The world of parenting has its own language. Over the years, some of this vocabulary has gained wider currency, like the term “rainbow baby,” which refers to a child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death or other early loss of a child.
There’s another related term that hasn’t reached the mainstream yet: “sunshine baby.”
A sunshine baby is one who was born before a miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death or other early loss of a child. Just as a rainbow baby represents the hope after a storm, a sunshine baby represents the calm before. The child lost is often referred to as an “angel baby.”
After losing her angel baby, Angelique Zachara turned to crafting to find healing, celebrate her sunshine baby and nurture her hope for a rainbow baby.
For Zachara, a sunshine baby also represents hope. “You were able to conceive one child successfully,” she told HuffPost. “Even though that often gets brought up when going through a miscarriage, and that’s not really what you want to hear, truthfully we are lucky enough to have one, whereas some people were never given that chance or had that taken away from them.”
“Most women who encounter loss believe they are flawed or broke,” said Rachael DuVall, a follower of the Facebook page Miscarriage Mamas. “We internalize and blame ourselves for our miscarriages, so sunshine babies give the hope that it is possible and there is nothing wrong with mom and dad, it was just something that happened.”
Jessica Zucker, a clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health, has researched the ways that loss affects family dynamics. She told HuffPost the idea of a sunshine baby can have different meanings for different families.
“Depending on the circumstances of the subsequent loss, mothers might look back at the naiveté they were able to relish with the ‘sunshine baby.’ This child might come to represent a period of relative calm or, at the very least, a grief-free period of parenting,” she explained.
This sentiment resonates with Zucker herself, whose second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 16 weeks.
“Sometimes I find myself reminiscing about who I was as a woman and a mother prior to my pregnancy loss and the maze of grief I navigated afterward,” she said. “Included in those daydreams are all the moments with my ‘sunshine baby,’ my son, who came into the world after a very smooth and peaceful pregnancy. He entered a home not tinged with remnants of mourning.”
Zucker believes that using symbols like “sunshine” and “rainbow” helps us talk about loss and hope.
“I find the terms important in that they acknowledge the complexity of pregnancy and infant loss and the pregnancies that follow,” she said. “Losing a wanted pregnancy invariably impacts the way we feel about the children we have underfoot and/or those we hold in our hearts. I think as a culture it behooves us to recognize just how challenging these losses can be for women and families, and these terms help ground us in that.”
But Misty Hernandez, a moderator for Miscarriage Mamas, doesn’t particularly like the term sunshine baby.
“I honestly don’t think it is a positive thing,” she told HuffPost. “The term ‘sunshine’ is taken away from any parent whose first pregnancy resulted in a loss. Some women may mourn the loss of their sunshine even more once they realize that they will never, ever experience one.”
Still, she embraces the term rainbow baby. “After every storm there is a rainbow, and rainbows bring an unimaginable amount of joy to you and even a sense of peace knowing that you have a beautiful, precious little baby,” Hernandez said.