I Didn’t Believe in Rainbow Babies
Just as we need to actively fight despair, we need to work at allowing the experience of joy.
During my last pregnancy, I couldn’t escape the term, “rainbow baby.”
I wanted to believe the baby in my womb would bring joy, peace, and healing after loss, but hoping for this can be dangerous. Allowing our happiness to be determined by a baby we may or may not get to hold is risky: one never knows if she will hold her rainbow until it is placed in her arms.
Even then, how long will she have this rainbow to hold? After all, there are no guarantees in life.
This pessimistic perspective I carried helped me cope following a difficult time. My third-born, Henry, was technically a rainbow baby after two miscarriages. But Henry had a birth defect and there was a discussion about inducing the pregnancy to perform surgery.
I was headed to the doctor to make this decision on Henry’s fate when my then two-year-old William suffered a scald burn. I found myself in the burn unit, seeing William through the two surgeries that ultimately saved his life.
Henry’s birth happened three days after our month-long stay in the burn unit came to an end. When he was born, the fact that he did not need immediate surgery seemed nothing short of a miracle.
But if there was a rainbow across the sky for having both my boys to hold, it faded quickly. I made my way through the first year of Henry’s life with intense fear about the wellbeing of my three children.
Recovering from burn injury is both physically and emotionally taxing on the survivor and family; William was scarred, and I felt intense guilt for his injury. I was terrified another accident would happen again.
My daughter, Catherine, was acting out after having been brushed aside for the needs of her brothers. Infant Henry needed surgery, which was a success, but I couldn’t shake the stranglehold of vulnerability.
I could trace this anxiety back to the first miscarriage I suffered, because when you attach yourself so tightly to something and lose it, you start looking around at everything you love and wonder how long it will last. The miscarriages, Henry’s birth defect, and William’s burn injury left me rattled. I longed for health, safety, and guarantees so that I didn’t have to live in fear anymore.
When I discovered I was pregnant around the anniversary of William’s accident and Henry’s first birthday, I took this unexpected joyful happening as the sign that good things were to come. I was convinced my family had fulfilled our allotment of suffering.
Safeguarded by passing through the 12-week mark, there was no doubt our rainbow was less than six months away.
But when the colors I saw in my horizon dissipated unexpectedly in the second trimester, I was forced to change. The moment I held my baby born too soon in the palm of my hand is when I stopped hoping that tomorrow would be better, or a baby could bring peace and healing.
If I let my rainbow go, breaking it down with the ashes of the baby boy we cremated, I would have lost my hope along with him. I had to redefine hope to move on; I prayed for strength to cope with whatever tomorrow would bring.
This became the mantra that carried me through a complicated three-month process to rid the remains of the placenta. After two surgeries, my body was still holding onto the pregnancy I had lost, and our last-ditch effort to save my fertility was a dose of chemotherapy. If a hysterectomy was my reality, then I was going to have to go out and paint my own rainbows, because I physically couldn’t have another baby.
I was lucky: my body healed, leaving the possibility of another baby open. I still desperately wanted a fourth child, an irrational desire that would offend a woman suffering with infertility.
I had three children to hold, and all were now thriving. Trying again was reckless and not necessary, but my determination made me blind to the risks.
Pregnant again, the losses I had previously experienced left me afraid to say I was carrying a rainbow baby. Every day of those nine months I walked through, I vowed that with or without another baby to hold, I would actively seek out the rainbow I wanted.
But now she’s here, and her name is Rose. Born on October 21, 2015, her birth ushered in a time of stillness. There are no photos or a video of her entrance to the world ― because my husband and I feared the worst.
We were anxious, fearful and avoidant in preparation of another loss, but when Rose was placed on my chest, we were stunned into being mindfully present. We marveled at how tiny she was, a full two pounds smaller than her sister was at birth ― then we were quiet. There was no celebration, just awe, for intense gratitude left us speechless.
This silence remained until hours later, when 2-year-old Henry bounded into the hospital to meet her saying, “Hi Baby Rose!” My kids climbed into bed around me for a picture and in that moment, it all made sense. Rose became the missing link of our family, the blessing that mended our hearts together after so much loss.
Every day since Rose was born, I have walked through life differently. I thought it was only adversity that could change you, but receiving blessings can too. For all those nights I wondered,
Why do bad things happen to my family?,
I found myself equally sleepless thinking,
Why am I so lucky?...There are women who cannot have any children. Why am I blessed with Rose? What did I do to deserve her?
Along with the gratitude I feel for the privilege of holding a baby after loss, I have also experienced guilt: I know there are many women who are forced to move on without a rainbow baby.
I have learned that there is no rational explanation to life and death or pregnancy and birth. All we have are our desires, our hopes and dreams along with our ability to cope when life doesn’t bring us what we think it will.
I have experienced both joy and loss.
I well understand how loss can make us stronger, but Rose has taught me that when joy happens ― when our most fervent hope comes to fruition, we must stop and savor.
Just as we need to actively fight despair, we must work at allowing the experience of joy. If a rainbow is the calm after a storm, the colorful phenomenon that inspires me to pause and take in the beauty of life, then Rose is my rainbow. If a baby born after loss can nudge us to luxuriate in gratitude and experience joy then yes, I believe in rainbow babies.
For almost a year now, I have held my gaze transfixed at the rainbow Rose is: a blue-eyed, blond-haired anomaly among her brown-eyed, brown-haired siblings. The sound of her coos, the weight of her sleeping on my chest, and her glee when she greets me after a nap are among the countless small moments I have savored.
Now she is taking her first steps and with her birthday approaching, I feel both joy and sadness knowing she is growing and thriving ― because Rose won’t always be the tiny baby I love to carry in a sling on my chest.
The excitement I feel about the milestones my children meet is tempered, because I see how fast this precious moment of time where my children are young is passing.
I realize this rainbow of color in my sky won’t last forever, because life is ever changing; our joys are perhaps as transient as our sorrows.
Tomorrow is as uncertain as it ever was, but I move forward with the belief that regardless of what life brings, I will find my rainbows. I hold the thought that a rainbow can take on various shapes as a prayer for the countless women who experience loss and move on without a baby to hold.
Perhaps, we will only notice a rainbow if we are open to the possibility of finding one; or that it can only bring joy, peace, and healing if we allow it to. Ultimately, I have learned that if we are fortunate enough to discover a rainbow, we must pause and appreciate both the beauty and mystery of the blessing we have received.