At support group once we were talking about how we are not our infertility and how we can identify ourselves separate from our infertility…. And I understand that on a rational level, but I argued that it’s not how it feels. I may not *be* my infertility, but it *is* a part of me and one that I can’t get away from, although I wish I could. I explained that sometimes I think of infertility and loss like my own personal cloud… From day to day, the forecast might change, but it’s always there.
Sometimes my cloud is far away, puffy and light, and I can more easily focus on the good things in my life — the spots of sun and blue skies. Sometimes my cloud is looming over me, and sometimes it’s actively storming and I try not to drown in the torrential downpour of grief. Often I feel like it’s partly cloudy with a chance of scattered storms. But no matter how close or how big the cloud is, the pain of infertility and pregnancy loss is with me nearly all the time, following me around.
In the baby loss community, some people use the term “rainbow babies” for babies who are born after the loss of an infant or a pregnancy. The idea is that a rainbow baby brings hope and joy after the storm of grief experienced after the loss of a baby. I frequently see in descriptions of the phrase that the rainbow doesn’t negate the storm, and it doesn’t mean the parents are done dealing with the aftermath, but that the rainbow offers hope, energy, and color in the midst of the darkness.
I was not aware of the phrase “rainbow baby” until one of our support group meetings… and since I learned about it I became pregnant myself, and then had to say goodbye to our baby. So I’ve had some time to think about rainbow babies. I’ve had some unsuccessful treatment cycles since our loss too… Overall, I feel like our experience has allowed me to gain some perspective on the meaning and feelings associated with the phrase. Additionally, I’ve done a little research and reading on it, and talked about it with a few people close to me… and I have some thoughts I’d like to share.
My first thought is that I hate the idea that my lost baby caused a storm or was a storm. Our baby was, and still is, surrounded by love, and I do not like the idea that someone so loved, so missed, and so very innocent, would be blamed for the grief that followed her death. Comparing my lost pregnancy to a storm surrounds our baby with negative feelings, and that makes me sad. Because of this association with the negative, many people refuse to use the phrase “rainbow babies” — it essentially names the lost baby as the storm. Still Mothers, for example don’t use the term. And I understand why. I don’t like the negative connotations either.
But nonetheless, the loss of my pregnancy was filled with grief and pain, and describing the overwhelming emotions as a storm seems, to me, to be a pretty good metaphor, especially considering how even before our loss I felt like my infertility was a cloud following me around. What helps me to move past the negative feelings about the storm is knowing that our baby wasn’t the storm and didn’t cause the storm. What happened in my pregnancy wasn’t the baby’s fault — it just happened, and we will never know why. The storm wasn’t her presence, but it is grieving her absence. In fact, her presence in our lives was joyful, even though it was short lived. And knowing she was here still gives me hope for us. In a way, I think she was like a rainbow for us even though she didn’t survive, even though she wasn’t a traditional “rainbow baby”… after trying to conceive for two years, we finally managed to create a life — she was our miracle. The grief after our loss has been enormous, but the love we have for our lost one and the hope we have for our future is still there.
Once I start to move beyond the negative feelings about the storm and what it actually is — the grief — I can see great beauty and symbolism in the phrase “rainbow baby”. The beauty of rainbows and the hope for joy and sunshine in the future resonates with me. And when I see and hear about other people’s rainbow babies (e.g., here and here) it gives me hope for us. I so want to be able to bring home a healthy baby, and knowing that others have successfully brought home healthy babies after loss helps to keep me hopeful that it might happen for us too.
I also think the phrase is a special way to acknowledge and honor the previous life that was lost, while celebrating the new life. If I were ever pregnant with a new baby or were so lucky to bring home a healthy baby, mentioning that the baby is a rainbow baby would be a way for me to acknowledge that it was my second pregnancy. It would be a way for me to remember and honor my lost baby while also celebrating our new baby. I know it’s not the only way to honor and acknowledge the loss, but I think it’s a sweet way of doing it.
All of that said, another reaction I’ve had to the phrase “rainbow baby” is awareness that the phrase can be alienating and hurtful, because not everyone who has experienced baby or pregnancy loss will go on to have a rainbow baby — not everyone gets a rainbow. For various reasons, a couple may not have another opportunity to bring home a healthy baby of their own. So then, in a community that should be supportive and inclusive, talking about rainbow babies can hurt and alienate grieving parents. However, I also think that the fact that some loss parents go on to have healthy children and some don’t is still going to be divisive. I suspect that some pain will always be present whether or not the phrase “rainbow baby” is used. Therefore, I think that no matter what we call a baby after loss, we need to be mindful and sensitive of the fact that some people are not so lucky.
I also believe that to promote more widespread healing we can start to think about rainbows in more ways than one; I think that that the phrase “rainbow baby” has some room for improvement. The writer of the Still Standing post above said, “Let’s stop pretending the best way to heal is to feel the redemption of birthing a healthy baby and recognize that sometimes healing has to come solely from within.” And I think she’s onto something, but I want to expand on it — I do think healing has to come from within, but I also think that there are sources of encouragement, hope, and joy outside of ourselves that can aid in our healing. I think a new baby is one kind of rainbow that might bring loss parents color, energy, and hope, but it is not the only one. I still hope that one of my rainbows is going to be a baby, but if I wait for healing only in the bringing home of a healthy baby, I may never be healed. And that’s not ok. So I look for rainbows in other places in my life too, and I can say that some are already shining.
Since the loss of my pregnancy I have become closer to a new friend and I consider her to be a beautiful rainbow in my life. She has given me so much support, joy, and love. The loss of my pregnancy was horrible, and in the midst of the darkness and rain, this friend has been a beautiful energy shining in my sky. I am so thankful for her.
After our loss this summer Matt and I had the opportunity to take a small vacation during my recovery. We used frequent flier miles and spent four days in a destination we’ve always wanted to visit. This trip was so lovely and so rejuvenating for us — it was like being somewhere over the rainbow. We were together and happy and felt carefree. Our rainbow trip reminded us that we can still find joy with just each other.
This blog has turned into a rainbow for me too. It’s become a beautiful way for me to connect with people in ways I never expected… infertility aside, some of my loved ones experiencing different kinds of emotional storms have told me that my words here have comforted them or given them new ideas for coping and healing. And, for me, hope for happiness and healing in all of our futures is a very beautiful rainbow.
I have also realized that not all of my rainbows are new. Love and encouragement from long standing rainbows in my life help me to continue finding joy and holding hope — even if they have to hold it for me at times.
The storm of infertility and loss is a nasty one. It has ravaged my life and shook me to the core. As I said in my post about strength, I know that I am not the same person I was before. I have had to focus my strengths into areas that help me to withstand the downpours and the rough winds of the storm. I have to sit with my grief and let the storm rage. There’s nowhere I can hide or run to when the clouds roll in and the storm begins, so my coping techniques act as umbrellas, and I try hard to use them appropriately to protect myself. Humor acts as rain boots so that I can try to splash the rainwater collecting at my feet. My rainbows shine as bright as they can trying to bring me hope and joy, support and healing. Sometimes I find that my rainbows sit with me in the darkness while the storm rages; they glimmer in my sky during my moments of greatest despair. But sometimes I just can’t see them for all of the darkness. So when the storm is finished, I look for rainbows.
Contrary to the belief repeated on rainbow baby onesies or announcements, there isn’t *always* a rainbow after the storm… But sometimes I’ll find one. Sometimes I’ll even find more than one. Whenever and however a rainbow appears, it is beautiful and helps to bring me happiness, hope, and healing. The rainbows that shine in my life help to open up space in the clouds for spots of sun. Despite the fact that I haven’t yet brought home a healthy baby, I have seen a number of rainbows. They are out there in different forms. I just have to remember to look for them.
For more perspectives on rainbows, please visit: