I was reading through my Facebook feed the other day and some article popped up about “rainbow babies”. I had heard the term before. But I didn’t look much into it because I thought it had to do with the death of a baby. Much like when people refer to their pets after having passed away, as crossing the rainbow bridge, I thought that rainbow babies were that. Gone on over the rainbow or something. I was very wrong.
A “Rainbow baby” is a baby that comes after a mother has suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth, or other pregnancy/infant related loss. It is a symbolic term referencing the rainbow after a storm. The storm of loss, and the rainbow of the new baby.
This really got me thinking. The definition of other pregnancy/infant related loss is pretty general, and I believe that’s intentional. I have had two previous miscarriages but they were so long ago, I don’t consider my proverbial skies to be stormy anymore, and wouldn’t consider my current baby as the rainbow to that. But she is still my rainbow baby, even though my storm is very unlike most of the moms who use the term.
I am a birthmother. 15 years ago, I gave birth to a little baby girl. I went into labor on Christmas and the day after, delivered. I gave her a name. I was in the hospital for less than 48 hours, and signed the relinquishment papers that day I was discharged. (By law, the contract was irrevocable 48 hours after I signed, as witnessed by a notary.)
I was in a violent relationship. I had to get her away from him, and ultimately to save myself, I had to save her first. I don’t regret it, and I hesitate to talk about it because I don’t like the validation that people feel obligated to give. “You did the right thing.” They would have said the same thing had I gotten an abortion, also. People feel like they have to say something supportive, but you know, I’m not looking for that. So I don’t talk about it.
But the loss was significant, even though I don’t have active regrets about my decision. I do feel regrets that I was in the position to have to make that decision. I feel angry at the universe or the cosmos, or whatever. The loss was the biggest change of the direction of my life. It affected me more than miscarrying. The first time I miscarried, I didn’t know I was pregnant until after I lost it. The second time, I was about 4 months along when I lost. That was awful – it resulted in having to have a D & C, because my body wouldn’t naturally pass it. However, carrying around a baby for nine months and giving birth to her, and the circumstances of that birth – unless you’ve been there, you cannot know the loss. It is not the same as stillbirth. But it is a great profound loss.
The OB doctor that I had was one of those rumored ones who doesn’t want to be delivering in the middle of the night, and so wants to schedule C-sections. I was adamantly against that because I knew that I would not be in the best place for recovering after major surgery. (After birth, I lived in my van for almost two years.) He was, quite frankly, an asshole. They tried to induce my labor ten days before I actually went into labor. For no reason. The Pitocin wouldn’t take and by morning. I hadn’t dilated, my cervix wasn’t thinning, and I was having no contractions. I knew my baby wasn’t ready, but there was the doc ready to break my water. I literally stopped him as he was inches from inserting the tool into me. He was so pissed off. Stormed out of the room. Jerk. I knew I had precious little time with my baby, and she wasn’t in danger – she wasn’t ready. I knew she would come when she was ready. Ten days later, she did.
They still put me on Pitocin to hurry up my labor, which resulted in making it longer. As studies show, all animals, including humans, will actually start to reverse the labor and birthing process if they feel they are in danger. Which is what happened to me. They wanted to cut me open so bad, but I wouldn’t let them. Only one nurse fought for me. She came in every 30 minutes for my entire 20 1/2 hour labor, and turned me from side to side to keep my labor going. Slowly, slowly, I progressed. My epidural wore out. It wasn’t the same back then as it is now, either. Amazing what 15 years does. I was numb from the waist down, but could feel the contractions coming again, and because of the Pitocin, they were much stronger and intense than they would have naturally been. They caused me to be nauseas and throw up a lot. Which made my throat dry, and caused me to throw up more because of the tickle in my throat.
My ex-boyfriend, who was in the best of times emotionally unstable, was very upset by my being in so much pain and threatened the doctor physically, and had to be removed from the room. The very thing I asked not to happen because he was the only one I knew and didn’t feel safe by myself. He threatened to beat up the doctor if they didn’t give me another epidural. Well, they complied instead of cutting me open, so there’s that.
The adoptive parents were there. They actually were able to jump on a flight leaving their hometown pretty immediately and flew across the country to where I was. They got there in the last couple hours. They were both doctors and were amazing support to me. Which annoyed my OB. The adoptive father held up a dish for me to throw up in and let me sip on water to clear my throat, so I could puke again. He watched the monitors and told me every time a contraction was coming, so I could brace myself. The adoptive mother was on my right side, and helping to hold me up, wetting my head with a wash cloth. When it came time to push, she held my leg up, because I couldn’t do it myself.
It was important to me that they were there. It was important to me to see the images of them seeing their daughter be born. Because, I was, after all, giving birth to their child. She was my baby. Always, she will be my baby. But never my child. She was their child. I needed to see them look lovingly at her, holding her at hours old. I needed to instill those images, seared in my memory, to be able to cope with the loss later. I needed to remember seeing them love her. I couldn’t go on otherwise.
Signing the papers was a shit show. My ex ranted and raved and yelled for hours at the social worker. Honestly- three or four hours. Like it mattered. Like he was the one who was recovering from birth. I held my precious newborn baby. I looked upon her as she slept and tears slid down my post-partum cheeks. I signed the papers, and I honestly barely remember anything else. I don’t need to remember that, either.
From there, we went to the hotel where the adoptive parents were. They invited me over for dinner – pizza – and gave me a few gifts they had picked up. I also had gifts. A pretty new-mother necklace for the mom and a #1 Dad hat for the father. We stayed for several hours, and we didn’t want to go. Why couldn’t they just adopt me, too? Just because I was technically an adult didn’t mean I felt that way and didn’t need a mom and a dad right at that very moment. The mother and I held each other and both cried. She cried for me. I cried for her crying for me. I knew they would love her. But I was losing. I was the loser. I walked out of their room with my newborn. 48 hours or so old. I placed my baby in the arms of her new mother. I turned around and walked away.
Whew. Had to take a break from typing for a minute. Can’t see through the tears, you know.
My milk came in around three days later. My huge swollen breasts, leaking droplets of milk, craving a baby to nurse them. My breasts grew bigger than my head, and wouldn’t fit in my shirts. I was bound to being inside for a few days, and was so painful. No baby would be there to relieve it. Nothing to do but take the bad advice that was given and bind them tight until the milk goes away. Until my body “gets it” that it can stop with the hormones, for no baby would be there to nourish.
My arms ached, they felt heavy, they wanted to hold my baby. I lay in that bed and tried so hard to remember, how heavy was she? How did it feel when she was in my arms? How did I cradle her head? Why did I not spend more time thinking about holding her? Why did my arms ache like I lifted weights – when there’s nothing in my arms? My arms ached with the emptiness. And so all I could do was roll over, and lie on my belly where there was no baby, and cry. All of a sudden, there was nothing. No baby, no pregnancy, no people fawning over my condition, no social workers asking me how I felt, no family around me, I had nothing, but the dull ache in my empty arms.
And life sucked after that for a very long time.
I receded away from society. We bought a used VW van and lived in it, travelling through states and living in campgrounds within the national forests of our country – because it’s free. Eating from church pantries and soup kitchens. I couldn’t go back to normal after that. Everywhere I looked there were babies and happy families. I couldn’t go get a job. I had no real skills, so would go work fast food. How am I supposed to ring up some kid’s happy meal without bursting into tears, wondering if my daughter would like a happy meal?
For years, Christmases have sucked – or been marginally okay – for me. Every year, I send her books that had been read to me when I was a child. Classics and favorites. Lovingly chosen, time taken to consider each title. Every year, I wonder what they’re doing. What kind of birthday cake they are having, what presents she is getting, and if she likes my books. Does she think it’s stupid? Wish I gave her something different?
It wasn’t until I met my husband almost five years ago that things started to shift for me, because it meant no more going solo in the world, I would have a partner and you know, who knows. Maybe another family. I hardly dared to dream it, and at one point wondered if I would have other kids. 15 years is a very long time to wait. I didn’t want to dream it, only to have it not turn into reality. Like a jinx or something.
My husband and I knew immediately that we wanted a family. He is very close with his family, and I haven’t been with mine as much, and we wanted to create a family home style all our own. We both waited long enough in life – in our 30s by the time we were ready. I had an app on my phone to track ovulation, and funny enough, September 11, was “the day” of conception. I didn’t think it was going to work the first shot, but you know, I knew when we were finished that that was it. I had conceived. I knew there would be a baby after that. And I was right.
We relocated 850 miles away a couple weeks later, and four days after moving, I found out I was pregnant again. I scheduled an appointment with a new doctor.
“When was the date of your last menstrual period?”
“Is this your first pregnancy?”
“How many times have you been pregnant before?”
“Uh, three times. Two miscarriages and I placed the third for adoption. This will make my fourth pregnancy.”
(I had switched doctors in the middle of this pregnancy. One of the doctors actually responded to the above statement with, “Oh, that sucks!” Took a heavy tooth to bite my tongue that day.)
I was able to have a newer blood test done that takes the place of amniocenteses. It can tell if there are any diseases or abnormalities, and can also tell you the sex of your baby LONG before waiting to the 20 week ultrasound. At 12 weeks along, I got the phone call.
“The test results came back and everything looks great! You should enjoy a healthy pregnancy, your baby looks like it’s doing fine.”
“Did you want to know the sex of your baby?”
“Yes,” I said, choking through my sobs.
“Girl, you about to make me cry,” says the nurse. “Aren’t you happy?”
“You don’t know how happy. You can’t even imagine. I can’t even explain it. I’m so much more than that.”
“All right, well, you are going to have a girl.”
And I lost it. Rivers of tears. Could it be? Could I really be so blessed to get another girl? I lost my first girl. 15 years have gone by before I could even bring myself to allow myself to become pregnant. And all I wanted was my baby girl. Is it true? Is this my baby girl again?
And it was. I couldn’t hardly control myself, the emotion just took over. Tears for my first baby, who to date, I still haven’t met. I am waiting until they all decide she is old enough and it’s appropriate. I cried tears for the loss. Tears for the renewed sense of grief and loss and anger at the universe and God. But then tears that God would look down on me and say, “Here you go, girl. Try again.”
Here is my baby. My baby that I get to keep. And until just last week, I didn’t realize. She is my rainbow baby. No wonder I feel and treat her the way I do. She is my rainbow after a 15 year storm. And I can’t tell you how that feels. It just is. But it feels good to sort of put a label on it to help explain the anxieties and the attachment and other things that people have told me isn’t normal. It all makes sense. And the rainbows do help you heal after the storms. They really do.
I feel like being able to identify her as my rainbow baby helps give me some closure that I didn’t have on the issue before. She doesn’t replace the other, by any means. But having the blessed opportunity to be her mother and to try again with my sweet girl is more priceless than anything else in the world.