. “It’s a loss. It still hurts. It’s the loss of a possibility of what might have been and that is exactly the same.” I just blogged about this as well!
The rainbow pregnancy was treated differently, much like how I treated Timmy’s pregnancy. I didn’t want to do the same things (in the movie she didn’t want to read to the baby like they did with Arthur’s pregnancy). I tried hard to keep things “normal” and be excited but deep down I was scared I was going to lose Timmy. I know this was what Maggie was thinking too and I lost Ruby at eight weeks, not thirty eight!
Maggie goes on to deliver their daughter. This part of the movie confused me. She didn’t hold her daughter. She seemed dismissive and uninterested. What was she expecting? She seemed disappointed it wasn’t a boy. My mind was grasping at straws as to what she was thinking. A visit with the doctor revealed that Maggie didn’t know what she expected. She didn’t feel happy and she didn’t feel sad. She said she didn’t feel anything. The most powerful statement she made during this moment was, “What about joy? When does that come?” She felt she would be a terrible mother.
The movie ends with the new family on the beach and Aaron releases the small sail boat he made out into the ocean. This was his grief journey as he constructed the boat in the early days following the loss.
This movie was so powerful. I am thankful it came to life. It has broken that silence. So many now feel they have the right to grieve. We always have but now society knows. They can see how much this hurts and our babies mattered. They do! Your baby matters! Thank you Sean and Kiley!!!!
– Breaking the silence of First Trimester Miscarriage
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Did you watch Return to Zero? What did you think?