5 Truths About a Rainbow Pregnancy and Baby
Updated: Apr 26, 2019
Rainbow babies. Everyone has heard of them, and most people know someone who has given birth to a rainbow baby. These are babies who have been born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or loss of a living child.
What many people don't know is the huge mix of feelings that a parent of loss is experiencing when they bring their newborn baby home. The pregnancy and birth of my rainbow baby Avery was one of the hardest things that I have ever experienced, second only to having to say goodbye to my first-born child. I started Colton's Kindness so that moms who had experienced the death of a child could come together and not feel alone. Surprisingly, I felt more alone after the birth of my rainbow baby than when my son had died. There aren't a ton of resources to help moms of rainbow children, so I thought I'd give some tips below.
1. You will feel terrified of everything in pregnancy (especially new things).
For some reason, I thought that this pregnancy would be blissful once I found out that Avery was heart healthy. I think her being healthy made me MORE nervous. What happens if she is born way too early? What if I wait too long for labor and she's stillborn? What if she really doesn't like me when she has to stay in my room in labor and delivery? Every little thing that could go wrong, you WILL worry or obsess about.
One thing that helped me was not pushing out my anxious thoughts. I would acknowledge them, think about them rationally, and then move forward. It also helped me to look toward milestones. 24 weeks is viability, so I'll look forward to that. 37 weeks is full-term, so if I get there, she'll be safe. I did kick counts because they made me feel better, and I won't lie... I visited labor and delivery in the middle of the night more times than I probably should have. Find some little reminders that help you focus on positives during your rainbow pregnancy. I've also come to terms that pregnancy will not be an innocent and completely enjoyable experience for me.
2. You are more at risk for postpartum anxiety and/or depression.
Many moms suffer from postpartum anxiety and depression. Moms who have children who have died previously are even more at risk. For me personally, I have experienced postpartum anxiety with both children. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings during your postpartum period with your rainbow baby.
I had several people tell me while I was pregnant with Avery, "We're so glad you're pregnant because now you'll have a baby again." They assumed that once I had a baby again, life would go back to normal and I could enjoy the baby peacefully. Honestly, I thought it might feel the same way. I could envision my healthy baby, sleeping in the room with us, and then going home with us to her perfect nursery. This was obviously not always the case. I quickly realized that I was triggered by certain experiences with my new child, and that I needed to be aware of my mental health during this time. Try to remember to do some self-care activities after your rainbow baby is born. These could include taking a walk, visiting with a friend, or even just enjoying your favorite snack while your partner holds the baby. Take care of you so that you can also take care of your sweet new baby.
3. Having a rainbow baby is not as easy as it seems.
I've had two planned c-sections, so I knew when and what time my babies would be coming fairly well in advance. The day before I had Avery, I could barely contain my excitement. I knew she was healthy, and would come home with us right after delivery. I thought feeding her would go easily, and Jordan and I would be riding unicorns off into the sunset. Not really, but you get the picture.
It was totally not that experience. When I got to the hospital, they put in my IV's, and the anesthesiologist came in to have me sign paperwork. I promptly told her that there was no way I was having this baby today, and that Avery would not be making an appearance. I cried all the way back to the O.R. Jordan took a video of Avery's birth, and I ask "Is she alive" "Is she OK" approximately 72 times during that video. These things help me to know that having a rainbow baby is HARD. You will be terrified. All of the memories of your first child will come back to you. That is okay.
4. You will compare your rainbow baby to your child that has passed.
This is going to sound horrible, but as soon as Avery was born, I wanted to peek at her little face to see if she and Colton looked similar. I thought that I might get a glimpse of my little boy who died, but she was her own person. Looking back, I'm so glad that she was, and was not similar to him. Have you ever heard the quote...
"Comparison is the thief of joy"
Well it's the truest thing I've ever heard. Seriously. Read it, memorize it, make it your mantra if you're having a rainbow baby. One of my friends, who is a nurse at our pediatrician's office, helped me the most. I was venting to her about how hard Avery was: She only slept for 2 hours on someone, she wanted to eat every 45 minutes; and that Colton was such an easy baby. She told me that all kids are different, and that Avery might just have a temperament that will be happier when she is able to be more independent. You guys, she was completely right! If you're about to have a rainbow baby, or have one already; find someone you can vent to. It's okay to compare your rainbow baby and your child who died, but try to remember that they're their own, very special, person.
5. You will balance joy with your rainbow baby and remember your child who died.
Some people think that when you have a rainbow baby, it will be a replacement for the child who died. This could not be further from the truth. You will remember all of the moments with your child who died, see their little features, think of their ultrasound photos. You will also feel immense joy making new memories with your rainbow baby. There will also be times that it's a mix of feelings and experiences. For me, I feel so proud of each of Avery's milestones, but there's a tiny pang of sadness that Colton will never do the things that she is able to do. Be easy on yourself, and don't feel guilty thinking of both children. That's what moms do best. They keep all of their children in mind; it's just harder when one is not here on Earth.
Sending all of my love to you moms that have a hole in their heart where a child's memory lives. I'm thinking of you during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, and always.