This anthology of raw memoirs, heartbreaking stories, truthful poems, beautiful painting, and stunning photography from the parents who have suffered child loss offers insight into this unique, devastating and life-changing experience—breaking the silence and offering a ray of hope to the many parents out there in search of answers, understanding, and healing. Inspired by the film Return to Zero.
Three Minus One – an Anthology Review
WHY did 127 UK Publishers Reject this Important Book?
That was the harsh reality facing stillbirth campaigner, Samantha Curtis, who knocked at over a hundred publishers’ doors to encourage them to print an Anglicized edition of ‘Three Minus One‘; a book of beautiful stories, artwork and poetry giving a voice to our babies who have died too soon.
The anthology – which was even endorsed by Cindy Crawford – is the accompaniment to the taboo smashing film, Return to Zero, whose poorly publicised (again thanks to the lack of interest from the UK media) TV premiere on Lifetime UK in May 2014, was something of a landmark event in itself! The independent Hollywood movie, starring our beloved British actress Minnie Driver, was in fact the first of its kind to feature stillbirth as its central theme. A brave and loving tribute from director, Sean Hanish, marking the tragic loss of his own son.
The U.S edition of Three Minus One was a natural progression to the film’s success in America (Minnie even went on to be nominated for an Emmy for her accurately poignant portrayal of a grieving mum).
So why exactly are the gates to the UK media so stubbornly shut?
How could so many publishers and editors deem this book ‘irrelevant’ for their market when a mammoth 25% of parents have, in fact, experienced the loss of a baby through stillbirth, neonatal death or miscarriage?
‘The rejections were cringeworthy at best,’ Sam told us.
‘People just didn’t want to know… I shouldn’t have, but I took every rejection as a personal ‘no’ to my daughter’s very existence. And I say this not to name and shame, but to highlight the fact that things have got to change in the industry! We who work in publishing (and the media at large) have a responsibility, after all, to give readers more credit, to stop being so nonplussed about the issues that matter, to quit this pigheaded subjectivity as professionals, and to follow our hearts, not our heads. It shouldn’t be all about meeting budgets, bright shiny marketing campaigns and yet another celebrity who has turned their hand to novel writing… Publishing has the power to change the world for the better. So let’s be a little more maverick about it, put the well-being of our audience before our bottom line,’reputation’, or adding another ghostwritten Katie Price style notch to our front list…’
I can’t help but agree. Because more often than not, Sam’s attempts were simply met with stony silence. For a bereaved parent on a mission, there is nothing worse.
But it was precisely this stiff upper lipped attitude which gave her the drive to keep going in spite of the naysayers. Eventually, she found publisher 128 who not only shared her vision for the desperate need for literature to support bereaved parents in the UK, but with unprecedented passion, they set the wheels of change in motion. And this groundbreaking UK edition of Three Minus One will be published in March 2016 by Boundless Propositions, an imprint of Mittens On, a small and independent publishing house run by one amazing lady, Karren Ablaze!
Yes, Karren bucks the trend of ‘conventional’ so much that she even has an exclamation mark at the end of her name…
And as mum to a stillborn baby myself, I take my hat off to this duo for all they have achieved. For they, along with authors such as Alice Jolly, whose memoir on stillbirth and surrogacy I reviewed recently, could quite easily fence sit. And I can appreciate this kind of drive is a time and a place thing – certainly not something one would feel empowered to take on in the raw stages of grief. Ultimately, perhaps only someone (like Sam) who has worked in the publishing industry and knows of its pitfalls could take this challenge head on.
The situation puts me in mind of the Mother Theresa quote:
“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”
No matter how many copies of this book are sold, in that respect the ladies have completely succeeded.
Well, that was the backstory. So what about the book?
Was it worth not giving up on?
A resounding YES is the answer to that. Three Minus One is THE book I wish I’d had by my bedside seven years ago when my own baby was born sleeping. It is my Bible on those dark days and nights around my daughter’s anniversary. And it is my comfort for every spontaneous grief stricken moment in-between. I don’t want to read it all of the time, granted. It is sometimes a hard read. I am often transported back to those raw stages of loss when I read certain stories or poems. Even a specific line or two have the power to render me numb, speechless. No two ways about it. But this (I feel) is one of the most important ways to help me through my grieving – as and when I need to fully break down and cry. Tears are healing, after all. And this book will require tissues. Just like the film. But they are tears of beauty and love and ultimately, hope. Tears that only a parent who has loved and lost – a parent who of course still loves, with every ounce of their being – can fully comprehend.
Yet there are other times when these stories make me smile.
These recollections from parents who have walked in my shoes (not my exact shoes but a very similar pair) make me realise – for want of a better saying – that we are all in the same boat of grief. And yet we mourn differently. In our own wonderful and unique ways. Indeed grief is as distinct as a fingerprint. Its pattern weaving relentlessly in incoherent patterns across the patchwork of our lives. That is what this book teaches me. These stories make it OK for me to have a meltdown in the supermarket aisle because I am randomly overwhelmed with sadness at seeing a family with three kids whose ages would be similar to all of my children. This book gives me permission to put my bereaved mum mask on… and take it off as mood dictates.
While I was lucky enough to already have a living child, and to go on to have another child after my baby was stillborn, this excerpt from the book, written by Gabriela Ibarra Kotara as part of her contribution, ‘Masters of Disguise’, perfectly sums up those early winter’s days of my experience:
‘There’s no greater actress than a grieving mother…
I am a bereaved mother.
I am a woman who holds her baby silently in her heart instead of noticeably in her arms.
I am the lady grocery shopping, who avoids the baby aisle at all costs and has to fight back tears when she places her purse in the trolley seat where the baby is supposed to go.
I am the woman who listens with a breaking heart to every cute anecdote her friend tells her about her new baby…
I am that cautionary tale. No one wants what happened to us to happen to them.
I am also the woman who gets told how strong she is, how amazing her will to keep going is, when in reality, I’m a basket case. Up one minute, down the other…’
Just knowing that we are not alone.
Can be a lifeline. This book is a lifeline. We bond with these women (and men); these parents – across the miles. We all share that same pain, those pangs of the heart we can’t even begin to put into words to the outside world. And for those in this book who have painted the picture of that barren, inhospitable landscape of heartache; well, they are beacons of light.
‘Every night, the bed brought forth the tears. It was an expanse of dark water I could sink into, the perfect environment for grief. I made it through those late-December days waiting for the velvet of night to fall…’
Not because they remind us of the despair and grim thoughts of never wanting to carry on; the idea of drowning in our duvet into the abyss. But because they reaffirm the right we have to love our children despite them not physically not being with us.
In a world almost bereft of words acknowledging our babes’ existence, this is a flame to a moth. I cling to it. On those long, lonely days when you wonder just how the world can keep spinning, how can people keep shopping and dancing and smiling because YOUR baby died. On those bleak evenings when you realise nobody has asked you how you feel however many years down the line; if you can still remember your baby’s tiny body wrapped in muslin as you held them close in hospital for the very last time. That’s when you rush to this book. And you drink in these words from your sisters (and brothers). They are people you will probably never ever meet. But they will forever be your friends. You are united in the purest of love.
This book is also for our family and friends…
And it is certainly for the public at large. For even before our own tragedies struck, we have all known of others who have trodden this path. And these collections of stories – ranging from the banal craziness of everyday run of the mill life, to profound thoughts and feelings in poetic form – educate all of us as to how to ‘be’ around one who mourns. Just by reading, engaging and trying to understand the world of a bereaved parent, you will help them in ways you could never comprehend.
And last but by no means least, this book should be an obligatory read for all in the medical profession.
Doctors, midwives, gynaecologists – every single member of medical staff who might ever come into pre and post, as well as during pregnancy care, of an expectant woman. There is so much work to be done to improve the quality and training as far as sensitively dealing with baby loss is concerned. Much has changed, that is true; just 7 years ago it wasn’t even made clear to me that I could properly touch my baby, that it would be a healing thing for me to take as many pictures as possible of my baby. Instead I am left with an aching heart full of ‘what ifs’, a small hospital photograph which still shows blood stained sheets, and many a memory of inadequately prepared phlebotomists taking yet another canister of my blood… asking me how big my baby girl was now, was she sleeping well through the night and did she look like her mum or her dad?
Those questions are always great conversation stoppers.
And don’t get me started on the crazy decision that was deciding two hours after me giving birth to my dead baby was the perfect opportunity for a trainee midwife to take my blood pressure and have a practice with her recently acquired blood taking skills… almost stopping my circulation and making me wince with pain.
Whoever came up with that bright idea definitely needs to read this book.
And indeed many are the references throughout this anthology of the complete lack of understanding and sympathy of sonographers, doctors and every other medical staff member in-between. Whilst I really can’t discount the many wonderful and supportive staff who helped me on my personal journey, they really shouldn’t be the exception to the rule.
The stories shared in Three Minus One are the untold tales.
The un-listened to voices, the stories swept back out from under the carpet… They are stories capable of worldly healing, if we collectively walk away from the Dark Ages and make this book – and the others which follow it, available – to the masses.
This book should be in every bookstore across the nation, as much as in the library of the regional baby loss charity’s meeting place.
Because this book is a book of LOVE.
And Three Minus One has the power to change humanity.
The UK edition of Three Minus One is published by Boundless Propositions, an imprint of Mittens On and can be ordered via this link.
Three Minus One is Published by: Mittons On (UK) and She Writes Press (US)