Here in the U.S., we celebrated National Rainbow Baby Day on Wednesday. Rainbow Baby is a term that broadly defined, means a baby following an infant loss.
My heart is heavy to speak about this topic, because I have seen the pain of those I love up close & personal. I know several women who have experience all sorts of loss - miscarriage, stillbirth, twin death, SIDS - the list goes on. The pain is gut-wrenching. I wish no one would ever have to live through this experience.
Precisely because it is such a personal and sensitive topic, we must bring it out of the shadows and start to openly discuss infant loss. When we stigmatize that kind of loss, we cut grieving parents off from the very thing that they need to cope - our support. We make them feel even more isolated because in addition to feeling like they're the only ones who have felt this particular pain, they feel that there is no one with whom they can speak freely.
Grief comes in many forms and there isn't a right or wrong way to mourn. So when a parents who's lost a child experiences these complex and confusing emotions, it can be incredibly difficult to be vulnerable with someone who might not understand, someone who might leap to judgement instead of coming from a place of empathy. And the people who can be the most understanding the most empathetic are the people who have walked this path themselves.
Until I became a mom, I did not fully appreciate just how important having emotional support from other parents can be. Without that support I don't know if I could survive parenting, let alone the loss of a child. It's really difficult - and I've personally only experience one type of loss - a miscarriage that happened before my son, Shep, was born.
While suffering is suffering is suffering, and there is no hierarchy of grief, there are certain aspects of each different type of loss that make it unique and difficult to appreciate unless tyou have been there firsthand. So, when, for example, a mother experiences a stillbirth, she may not feel comfortable fully expressing the impact the stillbirth has had on her life to someone who has experience a miscarriage. They might not understand one another and they definitely haven't walked in each others' shoes. That isn't to say that they can't be supportive of one another, but there are certain experiences (like taking pictures with your stillborn baby) that are only shared by mothers who have had stillborn babies.
The beautiful about parenting, and especially motherhood, is the bond of respect between mothers. In order to recognize how each of these losses has a particular impact on families, moms have banded together to create their own vocabulary to describe different types of infant loss.
A rainbow baby is the umbrella term (no pun intended) for a baby born after any form of infant loss. But did you know that there's also a term for a baby conceived or born immediately before an infant or child loss? Those blessings are called Sunshine Babies, because they become a beacon of hope in the darkness of mourning. Some mothers use the term Angel Baby to describe their child lost to miscarriage or stillbirth. Many mothers even call their older children (toddlers and beyond) angel babies. Mothers can envision their angel babies peacefully flying free; perhaps a small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.
Twin mothers, or mothers of multiples, have their own special terminology. Did you know that the human body can conceive twins, miscarry one of the twins, and still sustain the second twin to full-term live birth? It's not hugely common, but it happens. When one twin passes in utero, this twin is called a Sunset Baby. Of course, the sunset is the end of the day, a gradual dimming of light. Their living twin - often called a twinless twin - bears the title of Sunrise Baby. A beautiful sunrise evokes hope for the new day, a new chance to build the life you've dreamed. In some tragic circumstances, mothers lose both twins. Whether this happens during pregnancy, infancy, or childhood, these children are lovingly called Shooting Stars. Mothers of multiples often use these terms as well, since the bond between multiples of any number is innate and profound.
Babies born after a rainbow baby are aptly named Pot Of Gold Babies (or sometimes Golden Babies). It's a sweet way to keep alive the memory of your lost child and to reinforce the family bond between siblings who will never meet earthside.
I have not experienced firsthand any infant loss other than miscarriage, and so the only thing I can offer to mothers who have suffered a stillbirth (or any other form of loss) is this: My heart breaks for you. You are far stronger than I imagine I could ever be. I have no answers for you, but I will listen without judgement. It is the least I could do.
Moms think of everything. So, beyond these terms that we've coined to understand infant loss in its various forms, we've also created support systems that mothers can plug into to create a safe place to share whatever they're feeling without fear of judgement. Facebook groups, local mom meet-ups, non-profits, discussion boards - each offers access to a community of women who have walked this road and who uplift one another. Here are a small handful
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (stillbirth photography)
The Angel Gown Program (wedding gowns repurposed to be worn by Angel Babies)
Baby Steps (for parents and children who have lost a sibling)
The people who volunteer in these groups boldly walk into the heart of a family's tragedy and begin the slow work of picking up the shattered pieces. They are saints walking among us - bringing support and understanding, hope and compassion.
If you have experienced a loss, and you feel alone, please know that there are others who have walked this road before. And while no one can undo what has happened, they can lift you up and try to ease what suffering that they can. You are not alone, and I am deeply sorry for your loss.
If you would like to share your story of infant loss, please contact me on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3. I would be honored to listen.