Rainbow Baby

Today, August 22nd, is National Rainbow Baby Day. A rainbow baby is a term used for a subsequent child that comes after infant loss, like the rainbow after a storm. They are the light that reminds parents that hope and goodness can still exist in the world. While rainbow babies are a beautiful presence, the process of getting a rainbow baby isn’t always sunshine and clear skies.

There’s the first question of timing: When is the right time to try again for another baby after a loss? The answer will look different for everyone. Some parents choose to try again within a few weeks, provided they receive medical clearance to do so. Others wait months or years before they feel ready to consider that road again. It’s as personal a decision as any pregnancy, yet bereaved parents tend to receive more opinions and judgment from outside sources. The only advice parents should truly take into consideration is from their doctor, especially if there were complications to the mother in the previous pregnancy. Otherwise, there’s no perfect timing.

Then, once the decision is made, the fear quickly follows: What if my baby dies again? This is the biggest worry bereaved parents face when going through another pregnancy. Each day is spent holding their breath, waiting for the floor to drop from underneath them. The innocence is gone. They now know that, at any minute, things could go terribly wrong again. Too many parents have had healthy and happy pregnancies only to lose their baby in the final moments. Too many parents take their healthy baby home, only for them to not stay there long. The anxiety can spiral for a mom or dad every day for nine months, and even longer after, as they are all too familiar with the pain of losing a child. Their worst fear has already happened, and they’ve realized how powerless they are to prevent another child from dying.

And it does. Subsequent loss is real. The rainstorm of loss might indeed double, or triple, or even become a living nightmare instead of a living child. For those families, the pain increases beyond capacity. There are no words for infant loss, and there are even fewer for recurring losses. But there’s also immense bravery that comes in trying again. The strength it takes to hope that maybe this time might be the miracle is astounding.

The road to welcoming a rainbow baby often involves confronting one’s own grief and finding ways to heal while carrying the weight of past losses. This can mean facing triggers and milestones that remind parents of their previous experiences. For example, stepping into the same hospital where they lost their baby or reaching the same stage of pregnancy when they lost their last baby can be incredibly difficult. Navigating these triggers requires a tremendous amount of courage and resilience.

Parents find different ways to cope with the mental and emotional challenges. It might look like dissociating from the new baby and trying not to get too attached. It’s a hope that if they love the baby less and the baby dies, the loss will hurt less. Unfortunately, that strategy doesn’t seem to work well. The grief is inevitable regardless of how much emotional bonding there was to begin with.

Some parents swing in the other direction and become very cautious and protective, trying everything they can to prevent harm from befalling them and their child. While this may sound good, this can lead to an obsession driven by anxiety that takes over a parent’s life. It’s so hard to give up control, and scraping at every ounce of it is exhausting.

What does help is finding support from people who appreciate what you’re going through. Share Parents of Utah offers both a pregnancy after loss support meeting monthly as well as a pregnancy after loss Facebook group. Talking with other moms and dads who feel the same fears validates and comforts each other.

It’s also very important to find a supportive medical team who understands your history and will be patient with your needs. If a dad wants an extra ultrasound just in case, they should provide it without dismissal. If a mom feels she needs to be checked again even though she was recently seen, the staff should be accommodating. Both parents should feel supported by their medical team. If they don’t, look for another provider who can provide the comfort and respect a bereaved parent deserves when dealing with a highly triggering situation. Ask for recommendations when appropriate from family and friends who have also experienced loss.

Perhaps most importantly, the joy of a rainbow baby doesn’t erase the pain of past losses. While the arrival of a healthy child is a reason for celebration, it doesn’t negate the love and grief parents continue to feel for the babies they lost. The mixed emotions of loving the new child while longing for the previous one are complicated but not unique. Each milestone the rainbow baby hits is joyous for that child and a reminder of what the parent missed out on with their loss. It’s bittersweet, and tough to navigate for the rest of their lives.

Ultimately, National Rainbow Baby Day serves as a reminder of the strength and perseverance of parents who have faced the unthinkable and continue to hope for new beginnings. It’s a day to honor the complex emotions that come with bringing new life into the world after loss, and to show compassion and understanding to those who have embarked on this courageous journey. There is beauty in a rainbow, even after terrible storms, that prove resilience can exist while also holding space for remembrance.

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