CW: mention of living children, birth, pregnancy after loss
I love a rainbow baby.
I mean this literally and generally. I am lucky enough to have a rainbow baby to love and adore.
Rainbow babies fill me with joy. They carry so much hope and have so much love in their corner. Their existence is a testament to the literal blood, sweat, and tears it takes to conceive a child.
But what if you don’t get a rainbow baby?
What if that term frustrates you?
What if the thought once gave you hope but now it’s fleeting?
What if you don’t get to find out “what’s on the other side?”
What is a “rainbow baby?”
A rainbow baby is a term used to describe a baby or a pregnancy that comes after pregnancy or neonatal loss. It is often used as a symbol of hope, just as rainbows can come after rain, like healing after a hardship.
Some people are not a fan of this term. It often gets branded as a misnomer… “why would the baby that you lost be a storm?!” Calm down, Karen. He’s not. And no one thinks that he is.
The “storm” loss parents are referring to is the turmoil, pain and heartbreak that happens after a loss. A baby is a symbol of joy, of new life, no matter how they came to be. Even parents that have experienced loss after a surprise or unplanned pregnancy or had to terminate for medical reasons still experience grief from their loss. The devastation of pregnancy or infant loss is a dark and isolating event, similar to a storm. Alternatively, a rainbow is a symbol of hope, a promise of good to come.
I love the term “rainbow baby” and use it frequently. My daughter will know what it means as a reminder of how wanted she is and how hard we fought for her to get here.
But what happens when you fight and beg and plead and bleed and fight some more and the rainbow doesn’t appear? What if the storm continues and the sky refuses to clear?
“Who said that every wish would be heard and answered when we wished on a morning star?”
This is my problem with the term “rainbow baby:” a rainbow is not guaranteed.
Pregnancy after loss is a part of some people’s stories, but not all. Telling someone it will be “their turn soon” may sound right in the moment and feel secure, but what the loss parent won’t tell you is they wonder every day when “soon” will be. When will this storm pass?
A rainbow is not a symbol of how hard someone fought for their pregnancy. It’s easy to think “since she has a rainbow baby, she did something right. Since I don’t, I did something wrong.” If you’ve ever tried to conceive a child you know that it’s not all that simple. You know how the stars, the universe, prayers, chakras, WHATEVER have to align in order to see those two pink lines.
A rainbow pregnancy does not equal success. Maybe you decide to take a much needed break in your journey. Maybe you decided to adopt or foster. Maybe you had the courage to keep going, even when you thought you couldn’t. Your “rainbow” can be whatever good comes after a loss.
“Rainbows are visions, but only illusions…”
On the same token, rainbow babies do not replace the babies that have been lost. While it is truly an exciting moment when a pregnancy after loss can be announced or a baby is born healthy after a loss, the babies that came before still exist to those parents.
Many feel like there is a timeline for grief, often convinced that there are “stages” you must go through. Once you have gone through the stages, you’re cured!
Grief isn’t a disease. There isn’t a cure. It’s something that lives in your soul, some days taking up the most space it possibly can, growing so strong and so overpowering, you feel like you might explode from the pain.
And some days, grief is simply a resident. Sitting quietly on a bench, holding the hand of its strong and more powerful friend; hope.
A rainbow baby does not replace the babies that have been lost, it is just another baby we’ll love and honor and protect as long as we live.
“What’s so amazing that keeps us star gazing and what do we think we might see?”
For some families, pregnancy after loss becomes a part of their story.
Right after my miscarriage I thought, “if I could just get pregnant again, I would feel better!”
Pregnancy after loss is a loss of innocence. You know everything that can go wrong. How it feels, what to look for, what is a “bad” sign, what is a “good” sign. And so many of these “bad” signs can also be just very normal things; cramps, bleeding, abdominal pain.
I’ve heard this said many times; pregnancy after loss is like holding your breath for nine months. During that time, it is a constant battle of what we “think we might see” once we hit each milestone:
“Once I hear the heartbeat, I’ll feel better.”
“Once I make it out of the first trimester, I’ll feel better.”
“Once I can feel kicks, I’ll feel better.”
“Once I get to the anatomy scan, I’ll feel better.”
“Once I make it to the third trimester, I’ll feel better.”
“Once I make it to labor and delivery, I’ll feel better.”
And the truth is, you may not “feel better” until that baby is crying in your arms.
There was a time at the end of my pregnancy with my daughter where I truly wondered if I would be taking a baby home from the hospital. Nothing was wrong, my miscarriage just taught me that nothing is guaranteed. I would start conversations with “God willing I bring this baby home…” or “assuming all goes well…” I thought about how many mothers go into the hospital in labor and come home with an empty car seat. This “rainbow” business is knowing that while hope is present, sometimes it’s all we have to pull us through these terrifying possibilities. Even though I was lucky enough to experience a rainbow pregnancy and have a healthy “rainbow baby,” it didn’t feel all that “rainbow-y” in the moment.
While rainbows are bright and colorful, a rainbow pregnancy can still be clouded with fear.
While rainbows are cloaked in sunshine, a rainbow baby can (and will) have dark and difficult days.
Just because you see a rainbow, doesn’t mean the darkness still can’t creep in from time to time.
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows?”
Someone on my Instagram shared that the term “rainbow baby” felt like “a club [they] really didn’t want to join.” I hear ya. I would like to unsubscribe as well.
Some people just hate the term. And that’s okay.
It’s not a perfect label. It is not all-encompassing and truly, it is hard to reduce the pain, suffering and love you feel if you have lost a child to one word.
Maybe you prefer “miracle baby” instead.
Maybe it feels cheesy to you.
Maybe it feels overused.
Maybe you’re “rainbow-phobic.” (Is this a thing?)
No matter how you choose to label your pregnancy or baby after a loss, that “club” (the lovers, the dreamers, and me) is always here to support you and cheer you on.
Song lyrics by Jim Henson, “The Rainbow Connection.”