I first heard the term “rainbow baby” after losing my daughter, Nelle. She was stillborn at 21 weeks of pregnancy on September 4th, 2015. I read an article accompanied by a beautiful photograph of pregnant women dressed in the colors of the rainbow. A rainbow baby is a baby born after loss.
We had no answers as to why we lost Nelle. She was my third child, after two healthy, uneventful pregnancies with my sons. Without any known cause, the doctors told me it was likely a “fluke” and no reason we could not try again right away. I became pregnant shortly thereafter. For Christmas that year, my parents and sister visited. As a means of revelation, my two boys were dressed in t-shirts that said “1 of 3” and “2 of 3.” I was so emotional that it was a way to share our news without saying the words out loud. I carefully planned the announcement on social media for a few days later: a photo of a rainbow with the words “After a storm, there is a rainbow. Our Rainbow Baby is due July 28, 2016.” We were flooded with well wishes and congratulations.
I was terrified going into another pregnancy and my anxiety could not be controlled. At my routine 16-week appointment, I insisted on an ultrasound, even though a Doppler check of the heartbeat should have been sufficient. The OB/GYN asked if I had any reason to be concerned, and I said no, but I would feel more comfortable with an ultrasound. He obligingly wheeled in the machine.
He looked. And then the unthinkable words came out of his mouth: “I don’t know how to tell you this… but I don’t see anything.” No heartbeat. I began screaming and crying.
This. Is why I hate the term Rainbow Baby. It is such a commonly used phrase in the pregnancy loss community. We had already chosen the name Iris. Iris is the Greek word for “rainbow” – that’s how strongly connected I felt to the term “rainbow baby.” Before I lost her.
Again, we had no answers. No reason why we lost a second baby. Iris was born on February 13, 2016. I went through Labor and Delivery, twice, without bringing a baby home. Twice we had to go to a funeral home to pick up the ashes of our daughters. A third attempt at a third child felt like a game of Russian roulette. It was agony to decide whether or not we could handle another potential loss. On the advice of doctors, we waited: to give my body time to rest and heal. Mentally, it was also probably good for me.
I did become pregnant again. I could barely allow myself to see my due date and picture bringing a baby home. I went to a group through the local hospital, a chapter of the national SHARE program for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support. The meetings I attended were specifically for pregnancy after loss. I could hear the shrillness in my own voice as I described losing two babies, with no known reason. I felt like the cautionary tale within the group: that sometimes you do not bring home your Rainbow Baby either.
But we did bring our baby home. On August 8, 2017, Autumn Nadine was born perfect and healthy. Nadine is a French word for “hope,” though I rarely felt hope throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Even during my last appointment, five days before my scheduled c-section date, and far past the point when I had lost my two other girls, I still did not believe that we would bring a baby home. Not until I heard that first cry in the operating room. I had cried thousands of tears over the nearly two years previous, and in that moment I cried again when I heard my baby cry.
Parenting after loss is hard. I’ve had to accept that some people see Autumn as a “replacement” baby – as if one child could be exchanged for another. I still cringe every time someone asks me “how many children do you have?” and I stumble over my answer, never quite responding the way that I would like. I have had to accept the term “rainbow baby” because those are the words understood by the baby loss community. In my head though I always think: Iris was my rainbow baby, and we lost her too. Sometimes rainbow baby pregnancies don’t go as planned either.
Guest Author Bio:
Anna Burgess Yang writes to bring awareness to how pregnancy loss continues to permeate everyday life. Loss is part of her identity, but does not solely define her. She lives in a suburb of Chicago and writes at www.grievingoutloud.com.