Ah, a rainbow. A beautiful sign that the storm is over and that better things are on the way. Nature’s way of saying that all is well and the sun can come out again. The term “Rainbow Baby” is all the rage these days. A Rainbow Baby is a baby born after a loss. That loss may be a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or an infant loss. It may even be the loss of a grown child. But when the mother who has lost a child goes on to birth another live baby, the affectionate term “Rainbow Baby” is given to her new and wondrous gift.
I love the idea of Rainbow Babies. I have several friends who have experienced tremendous losses and were thrilled to have their Rainbow Babies. I am genuinely excited for these mothers. In fact, I could almost burst with joy to know that they have had the opportunity to have another baby. A live baby that is breathing and warm and smells delicious. Rainbow Babies make me smile.
But what if you know your Rainbow will never come? Grieving without the hope of a Rainbow Baby is a different type of grief altogether. I often imagine myself giving birth in a blissful room with my proud, beaming husband by my side and hearing the loud, beautiful cry of our live Rainbow Baby. How bittersweet it must be after a loss. But also, I do believe I might tell myself that our loss happened so that our Rainbow Baby could come to be. In fact, I know I would, and I’d believe it with all of my soul. I imagine it would be comforting. Don’t people say that everything happens for a reason? What better way to explain the grief of a tremendous loss than to have the hope that it happened so that a new baby might come to be.
When you lose your child and you know with 100% certainty that you will never have a Rainbow Baby, the loss is even more complex. The reality of our infertility is that we will never be pregnant again. Knowing this after the stillbirth of our son, I was faced with a new grief. The grief that is knowing that our storm will never end in a Rainbow. The sun will never come out. There will never be a clear reason to explain “why.”
This realization was a new and separate grief from the grief I had reserved for our son. These two separate griefs made my pain even that more intense. I was so angry. That we didn’t even have the choice to try again. That we’d never be surprised with a pregnancy. That we’d never again have the joy that is those two lines on a home pregnancy test. That I’d never again feel those kicks. That I’d never again experience a birth resulting in a breathing baby. My anger was almost unbearable. For a good 18 months, I fought with myself, going round and round trying to make sense of why we were denied a Rainbow and why we had to endure our son’s death without the hope of a new life.
In the midst of this double grieving, I read a line in a book about mothering without children. The concept didn’t make sense to me at first. But then an image of my dear friend Mary came to me. She was a teacher who never married, nor did she ever have biological children of her own. And yet she loved each and every one of her first-graders with true vigor. Each child in her class actually was one of “her kids” as she called them. She was also an incredible friend. When Mary passed away suddenly, I felt as though I too had lost a mother figure. She had helped me through so many difficult situations and really supported me like a mother would. She was a mother, though she had no biological children.
And then it struck me. I could still go on to mother, even if I did not have another baby. A new chapter in my life was unfolding and perhaps my Rainbow wasn’t in the form of a baby, but of something completely different. Perhaps I could mother a cause that is truly important to me, lend my time to an organization that could really benefit from it, or use my experiences to help console others. Perhaps I could rediscover some of my childhood dreams and make them a reality. I could even try something completely new, a new project that could become “my baby.” Mothering mustn’t necessarily coincide with a baby or a child. This thought had never entered my mind before, but I could see that being a “Mother” to something did not mean that I needed to have another pregnancy.
Finally, over many more months, I was able to accept that I do have a Rainbow out there somewhere. No, it is not another baby. This was a fact that took many tears, incredible pain, and fierce struggle to accept. Some days I still cry and endure all of the stages of grief over it once again. But a new light opened up when I was able to believe that, yes, I can have a Rainbow. I can do something that is “mothering” or helpful to others following my loss. I can go on to mother other things.
Finding my Rainbow is a new and fresh journey. I am currently actively searching for it. Like a child, I know my Rainbow will grow and change and evolve over time. But to know that it is possible brings a whole new light to my storm. Will the storm ever end? No, it will not — another fact that is hard to accept most days. But the storm never ends for other mothers who have gone on to have live Rainbow Babies either. Their loss is still as devastating and painful as mine. Their path after loss looks different than mine, but I know now that we can all go on to have a Rainbow if we are open to it, search for it, and allow it to shine in.