A “rainbow baby” refers to the first child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. The origins of the term are supposedly biblical (God tells Noah that after the storm, a rainbow will appear) and the metaphor is that the new baby is a light at the end of the storm that is their mother’s grief. Rainbow babies, more than anything else, represent a bittersweet kind of hope.
The term “rainbow baby” has been around for a decade or so (it’s traceable back to 2008, when it started appearing on mommy blogs for the first time). You’ve probably seen a friend of posting about their rainbow babies, or coverage of some of the more elaborate tributes covered on the news. In order to process the mixed feelings that come with welcoming a new child so shortly after experiencing the loss of another, some moms will use the rainbow motif to create something (a photo, piece of art, etc.) to pay homage to her children – those who are with her, and those who aren’t.
Miscarriage is the most common type of pregnancy loss. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates that anywhere between 10%-25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, with chemical pregnancies accounting for up to 75% of them. (Chemical pregnancies are when a woman conceives but then miscarries before the pregnancy can show up on a scan or, sometimes, a test.) This is why many moms opt to wait until they are at least out of their first trimester to share the news that they are expecting: it’s less common to have a miscarriage when you’re farther along.
“But the truth is, the ten or twenty minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is no adventure I would trade them for; there is no place I would rather have seen.” — Ariel Levy
The main sentiment in having a rainbow baby is that the new life represents hope, and another chance to have the family that the mother always wanted. However, the lesser discussed aspect of rainbow babies is that it can also be a very emotionally challenging time for moms. While they’re thrilled to be pregnant again, it’s common to experience feelings of guilt, remorse and fear that something could happen to the new baby, too.
Bailey Gaddis, a hypnotherapist that works with moms preparing to give birth, shared a story about one of her clients who was getting ready to deliver her first rainbow baby:
“Her journey to a new pregnancy slammed her into a wall of fear and guilt. She felt that she had betrayed her daughter by so adamantly seeking a new life, by taking energy away from grieving to focus on creating another baby; and then she felt guilt towards her growing baby because she didn’t feel she was nurturing him in the way that he deserved. She was so afraid he would die. This is when I stepped into her journey, and I’ll never be the same for it.”
This story in particular ends with the mother delivering a healthy baby boy, and the whole family “humming with the miracle of life,” but that isn’t to say that it isn’t a hard thing to go through. In fact, just knowing that you should be happy can intensify the negative feelings, and making them seem even more pronounced because they are being repressed.
Though not all moms believe this, some even feel that the rainbow baby is the soul of the baby who passed, just choosing to incarnate into a healthier, possibly more viable, body. In Shining Light Prenatal, Deena Blumenfeld said:
“I believe that our babies choose us to be their parents. The baby chooses their time and method of conception, the length of their pregnancy and the time and method of their birth. It is up to us as their parents to listen to their needs and assist them on their journey. If a baby leaves us sooner than we’d like, as in miscarriage or stillbirth, it is tragic and life changing for us. However, it was not something within our control. I believe that soul will choose us again, when the time is right to be born and to live and thrive.”
Regardless of how the mother chooses to process the eclipsing of grief and hope, having a rainbow baby is one of the most precious and miraculous experiences that a parent can go through after such unimaginable loss.