I am connected with many in the baby/child loss community, and in the last few months I've noticed a huge uptick in rainbow baby announcements. For those who don't know, a rainbow baby is a child who is born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant/child loss -- the rainbow after the storm. Two of my children are rainbow babies -- my daughter Annabel was born after the death of my 17-month old daughter Madeline, and my son James came after a miscarriage -- so I have gone down this road twice before.
Dear Rainbow Mom,
Congratulations on your baby! I know how hard it was to announce this baby, the complicated mix of jubilation and guilt. You want to be excited about this new life, but you want to be respectful toward the life who is no longer here. This is the tightrope you'll walk down for the rest of your life, but it will get easier.
It's OK to be afraid. It's OK to take it day-to-day. It's even OK if you're not excited. You've learned, in the worst possible way, that nothing in life is guaranteed. But it's also OK to have hope, and make plans. Yes, the baby deserves that, but so do you.
A baby after loss is scary. There's no such thing as a normal pregnancy pain after you've miscarried, no such thing as a normal sneeze after your baby has died. Be kind to yourself. Accept help when it is offered, and ask for it when you need it, even if it seems outlandish. For me, that meant asking someone to sit awake with the baby while I slept, because I couldn't physically rest unless I knew someone else was awake. I knew it was silly, but I literally couldn't relax without someone else's eyes on my child.
Even the practical things are complicated. Will you be able to handle giving your new baby items from your deceased child? Even if that child never had the chance to use them? You'll resent that you don't get to look at these things as normal hand-me-downs instead of the few cherished possessions your child left behind -- yet another reminder of how unfair life is.
There will, of course, be people who assume that with the arrival of a new baby, you are "better." They won't get why you're "still sad." There will be others who think you're a terrible person for daring to go forward with your life, as if having another baby means you're replacing the one who is gone. These people will never understand. Aren't they lucky? Ignore them.
The day Annabel was born was one of the best days of my life. The day we brought her home was one of the hardest. My emotions, fueled by postpartum hormones, were all over the place, and I was completely unprepared. I sobbed onto the top of her tiny head a lot. My heart was swelling and breaking simultaneously, and it overwhelmed me. I urge you to have a support system in place. Be it a doctor, therapist, grief group, friend, or another Rainbow Mom, make sure you have a net in advance, because then they will catch you before you even realize you're falling.
In the last six and a half years, I've learned that life can still be good (even great) after unthinkable loss. There was a time when I would have been horrified to even type that sentence, but now I can write it knowing it's true, although I'm still working through the associated guilt.
Every day, you will be able to breathe a little bit deeper. Every day, you'll love your babies -- all of them -- just a little bit more, until one day, that love overtakes the pain.
Congratulations on your beautiful rainbow.
This post originally appeared on The Spohrs Are Multiplying.