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A rainbow baby is born after pregnancy or infant loss. The meaning of the term rainbow baby symbolizes the rainbow after the storm. For many, the baby brings longed-for joy after the storm of loss.
Parents have conflicting feelings about the term “rainbow baby.” Many parents love the symbolism of a rainbow because they feel like it honors their fertility journey and the babies they lost.
Other parents don’t resonate with the phrase rainbow baby because they don’t want to focus on past losses; they want to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on future children; or they just don’t jibe with the symbolism.
Wherever you stand on the subject, it’s okay. Your feelings are valid. We’re here to teach you more about what it means to have a rainbow baby. Then, it’s up to you whether you choose to use the phrase.
Rainbow Baby Meaning: Symbolism
The rainbow is a beautiful symbol from nature.
A rainbow can only appear after rain, when the sun is beginning to shine. This symbolism recognizes the turmoil of difficult fertility journeys. In the case of a rainbow baby, it honors children born after miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death.
The grief of pregnancy loss and infant loss are all-consuming, and it can be healing for parents to imagine the beauty and joy that can accompany the eventual birth of a healthy baby.
In addition to the natural symbol of the rainbow, the idea of a rainbow baby is also directly connected with the notion of hope–something many parents cling to during their experiences of grief and loss.
Even after the worst storm, sunshine will return, and a rainbow may bring beauty that would never have existed without the storm.
Unexpected Emotions of a Rainbow Baby Pregnancy
What most surprised me when I had my rainbow baby after losing 4 pregnancies was the intense ambivalence I experienced.
The mixed emotions of pregnancy after loss often take parents by surprise. They expect to feel joyful about a miracle baby, but instead, they experience emotions like grief, anxiety, and guilt, confusingly mixed with gratitude and joy.
If you’re experiencing this intense mixture of joy and sadness, excitement and fear, please know that you’re not alone. There are many emotions that come up during pregnancy after loss. Despite the words we’re talking about here–the experience is not all sunshine and rainbows.
Loss is a traumatic experience, and while people often expect us to be overjoyed at the prospect of a rainbow baby, the reality is that we cannot separate ourselves from our past experiences.
When the outcome you know for pregnancy is loss, it’s hard to expect anything different. That’s common.
Pregnancy After Loss (PAL) Support
Your feelings are valid, friend, and you deserve support during this time. Even as people around you joyfully ask, “Aren’t you so excited?” and assume you’re feeling nothing but hope, you deserve to be cared for during your rainbow pregnancy.
Here are just a few resources to help you through your pregnancy after loss journey:
- Support Groups for pregnancy after loss can be so helpful. You can find online support groups through The Miscarriage Doula and Your Pregnancy Haven.
- Mental health therapy with a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist. Parents in the US and Canada can find qualified professionals who specialize in perinatal mental health using the Find a Provider tool through Postpartum Support International.
- Journaling either on your own, or using a trusted resource. We recommend Pregnancy After Loss: A Day-by-Day Plan to Reassure and Comfort You by Zoë Clark-Coates.
- Social Media: There is an incredible online community supporting parents through pregnancy after loss. An amazing place to start is at @PregnancyAfterLossSupport. And of course, follow us on Instagram @undefiningmotherhood.
- Pregnancy After Loss Support App: The only pregnancy app that recognizes your journey, acknowledges difficult milestones, and supports you through your PAL journey.
- YouTube: Subscribe to the Undefining Motherhood YouTube channel, where you’ll find videos on pregnancy after miscarriage, how to deal with anxiety during pregnancy, announcing pregnancy after miscarriage, rainbow pregnancy announcements, and more.
- Blogs: Read about my mixed emotions toward the term rainbow baby and check out Hannah’s letter to her dear rainbow baby.
- Participate in National Rainbow Baby Day and be surrounded by other families sharing your experience
Celebrating Rainbow Babies and Honoring Past Losses
One thing I love about the notion of a rainbow baby is that it allows you to honor your past losses even as you celebrate a new beginning.
The guilt of a rainbow baby can be surprising and overwhelming. But by acknowledging your little love as a rainbow baby, you’re inherently remembering your angel baby, as well.
Many parents struggle with rainbow baby announcements, and here are a few different reasons why.
- We’re scared. What if something goes wrong again?
- We feel guilty. Are we moving too quickly past the babies we’ve lost by getting excited about a new baby?
- We’re worried about how others will respond. Are we ready for people to be excited and hopeful?
The first thing we need to do is understand that our concerns are valid, and then work through them to determine how best to announce our own rainbow pregnancies, if we choose to do announcements at all.
Hesitation 1: We’re Scared
Feeling anxious or worried during pregnancy after loss is not only normal–it’s also very understandable.
When you’ve experienced a bad outcome before, why wouldn’t you worry that it could happen again? If this is you, please know that you’re not alone. I felt like this, and I know many other parents who did, too.
Loss moms often feel like they’re doing something wrong by not enjoying later pregnancies enough. But your feelings are completely understandable. For support, check out our YouTube videos on coping with pregnancy after loss and dealing with pregnancy anxiety.
Now here’s what I want you to think about when you feel afraid to announce your rainbow pregnancy:
If something went wrong, who would you tell?
Sometimes announcing to the whole world doesn’t feel comfortable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell anyone about your new pregnancy.
If you would confide in someone about loss, then why not go ahead and include them in your pregnancy news if you want to share with someone? I find it comforting to know there are people in my corner no matter what happens.
Hesitation 2: We Feel Guilty
I struggled with guilt so much when I was pregnant with my son after 4 miscarriages.
- I felt guilty that he was still here and my other babies weren’t.
- I felt guilty that I was finally experiencing what so many other infertility and loss moms were still longing for.
- I felt guilty that I didn’t enjoy it enough.
- I felt guilty that my pregnancy announcement could be hurtful or triggering to others.
But here’s what I want you to know, mama, and I beg of you, please hear me on this:
You deserve to enjoy this experience.
That’s one reason I encourage you to announce, whether to one or two close friends, or to your entire social media network.
Yes, you may feel afraid. You may feel guilty. But no matter how you feel, you deserve to enjoy this process, and I’d like to encourage you to give yourself permission to enjoy it as much as possible, no matter how scary.
You’ve gone through a lot to get to this point, but your understanding of pain should not deprive you of joy. You deserve joy. Try to let some in.
Hesitation 3: We’re Worried About How Others Will Respond
I hear this from loss moms all the time, and I understand it all too well. If you’re still feeling anxious about your pregnancy–and I’ll remind you, it’s okay if you are–then you may worry about dealing with other people’s emotions in response to your announcement.
For me, the issue was that I wasn’t ready to feel excited. While I wanted to try to enjoy my pregnancy as much as possible, I wasn’t at all ready to say, “I’m having a baby!” Because what if I didn’t get to bring my baby home?
But you can share your news and still protect your heart, I promise.
Here’s what you do. Decide what reaction you want to get from others, and then preface your news in a way that should automatically lead them to react appropriately. Here’s an example.
I wanted others to understand how afraid I was and support me through that experience. So when I told the people closest to me about my pregnancy, I said, “I want to tell you something, but before I do, I need you to understand that I’m feeling really emotional about this. It’s hard and scary, and I’d really appreciate your support as I grapple with it all.”
Then, when I told people the news, they understood that it was exciting, but I wasn’t ready for jumping-up-and-down-squeals.
That’s right–there is a National Rainbow Baby Day.
In 2018, a website called “What the Fertility” launched the first-ever National Rainbow Baby Day. Since then, it has become an annual holiday among the infertility community. It takes place every year on August 22, and it’s an amazing time to share your story and/or feel supported by reading about other people’s experiences online.
Rainbow Baby FAQ
A rainbow baby is born after the parents experience pregnancy or infant loss, including all types of miscarriage, no matter how early.
Any baby born after the parents experienced loss can be considered a rainbow baby. This can include babies born after chemical pregnancy, blighted ovum, missed miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, termination for medical reasons (TFMR), stillbirth, and more.
We believe all babies are special, but rainbow babies certainly play a special role in their parents tumultuous fertility stories.
National Rainbow Baby Day takes place on August 22 of each year.
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Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.