My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Disclosure note: I am one of the contributors to this anthology.
In July 2009, my first pregnancy ended. In July 2012, my second pregnancy ended. There will be no others. Those experiences—as well as the years of baffling infertility that preceded the losses, the attempts at adoption, the anger and hope, resolution and relief, the sense of a life unfinished and unfulfilled—have shaped me as an adult. They have affected me as a woman, a writer, as the mother I will always believe I was meant to be, as a wife who shares forever-grief with her husband.
In 2005, the wife of writer-director-producer Sean Hanish gave birth to a stillborn son. In their journey through sorrow and healing, Sean wrote the screenplay for a film. That film, Return to Zero, starring Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein, premieres worldwide on Lifetime Network, Saturday May 17, 2014, 8:00 p.m. EDT. Return to Zero. Sean’s original intention was to see this film distributed on the big screen. But realizing he would reach a vastly greater audience on a solid television network, he signed on with Lifetime at the Rome Independent Film Festival in Italy earlier this year. Bravo, Sean. Congratulations for your brave and beautiful work.
In tandem with the release of the movie and in the spirit of shattering the silence surrounding neonatal death, stillbirth, and miscarriage, Sean and Brook Warner, editor of She Writes Press, conceived an anthology of prose and poetry written by women and men affected by child death. Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love & Loss is the result of their collaboration and our—the contributors’—journeys.
This collection of essays and poems speaks of pain and loss so profound, you are left breathless. Yet there is also incredible beauty, joy, and redemption. The writing is extraordinary, each voice unique in its expression of universal themes, experiences, and emotions. The relief to know one is not alone is profound.
In just a few lines Heather Bell’s poem, Executioner, captures the absurdity of grief–the acknowledgement that life goes on, even as yours is falling apart, and the strange, sad ways people react—trying so hard to empathize, to understand—yet botching it all, bless their hearts:
And the baby is dead but
we need lettuce in the house, maybe some bread
for morning toast so
I am at the store touching the potatoes at the spin,
the slim wrists of carrot. And the baby is dead so
this entitles humans to talk about their dog’s death,
or gerbil’s. This means I am expected to sympathize at
their loss. Because all death becomes, somehow, equal
Gabriela Ibarra Kotara reveals the Masters of Disguise that grieving parents become after the loss of a child: “I am that cautionary tale. No one wants what happened to us to happen to them.” In Address Book, Meagan Golec reflects on how her friendships have changed since her child was born dead at 38.5 weeks. Elizabeth Heineman’s What to Do When They Bring You Your Dead Baby in the Hospital is a tender, beautiful, elegiac prose-poem that I read over and over, wanting to sink inside her words. Marina del Vecchio, Silent Miscarriage, Shoshanna Kirk, To Balance Bitter, Add Sweet, and Susan Rukeyser, Our Bloody Secret, made me realize for the first time that I was not crazy for wanting to miscarry in my body’s own time, even though it took weeks—the first time—or left me writhing on the floor for hours, hyperventilating in pain—the second time—and that searching in the mass of blood and tissue for signs of your child’s body is horribly, gruesomely, okay.
All this death and loss is not a thing you talk about—not in polite company. Not with strangers and rarely even with friends. But death brought me to life, as it were. The deaths of my children brought me at last to the page, to be the other thing I’ve always known I was meant to be: a writer. Isn’t that strange and awful and wonderful? I can’t fulfill one destiny, but in its denial, I am walking the road of another. My essay Their Names touches on the discovery of another way to create life.
Miscarriage affects an astonishing number of would-be parents: an estimated 30% of pregnancies ends in loss. Mercifully, many of these occur so early that the mother doesn’t know she was pregnant. But many of us spend weeks and months planning for and anticipating life.
Stillbirth occurs in 1 of every 160 births in the US and neonatal death—death within the first 28 days of life—1 in every 85 births. Shocking, isn’t it? It’s probably happened to someone you know. If and when it does, a simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” and a hug would be a beautiful gift. Offering Three Minus One would be a precious gift, as well. Parents in mourning need to know they are not alone. This book offers all the right things to say and do and feel and not feel. It is an embrace of compassion and empathy.
N.B.: The following readings by contributors from Three Minus One are scheduled in the Seattle Area (* I will be reading):
May 9, 1:00 p.m. Pacific Northwest Writers Association Cottage, Gilman Village, Issaquah
*May 22, 7:00 p.m., Third Place Books, Roosevelt, Seattle
*June 15, 3:00 p.m. Elliott Bay Books, Capitol Hill, Seattle