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Why I Don't Call my Kids 'Rainbow Babies'

Every time I see a post featuring a "rainbow baby", with a blissful mother and her newborn baby covered in rainbow colours, I find myself cringing. For those who are new to the term, it refers to a baby born after a miscarriage or stillbirth. I think part of my unease comes from not being big on the whole rainbow thing anyway, finding it all a bit cutesy and cliché; the rainbow after the storm. But the main reason it makes me uncomfortable is what it says about the previous baby, or babies. If this baby is a rainbow, bright and colourful and something to be celebrated, does that mean the baby that came before is just darkness? Just a storm that passed? Something to mourn and then move on from once the redeeming rainbow baby comes along? Maybe I'm misunderstand the whole thing. but it just doesn't sit right with me.

If it was up to me, I would turn it around. I would refer to my miscarried babies as my rainbow babies. There's already enough darkness, sadness, and mourning around these little ones. Why not give them the bit of colour and brightness they deserve? Then whenever a rainbow is mentioned, or I see one in the sky, I would get a moment to smile and reflect on the little life that was within me for a time.

Yes, miscarriage is hard. Yes, losing a baby at any stage can be a dark time in our lives. Which is all the more reason we need to add a splash of joy to that time, a symbol of hope and celebration. There is something to celebrate in each little spirit that spends some time in our lives. Each of them is a gift, and allows us grow in some way.

My first pregnancy was a rocky one. First of all, it was a surprise, showing up about eight months into a new relationship. Thankfully, it was the right relationship. After the initial shock of what we had created, we laughed and kissed and shared the happy surprise with our families. That baby solidified what we already knew: this was the real thing, and we were going to stay together, get married, and build a family. Then came the occasional bleeding, the ultrasound that showed an embryo much smaller than it "should" have been, the many pokes and tests to check my HCG levels, and no clear signs of whether this pregnancy was going to last. And, after eleven weeks of ups and downs, hopes and fears, came the unmistakable cramping, agony, and bleeding that is miscarriage.

My family gathered around, and mourned and celebrated the little life. My mom wrote a beautiful story called "The Little Secret", which I hope to have made into a children's book one day for families who experience this kind of loss. My brother made a delicate paper lantern, and one evening everyone came over to light it and send it up into the sky. (It burned up before it left our sight, don't worry!)

It was a dark time, yes, but there was also light. There was getting to see my husband's face when I told him I was pregnant: pure joyful surprise. Then he wanted to tell his parents, but he worried that their traditional values would have them disapprove. When he called them, I heard his dad laughing over the phone from where I was nervously perched on the other side of the room. Again, full of joy at this unexpected news. Seeing our families come together and embrace this tiny little life was so comforting, and it brought us closer.

The unknowns were hard. I didn't know if I should let myself fall in love with this baby or not. (Spoiler alert: I did). Not being sure of the gender of the baby made it harder for me. One day, around week nine, I was on a hike in Lynn Canyon. I wished I could just know if it was a boy or a girl. Somehow, that would make all of the unknowns a bit easier. A few moments later, I found a single pink baby sock on the trail. Completely clean and looking brand new. There were no babies in sight, so I kept it. Last year I finally framed it. My baby girl. In a journal entry I recently read from that time, I mentioned the name Fern. We had also talked about naming her after my husband's grandmother, Alice. I'm not sure what we would have decided on after the full 40ish weeks if she'd stayed, so those are the names she has.

She is my rainbow baby. I remember her fondly. Even the act of letting her go, I can recall with tenderness and love. Me lying in our bed, rocking back and forth with the pain. My man lying behind me, relieving my sore back with his warmth, kissing away my tears, wishing he could do more, but doing everything he knew to do to love me through it.

A few months later, when we had mourned our loss and were looking to the future, he asked me to marry him. I said, "Oh shit!", and then yes.

wedding couple in boots

I was a tiny bit pregnant when we got married later that year. I remember the exact moment the baby announced itself to my heart, while we were on our coastal camping honeymoon. My husband was doing his best to be patient with a kind but take-charge man who was helping him change the tire on the truck we'd borrowed from my brother. I was standing nearby, smiling with the knowledge that this was the first of many little 'trials' of our married life. I suddenly felt that same feeling I'd had in the first days of my previous pregnancy. Something a little bit different, unfamiliar. Something new inside me. A brand new life. A new experience. I still had some doubts, some worries, as the weeks went on, but mostly nausea and hope and excitement.

Emmett was born the next June. He doesn't need the title of 'rainbow'. He is here. I get to see his smile every day, and his scowl. I dry his tears, and I tickle the best giggles out of him. He is sometimes my hurricane, sometimes my soft summer breeze. I'll save the rainbows for my spirit babies, and I hope you'll do what works for you.

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