son Norbert, who was named after the dragon in "Harry Potter," died
before he was born — he was
stillborn. I was planning a home birth, going
the "natural" route, and I wound up having an
emergency medical delivery. Norbert had a liver cyst that developed late in the
third trimester and burst, causing him to die. Neither my midwife, backup
doctor or the hospital staff was adequately prepared to help me make my
experience beautiful nor did they have any information on parenting a baby who
Norbert died in 2005, I desperately wanted someone to take care of me. I felt
completely numb, incapacitated and alone in my grief. I longed for anything
that might alleviate the unbearable pain I was feeling, and even secretly
wished a fairy godmother would come and make it all easier. Fourteen months
later, our daughter was born in perfect health. Yet a flood of grief washed
over me. Though I was grateful and relieved, her birth didn't take away
the pain of losing our son. I found myself in a similar space emotionally as
when Norbert died, while feeling overwhelmed at being a new mother. I did not
know how to navigate the waters and had no idea where to turn for help or
It would have been immensely supportive to be assured that I didn't need to act like I was keeping it all together, or that I wasn't hurting so badly, just to make others feel comfortable.
back, having a grief guide would
have been invaluable. My fear might have been assuaged had someone told me that
what I was feeling was normal and that my thoughts and feelings, although
different from most people's, did not make me crazy. I could have used the
insight of knowing it was OK to not be OK, and the pain wasn't always
going to be so intense. It would have been immensely supportive to be assured
that I didn't need to
act like I was keeping it all together, or that I wasn't hurting so
badly, just to make others feel comfortable.
Having some direction about how to
honor Norbert and incorporate him into our lives would have been hugely
beneficial, as the reaction of a number of people around us was to shut out
Norbert completely, as though he had never existed, only exacerbating our grief
and frustration. I wish someone had been there to remind us that memory-making,
ritual and reflection could be helpful tools in keeping his spirit alive in our
family. Most importantly, I needed to know that opening up a connection to him
would actually help me in my healing process.
I am a very private person, but in 2014, my husband Sean directed a film based on my experience, "Return to Zero," starring Minnie Driver. For the eight years preceding the film, I
rarely spoke to anyone of my experience of losing a child. I was ashamed that
this horrible thing happened to me. I tried very hard to put on an outward
appearance that things were OK, however inside I was suffering and barely
surviving. Over time, the pain softened and my sadness transformed into
During production and post-production
of "Return to
Zero," Sean created a very large global Facebook community. I watched how the mere
existence of this film was helping people feel validated in their experience
and less alone. When the film was released, similar things happened and people
experienced a great deal of healing just by watching this movie.
It was at that moment that something
changed inside of me. I knew it was worth the risk of putting my story out
there and sharing my vulnerablility with others so that I could help people
find healing and community. About the same time I began sharing my story, while
it was the hardest thing for me to do, I found it was also the most beneficial in my
own healing journey. Being open with my heartbreaking personal story inevitably took away its shame.
Being a bereaved mom can be very
isolating. The most important piece of advice would be to let those moms know they
are not alone and to find a support group. Research has shown that support
groups can be one of the most beneficial ways to help a grieving parent on her road to recovery. Support groups help normalize
the grief process as well as connect you to like-minded individuals who have been
through a similar experience.
Transforming your grief into a productive action can truly feel empowering.
If there isn't a
pregnancy and infant loss support group in your area, there are quite a few
groups and resources online. I have compiled a list of resources and helpful
links at Return to Zero Center for Healing, an organization created out of my experience as well as the grassroots response to the film. The site addresses topics such as online support, normal grief reactions, family and friends, pregnancy after loss, living without a rainbow, remembrance and healing
projects, and research and advocacy.
It can also be helpful for a bereaved
parent to become involved in an organization that supports other bereaved
parents. Perhaps it's making memory boxes (pictured above) to be given in the hospitals to
parents who lose a baby or participating in a Remembrance Walk. Transforming
your grief into a productive action can truly feel empowering. Regaining some
sense of control is also an important part of the healing process.
Norbert never got a chance to experience life, his untimely passing has left
a lasting legacy that is impacting thousands of parents around the world. It is our mission at the Return to Zero
Healing Center to be that healing guide you
can turn to after losing a child during pregnancy, childbirth or in the early
stages of life. No matter your
experience, there truly are no words to describe the grief associated with
losing a child. Through our retreats,
yoga therapy sessions, wellness education classes and online support, we hope
to become an important resource for couples who can turn to the Return to Zero
Healing Center during their time of loss.
Kiley Krekorian Hanish, OTD, OTR/L (pictured above left), is an occupational therapist living in Los Angeles. Before founding the Return to Zero Center for Healing, Hanish was an assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy at the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.