Ever since we started this blog I have been following the many great initiatives that are happening right now to bring attention to the topic of losing a child, in particular stillbirth. It seems like all pieces are coming together to really make a difference. Many people who have lost a child seem to have the same urge to make a difference and with technology and media available to everyone these days, several initiatives have gained a lot of momentum. The change is overdue and I am thrilled that it is happening. We all want to talk about our babies and break the silence surrounding child loss.
At the same time I sometimes have doubts. Will more attention result in more support for parents, more funding to research causes and prevention of stillbirth and other terrible reasons of childloss? Or will it lead to broader discussions with less sensitivity about how painful these losses really are for affected parents. Will our community of affected parents be able to convey the significance and impact of losing a child to a broad audience that does not have a personal connection to someone affected? I was shocked recently when I read comments of the general public on an article about abortion. I certainly don’t want to get into the discussion of pro or contra abortion, but my point is that the topic is very complex with many facets to it and many things that have to be looked at in context, but those comments were just black and white, totally insensitive and very inappropriate in many cases. Could something similar happen regarding a stillbirth discussion? I don’t believe it would, but the topic of stillbirth is similarly complex. What I learned in the past two years while meeting and speaking with many affected parents is that they experience and share a lot of similarities, but at the same time each loss and situation is always very unique. There is no simple formula to help bereaved parents. We cannot print a rulebook and tell friends, family, colleagues etc. to do this or that. The hardest lesson to learn was that common sense is not common.
One of the projects with momentum is Return to Zero (R2Z). You can watch a short preview of the movie at http://youtu.be/4Gq7OL-0fs4. I am a supporter of the project and I pledged a tiny bit of money during their kickstarter campaign to get the project going. I follow their blog and read the stories they publish. I think they are doing a terrific job. And then again I am getting haunted by doubts every once in a while. The recent trigger was the local leaders campaign. They asked people to become local leaders to promote the movie so that it will reach a broad audience. Only if enough people pledge to watch it in movie theatres, R2Z will actually make it into movie theatres. To me that is asking for a lot of trust from everyone who becomes a local leader. After all, only a selected group of people have seen the movie so far. Do I really want to promote something that I haven’t seen yet, even if it is about a topic that is so dear to my heart? I know that the team spends a great deal of their time to capture the true essence of what it means to lose a child. They have read and published stories of tons of affected parents. The director has personal experience so that he will be very sensitive to the subject. I want to believe that it will portray the shock, anger, desperation, fear, hopelessness and other feelings following the grave news of a baby gone to soon and the years following such a loss as realistically as possible.
However, is a movie experience in a theatre really the only way to proceed? They could release the film free of charge to reach the broadest audience without having to pay. With enough word of mouth and social media activity, the effect could still be tremenduous and the goal to break the silence could be reached as well. I would be more than happy personally to watch it and then have the option to become a supporter, organize local screenings, share it online etc. I obviously have no idea how much money has been invested into the project and if it has to bring in a certain amount of return.
My pessimistic self thinks about a lot of things, some of them I would like to share. And I do not want these thoughts to be understood as criticism of the project. I applaud the people involved in the project for what they are doing and I have the utmost respect for their work and dedication. At the same time I think it is important to be able to voice these thoughts and fears and if it is just to find out that they were unjustified.
Loss and subsequent pregnancy: stereotyping
My biggest concern is that R2Z does not only cover the topic of losing a child, but at the same time includes a second pregnancy. I really wish they would have kept this separate. The reason why I am concerned about it is that my experience shows that people like to jump to stereotypical conclusions. It is hard to believe how many people already think that having another baby is the solution to all problems of bereaved parents. It raises all kinds of concerns for me because these people do not understand that a baby is not replacable, how difficult a subsequent pregnancy is and how challending it is emotionally not only during the pregnancy, but when the second baby is born. Just yesterday a mother posted in a support group that a co-worker asked her if she would name her second baby like her first one. Can you believe it? I am afraid that the movie might undermine this sentiment that another pregnancy will bring back happiness to people’s lives. When the first one does not work out, just pop out another one and you can even re-use the name. From the synopsis of the film it sounds like the second baby brings the couple back together, saves the marriage and their lives. Well, I hate to say it, but there are many, many cases in which this doesn’t work that way. Losing a child is absolutely traumatizing and couples break up over it, some might not ever get ready to try again, or like in our case a second baby might die as well. I don’t want the one story that gets depicted to send a wrong signal in a society that already things that a loss can be balanced off with some other joyous news such as having another baby. People still tell us that we should try again because our third child would bring us happiness and would make our pain go away. This leads me to my second point.
Movie vs. documentary: the question of a happy end
Return to Zero is a movie that is based on a true story, but it is not a documentary. There is another project under way these days, a documentary called Still Project. It is interesting to see these two different approaches happen at the same time. How will the impact be different? Is a movie destined to reach a broader audience than a documentary? And what distinguishes a movie from a documentary? I am wondering if a movie does always need to have an end, in particular a happy end? The couple has another baby and survives this devastation. Movies are Hollywood material, something that over time seems to have become a past-time for entertainment, not necessarily education. Facts can be bend to achieve greater appeal for the paying audience. How much sadness and devastation are people willing to watch if there is no hope at the end? Would a movie really work without a happy end or at least the potential for happiness? I can think of a ton of other endings for the movie, but would they have worked to attract viewers if it really is depressive to watch? The couple could still split up, the second baby could die, they could try to conceive again, but not succeed, one parent could go into severe depression… Will the audience of the movie understand that these outcomes are equally likely? Life does not always end in happiness and I don’t know why we keep those appearances up. Still Project captures it nicely on their homepage: “grief avoidant society”. Are we maybe even a reality avoidant society?
I mentioned the complexity of grief and the uniqueness of families and their stories a couple of times. I myself had to realize that each experience is unique. What worked for me did not necessarily work for my wife and what worked for us did not necessarily work for other couples. It would be unfair to ask the directors to tackle every possible aspect of grief within a short 90 minutes movie. I hope that it will simply be able to make people more aware about such differences and not fall into the stereotype trap. I fully realize that a movie can be a trigger to start a broader discussion. We had such a discussion with other bereaved parents about the movie “Rabbit Hole” in our online support group and it was interesting to read the different opinions about the film. Personally, I think that movie captured several aspects of the grief experience very well and other aspects not so well. It showed the struggle to cope and the different approaches of individuals. The Still Project is following a different approach than R2Z by presenting a variety of families, their situations and stories. I am looking forward to seeing both projects once they are completed and I am in particular interested in the reactions of others (non-bereaved parents) to the movie and the documentary.
Sometimes we get stuck on very minor little things such as a single word. I get stuck on the word “heal” which is used in the trailer and description of R2Z. To me healing is a loaded term that suggests that something that hurts can be overcome. And I don’t think this applies to grief. It goes back to the same idea that another baby will bring back all the happiness. I believe we can learn to live with our grief, but can we heal? This is were the comparison to medicine that is implied in the word is dangerous. I can cut myself, severely even. It is painful. It can heal. It can in fact heal so well that no scar will remind me of it in the future and I might totally forget about it. Or I might retain a scar to remind me of it. However, if me arms and legs get cut off, I can survive and I can heal medically. My wounds are treated, but I carry the marks and my life will be forever altered. But I simply cannot do things the same way as before. If we just think about the very different visions of healing that these scenarios show, I don’t want people to get the wrong impression about healing. Healing is not synonymous with getting over a loss, forgetting or moving on. Healing can always only be to adjust to the new life.
Wow, now that I have written about it, I already feel relieved. Sometimes writing things down for me works as a good way to reflect on it and to process it differently. Maybe I can keep my pessimistic self in line and focus more on all the positive things that will come from the movie. I know that it will be a big push forward to break the silence and I will try to have faith. Jonathan from the Still Project has seen the movie and writes about it ecstatically. I hope to have the same experience when I get to see Return to Zero!