In 2005, Sean and Kiley Hanish went from being excited parents-to-be to enduring the most devastating loss.
Kiley, an occupational therapist in Los Angeles, went into labor at 35 weeks and learned her baby died in utero. One day later, on July 12, she suffered the tragedy of a stillbirth.
The couple felt alone in their pain.
“We felt like it had never happened to anyone before,” says Sean, 50. “No one wanted to talk about it. It was like we were on this island by ourselves.”
Sean, a television commercial director, would go on to write and direct the 2014 film, Return to Zero, starring Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein. The film centers around a couple mourning the loss of their stillborn son.
“That was my way of dealing with my grief,” says Sean. “It was my way to heal.”
Around the time the film came out, Kiley also found her way to deal with her unbearable loss. She started a foundation of the same name, Return to Zero, to help families who have lost a child and raise awareness about pregnancy and infant loss through education and support.
“I got this idea when I was in the shower,” says Kiley. 42. “I wanted to bring people together and take care of them. I felt like I needed that for myself too.”
At the core of the organization are weekend retreats for bereaved mothers who need a safe space to be together for a weekend where they can talk about their loss.
The first retreat was in April 2014 in Ojai, California, followed by one in Stowe, Vermont.
“It’s allows these women to find that connection that they need so they don’t feel so alone,” says Kiley. “It gives them the tools of how to grieve and still keep a connection to your baby.”
Since they founded the organization, they have hosted nine retreats around the world, and continue to raise money to support their non-profit.
And on Thursday, they will host the Return to Zero: H.O.P.E NonProfit Launch Party and Fundraiser at The Fig House in Los Angeles.
“People sharing their stories can be very hard,” says Kiley, who went on to have two children, Roxie, 12, and Cannon, 6, with her husband. “It’s often the first time they’re telling their story in public. While it’s extremely traumatic, it’s also healing to be able to create a narrative and meaning out of that story.”
Return to Zero also educates health care professionals on how to talk to bereaved parents, as well as how family members should speak to loved ones experiencing this big loss.
When Sean looks back on everything they have been through — including the Emmy-nominated movie based off their story — he says it’s a journey he never would have chosen.
“If I had the choice of holding my son or going to the Emmys, I’d choose my son a million times out of a million,” he says. “But it does feel great to help other parents go through this and know that their experiences will be made a little better because of the efforts were making.”
Adds Kiley: “During the retreats I’ve been teaching myself at the same time and healing. I’m learning as I go along.”