Teresa Mendoza knows the joy of welcoming a new baby after a tragic loss.
In August 2016, her daughter, Sylvia Paloma, was born without a heartbeat at 40 weeks. “The entire pregnancy had been medically perfect,” she told HuffPost. “I exercised, ate right, worked full time as an RN, had healthy relationships, managed stress ... her death is a mystery. She was born with a full head of hair, many of her father’s features and my chin. She was absolutely perfect.”
Mendoza found hope in October when she welcomed a healthy baby boy named Leo. Still, she struggled with the term “rainbow baby” as a descriptor for her son. A week after his birth, she wrote about her conflicting emotions in a powerful Instagram post.
“A rainbow baby is a child born after miscarriages, still birth or an infant or child’s death. It signifies the rainbow that comes after a storm,” the mom wrote in the caption. “For a long time I rejected the title, feeling protective of Sylvia and hurt by the idea that anything surrounding her was a storm. She is perfect, not a storm, we are heartbroken, but she is not a storm, it was a great tragedy, yes, but she is not a storm.”
Mendoza added that her husband helped her change her perspective on the term and embrace it as a description of her family.
“Somewhere along the pregnancy with Leo, Carlos told me that his interpretation equates to both Sylvia and Leo as rainbows that were shining above the storm and that the storm had nothing to do with Sylvia except to bring the rainbow of her and now her brother into our lives,” she wrote. “She is the rainbow as much as he is ... and the two rainbows that showed up in this photo make me think he’s absolutely right.”
Mendoza’s post received more than 400 likes. The mom was happy to see her words resonate with others, as many parents responded saying they felt the same way. She told HuffPost this was a “relief.”
“I felt like I needed to share my own personal conflicting emotions and thoughts regarding the term ‘rainbow baby’ because mine seemed to be different than a lot of other people’s,” she explained. “I saw so many people embracing a term that I wasn’t sure how I felt about for a long time. My hesitation with it made me feel like my emotions were ‘wrong’ or I wasn’t hopeful, which isn’t the case.”
Mendoza said moving on with her life after losing Sylvia continues to be a challenge. “Relearning how to function when a huge part of me has died is overwhelming on most days, and I’ve accepted that survival is as good of a term as any for my day-to-day motions,” she said. “She is my first and last thought of every single day and not far from every thought in between.”
The mom added that her experience with Sylvia has made her a more empathetic, sensitive, patient and kind person. “She has taught me lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn and touched the lives of more people than I could have imagined,” she explained. “I am so proud to be her mommy.”
In sharing her experience and feelings about the term “rainbow baby,” Mendoza hopes to make other people in her position feel less alone.
“There isn’t a right way to navigate pregnancy or parenting after a loss,” she said. “I hoped that sharing how I felt would make others, who maybe felt the same way, feel a little more normal.”
For those who haven’t experienced loss, Mendoza hopes her post makes them think twice before questioning a grieving parent’s thoughts and words. “It’s so muddy and confusing and just because an emotion exists one minute, doesn’t mean it’s there the next,” she said.
She also hopes it breaks down the distance between grieving parents and loved ones who aren’t quite sure what to say.
“So often with the loss of a child people are fearful of reaching out to the parents or if they do, saying the wrong thing. There is no right thing to say, but presence and human connection is very important,” the mom explained.
“Losing a child is incredibly isolating. Reaching out, making eye contact with interaction and genuinely expressing your condolences is as good of a response as any.”
Mendoza said it can mean the world to a parent to know that you are thinking of their child too.
“It makes my day when someone shares randomly that they are thinking of Sylvia or send a picture of something that reminded them of her,” she said. “You aren’t making that person sad by bringing their child up; likely they are questioning if anyone remembers except them and they would jump at the opportunity to talk about them.”