A rainbow is a beautiful arc of color after a storm. Though they have many meanings, the light display most notably represents joy and a fresh start. A rainbow baby is a healthy child born to parents after the loss of a baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or SIDS. While not new, the term "rainbow baby" is seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to social media advocacy and support. The term represents a way for mothers who have experienced loss to bond in a time of joy rather than sadness.
Often, mothers who have experienced the loss of a child and then go on to have another experience an array of emotions. Some people call rainbow babies "miracle babies," due to the impact the child has in the wake of a loss. In addition to great joy and sadness, the birth of a new child can bring about feelings of guilt and anxiety. These conflicting emotions are entirely normal, but as with many neonatal and anti-natal situations, they may be difficult to discuss openly and come with many stigmas.
Having a successful pregnancy after one or multiple infant losses can bring about plenty of psychological trauma. Mothers may experience complex guilt over the happiness they feel about bringing a healthy pregnancy to term after a miscarriage -- as though they are betraying the first baby. It is vastly important to allow yourself to feel through all of these emotions and to be open to your partner's support and other support systems.
Psychological effects like those mentioned previously can increase a new mother's risk of postpartum depression. This is another common factor of post-pregnancy life about which society does not speak as often as it should. As with many anxieties and post-traumatic disorders, recognizing the early effects and feelings of PPD can prompt mothers to seek guidance from mental health professionals. The right counselor can guide mothers through the most difficult times of the pregnancy and after the birth.
While "normal" is subjective, it is safe to say anxiety during any pregnancy, and perhaps especially one following a loss, is very common and understandable. For mothers carrying a rainbow baby, the usual anxiety can be compounded by the knowledge that a loss occurred before; the fear that it could happen again is all too real. Mothers (and partners, who may also feel this anxiety) can seek the help of a medical proefssional or other support system to ease or manage these emotions.
Tests are not always foolproof, but some can help expectant families monitor their latest pregnancy. Couples can inform their OBGYN of their fears and find out what is available. Monitoring will not only increase the chances of doctors catching any potential issues early -- thus increasing the likelihood of a full-term pregnancy -- but it will also ease the anxiety inherent in uncertainty.
Kick counting is a simple, home-based option for monitoring a pregnancy at home. Counting a baby's kicks enables a pregnant mother to note her baby's continuing health, and identify any potential problems. During the third trimester, start counting the kicks at the same time every day. A change in kick rate during this period might be the first sign your baby is in distress. It is important to remember that every pregnancy is different and a day of more or fewer kicks does not necessarily indicate a problem.
Some parents of rainbow babies feel guilt and anxiety at the idea that they will forget the child they lost once a new baby comes into their lives, but as many parents can confirm, this is not the case. There are plenty of family activities new parents can do both before and after the rainbow pregnancy to keep the memory of the one that passed alive. Many parents choose to tell their rainbow baby about their big brother or sister. Talking about the child can help with the healing process.
As well as sharing the most treasured memories of a baby they lost, parents can undertake actions or ceremonies that keep thoughts of the child present. Some choose to plant a tree in the baby's memory or celebrate them on the day they would have been or were born. These methods can help families heal. However, every experience with loss is different, and choosing to undertake only quiet, occasional remembrance of a lost baby is just as legitimate a method of recovery as celebration.
Some parents wonder -- and may worry -- about the differences between parenting a rainbow baby versus one born without loss. Although every parent experiences rainbow pregnancy differently, in many cases a rainbow baby can feel like an even greater blessing. This is not to say that the rainbow baby is more special than the child lost. This can lead to more extreme feelings in the early days or weeks with a new, rainbow baby, but inevitably, sleepless nights and dirty diapers will quickly remind overwhelmed parents that life will return to normal.
It is only in recent years that social media and other advocacy have begun giving a real voice to people who have experienced miscarriages and other infant loss. This is isolating, as mothers and fathers feel like no one understands their loss and their feelings are not valid or normal. Luckily, today there are many groups and communities around the world for families who have lost a child, or specifically for those with a rainbow baby. It is essential for parents to realize they are not alone in their pain or recovery.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.