By Dave Andrusko
My excuse for getting to “Return to Zero” a month late is that we were busy watching our grandchildren, so I asked our oldest daughter to record the movie which appeared May 17 on the Lifetime channel (which she generously did).
Only I then promptly forgot to watch (until recently) what turned out to be an absolutely riveting portrayal both of how devastating a stillbirth can be to a marriage and how a couple can survive the death of a child who was only weeks from delivery.
And, without even alluding to it, “Return to Zero” also teaches the wisdom of delivering a child, rather than aborting her, when a couple learns that their unborn child may not survive until birth or live only hours after delivery.
The movie is based on a true story of what happened to television commercial director Sean Hanish and his wife back in 2005 as her due date drew near. His career was on the rise, and “’I felt pretty on top of the world that day,’ Hanish recalled for TV Guide. ‘And as I’m coming out of Cindy Crawford’s driveway, my wife calls me.’ She gave him the devastating news that the son they were expecting was stillborn.”
Hanish is the first to admit that the movie couple–Maggie and Aaron (played by Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein)–are much more interesting than he and his wife, Kiley. So there are twists and turns that are added to the movie (what they are, is not elaborated on in the interviews I read).
But the basics are the same in real life and in “Return to Zero.” A ridiculously prosperous power couple deliriously happy about the approaching birth of their baby. Out of the blue—and this can be the way it happens, unfortunately—Maggie has some bleeding and goes in for a routine sonogram, thinking nothing much of it. Setting the stage for the ensuing estrangement, Aaron is too busy with work to accompany her to the doctor.
Maggie quickly picks up that something is wrong and when the doctor come in and maneuvers the ultrasound to no avail, he tell Maggie her baby is dead. She is utterly devastated and utterly alone.
When Aaron arrives, they listen to a woman whose insensitivity to their loss is so over the top you are sure it had to be made up. Who would ask a couple who had lost a baby just hours before —a baby still in Maggie’s womb—if they had thought about whether they wanted the baby cremated or buried? According to Hanish, that’s what happened, an experience he described to TV Guide’s Stephen Battaglio was as “macabre.”
Her loss would have been tremendous regardless, but her closest friend is also pregnant and delivers not so long afterwards. Maggie is inconsolable and slips into depression. Aaron slips into an affair and after a weekend at Las Vegas brings them together momentarily, Maggie wants a divorce.
Then she discovers she is pregnant again.
Again, this is a Lifetime channel movie, so you would expect Aaron’s father to be the biggest jerk on the face of the planet and Maggie’s mother to be seemingly almost as blind as Aaron’s dad. What saves the marriage and elevates the movie is the kindness and compassion of Dr. Claire Holden (Connie Nielsen) whom Maggie eventually learns had experienced a stillbirth of her own.
The subtext is (in my opinion) that Maggie, understandably, believes no one can understand the gravity of her loss, including her husband. She holds onto that conviction until she discovers that Dr. Holden can and does.
Less than close to her mother, Maggie wants to feel the same way about her, only to discover that her mother had experienced a miscarriage. It’s not the same, Maggie retorts, and, of course, in one sense, it isn’t. But her mother will have none of that. While it took place earlier in her pregnancy, that was a loss, too!
I skipped over a scene at the hospital on purpose. Maggie decides to induce labor and deliver her stillborn baby. She and Aaron decide to take photos of their baby and WITH their baby. That is what Hanish and his wife had done as well.
Hanish initially thought that idea was also “macabre” but then changed his mind. “We took some photos,” he told Battaglio. “And one of the most cherished things that we have is this one photo that we have of our son.”
Battaglio says Hanish hopes the movie “will bring greater understanding to parents of stillborn children and perhaps some solace to those who have lived through such a tragedy.” He said he is prepared to become a spokesperson “on an issue many find too wrenching to share.”
“I had friends tell me I was crazy — they said ‘you shouldn’t be doing this. You had a career doing commercials and now you’re writing the saddest movie ever,'” he says.
But while the subject is terribly sad—few things are worse than losing a baby so close to birth—“Return to Zero” also reminds us of the importance of community, of people who’ve gone through tragedies being able to share their experiences, especially the pain and heartache.
Dr. Holden deftly walks around Maggie’s determination to have her second baby, never hinting that there could/should be any other decision, even though she and Aaron are about to divorce. Maggie’s decision not to abort no doubt will annoy the usual suspects who would tell her she is foolish.
But that baby not only restores their marriage, it teaches her husband that he has no more important role than being a husband and father, which angers his own father to whom the only thing that matters in life is work. And pro-lifers will notice (where others might not) that when the occasion arises, Maggie reminds people that this is her second baby.
A beautiful, touching movie about the value of unborn life, “Return to Zero” reminds us that even the little ones who are lost along the way are precious, invaluable, and members of our family.