So many times, when the words based on a true story appear on something we're getting ready to watch, we know we're about to get a glimpse of someone else's heartbreak.
That's the case with the movie Return to Zero, which stars Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein and airs on Lifetime tomorrow at 8pm ET/PT.
The film, which was written, directed, and produced by Sean Hanish, tells the story of Maggie and Aaron, a couple who are just weeks away from welcoming their first baby when they receive devastating news: their son's heartbeat is no longer detectable in the womb. The movie explores how the grief over their loss changes their relationship—infidelity and separation are explored—before Maggie finds out that she's pregnant again, and the two reunite and "face another turbulent and terrifying pregnancy that tests their strength and love."
It'd be compelling if it was a complete work of fiction, but sadly, it's based—yes—on Hanish and his wife's own experience.
"We lost our son in July 2005 late in our 3rd trimester, just as Aaron and Maggie do in the film," he said in an email interview with Parents.com. "It devastated us. My wife doesn't remember the first 6 months after our loss. I threw myself into work obsessively and we began to lose touch with one another on an emotional level. The isolation and disconnect that we felt from the world was palpable. You feel as if you're going crazy because most people want to pretend it never happened at all—the pregnancy and death of your child—while others want you to get pregnant right away and have a living baby so that you'll 'get over it.' What nobody understands is that you never get over it. It's a loss that you live with for the rest of your life."
Stillbirth and late-term loss are terrifying topics for any parent-to-be. It's beyond scary to bond with your developing baby for months while knowing, in the back of your mind, that something could go wrong—however slim the odds may be. I've never been the kind of person who thinks "that won't happen to me," and I distinctly remember the fear I felt—during both of my pregnancies—that something terrible could happen. Thankfully, both of my children were born healthy. But of course not every expectant parent is so lucky: A friend of mine lost her unborn baby at 39 weeks due to a cord injury. It was, as Hanish says, devastating for her and her family.
Return to Zero truthfully recreates many elements of Hanish's story—the boycotting of Christmas, the frayed state of their relationship when they found out that they were expecting again. But others, happily, are fiction: "My wife and I weren't estranged in real life, nor was there an affair," he says. "But these 'plot twists' were added to enhance the emotional truth of the journey that we were on during the most difficult year of our life."
I can't imagine that this will be an easy movie to watch, but I think it's admirable of Hanish to tell his story and help others get through what he calls "the grief, shame, and isolation that many of us feel after the loss [that] compounds the pain."
"I hope that people who have been through this type of loss...will know that they are not alone," he says. "There is a community of us out here who have gone through the hell that you have...and we want to help. Even if it's just lending an ear or a shoulder, we've been there and, as Dr. Claire says in the film, 'There is life after this.' We can help show you the way when you're ready."
There's a message for people who know someone who's been through this kind of loss, as well: We can help our loved ones get through (not over) it. "It happened, and it is important to acknowledge this," Hanish says, "not only for the parents but for the memory of their beautiful baby who they loved and lost."
Image of Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein in Return to Zero courtesy of Lifetime