Living, Inspiring, Parenting Through Loss & Beyond

A Rainbow Baby? Not My Baby

A Rainbow Baby? Not My Baby
Me holding Gwyneth after she was born, wrapped in the swaddle blanket and cupcake hat I was so excited for her to wear

Throughout my pregnancy with Vi, I spent any free time reading about pregnancy after loss. I felt like I needed to re-read all of the Pregnancy A-Z books you read upon becoming pregnant for the first time. A pregnancy after a loss feels like your first pregnancy all over again, but worse. I no longer had the blissful ignorance of Eloise’s pregnancy, where the only things I thought about were my own daily discomforts and “how bad will labor and delivery hurt?” Now I had to think of my baby who died and potentially losing another one. Even though it made my anxiety worse, I found myself reading and gathering as much information as possible.

One term that kept resurfacing was “rainbow baby.”  Support group members wonder when they will get pregnant with their rainbow baby, people congratulate you on your rainbow pregnancy, mothers get newborn photographs of new babies wrapped in rainbow colored muslin swaddles, and newborns wear onesies that say, “I’m a rainbow baby handpicked by my brother/sister in heaven.”

What is a rainbow baby? A rainbow baby is a term that refers to a baby born following a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, or infant loss. It insinuates that although the death of your child was a storm, a rainbow or new baby will follow to clear away the clouds.

A cliché term like this can truly trivialize the experience of losing a child, that child’s life, and the life of your next living child.  I don’t like to label myself or my experiences with terms that take away from the rawness and realness of what I went through and who my baby was. While I can understand where this term originates, it is not for me and my babies. I feel a strong dislike for it and I’ll tell you why.

Me holding Violette shortly after she was born, just in awe that she was alive and healthy

Even though the memories that I have from my short time with Gwyneth were terrible in many ways, I won’t refer to her as my storm. She was the MOST innocent soul I’ll ever know and she should be remembered as such. If one was to look at her pictures, they would see the blatant discoloration and limpness of death, associating those features with sadness, fear, storm. Life can be tragic and terrible and for Gwyneth, this tragedy took away her softness, warmth and newborn wonder.  She was a victim. She was never given a chance. There is so much sadness that surrounds her that I refuse to add another negative term to her memory. A storm has no redeeming qualities. It is dark and violent, causing destruction throughout it’s path. Yes, Gwyneth’s death was dark, but she was sweet and pure, she wasn’t a storm.

I don’t want a rainbow to come and shine over those memories. They happened and they are ALL that I have of her.  She died, I gave birth to her, we buried her. There is no changing those events. Believe me, I have wished for it to no end. I wanted to have another child because I realized with Gwyneth’s death the intense need in me to pursue motherhood, not because I wanted to replace her or find something bright and colorful to cover her darkness.

Simultaneously, the term puts a substantial weight on your new baby. He or she is expected to make everything better. I can’t tell you the number of times (and we didn’t even announce our last pregnancy) people who discovered we were pregnant and our history expressed that we’d be “so much happier” once the new baby was born or that Gwyneth’s death was “just a fluke and wouldn’t happen again.” Although these people had good intentions, they did not help by saying such statements. Yes, we are happy and hopeful since the birth of Violette, but the sadness and emptiness is still there, she cannot erase it. She cannot brighten it. And yes, of course “it” will never happen again. Gwyneth is gone and there will never be anyone like her. She was a piece of me and a piece of Ryan – our unique child. Lastly, we do not know for certain that our next baby will not die. We again dealt with the same bacteria that took Gwyneth’s life. We know more than most, that life and health is never certain until your baby is born and tested.

I am passionate about Violette being her own unique person. Before her birth, I sat in fear wondering how I would feel when they placed her in my arms. Will I love her for her or because I wished she were Gwyneth? Will she go through life always knowing she was born to heal her family from the loss of her sister?

Violette on her birthday – photo creds to  J. Ellis

Once I held Vi, I knew instantly that she was not Gwyneth, nothing like her. And that was refreshing. I don’t want her to ever feel that I don’t love her for her. I don’t want her to ever feel responsible for my feelings and for brightening my storm. She too is a new and innocent life, created by love and a need to nurture. Yes, she has given me hope. Hope that I do deserve to be her mother and that I can bear more children. She brightens my days – every morning when I wake up to her smile. But, she’s nobody’s rainbow.

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50 thoughts on “A Rainbow Baby? Not My Baby”

  • Thank you for writing this post. I have always resented the term “Rainbow Baby” and you expressed all the reasons why so eloquently.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Mandy – comments get stuck in my spam folder sometimes so apologies for the delay! I know that “rainbow baby” is a popular and well loved term, I just cant get behind it for the reasons stated. Thanks again for the support – it’s so appreciated!

  • I’m so very sorry for your loss. I always considered the ‘rainbow’ part of rainbow baby as simple imagery for something beautiful, wondrous and happy. I’ve never connected it with a ‘storm’, perhaps because I always see rainbows on sunny days! More a way for women who have experienced loss to connect with each other, so they don’t need to explain their situation.
    I don’t have strong feelings for the term either way, but my sister – who has a 6 month old following 3 miscarriages – considers him truly her rainbow baby – a joyous miracle after years of heartache. And I have to agree. He spreads happiness, just like a rainbow.
    Your writing is beautiful. Thank you for sharing a different perspective I’m sure will resonate with others x

    • Lisa – thank you for taking the time to read my perspective and comment. I am so sorry about your sister’s miscarriages, I am sure those were horrible and heartbreaking times for her. I am so glad to hear of her finally having a healthy six month old! I know that my 8 month old too brings so much happiness to our family. I wish you and your family all the best and continued health and fertility for your sister. <3

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