Rainbow Baby: What It Means and Why Rainbow Babies Are Beautiful
The term rainbow baby may not be familiar to people who haven't experienced a loss. But to those of us who have, it has a very deep and even life-changing significance.
So what is a rainbow baby? It's "a baby born after a miscarriage, stillborn, or neonatal death," says Jennifer Kulp-Makarov, M.D., FACOG. "It's called a rainbow baby because it's like a rainbow after a storm: something beautiful after something scary and dark."
She adds, "It's an extremely emotional and devastating experience to lose a pregnancy [or baby]. To create a life or bring a baby into the world after such a loss is amazing like a miracle for these parents."
I'm currently seven months pregnant with a rainbow baby, and indeed, I feel like I'm walking around with a miracle in my belly. There was a time when I never thought I could feel hopeful again. Just last year, we lost our beloved baby Cara at 23 weeks of pregnancy. The days, weeks, and months after she became our angel baby were the darkest of my life. But soon a dim hope flickered inside my heart, and eventually ignited a flame, that became my desire to try again, in part to honor Cara and to find meaning in her loss.
Rainbow Babies Can Honor an Angel Baby
Moline Prak Pandiyan, a previous ambassador for March for Babies, March of Dimes Eastern North Carolina, knows this feeling well. She lost her son Niko when he was five months old due to complications related to his premature birth. "Although Niko lost his fight, his spirit lives on, and he continues to inspire many," she explains. Not only is this mama involved in fighting prematurity, but she was also inspired to conceive a rainbow baby.
Not that she previously knew the meaning of the term "rainbow baby." "I remember the feeling that I had when I first heard [it]," says Pandiyan. "It was perfect. I so much wanted to make sure that Niko wasn't forgotten, and the term so eloquently acknowledges the babies who we've lost, while also celebrating the joy of our babies who do survive."
Prak Pandiyan is now a proud mom of a little girl, her rainbow, who truly informs her parenting philosophy. "My husband and I always wondered what life would have been like if our son could be discharged and come home with us," she says. "When we welcomed our rainbow baby into this world, our perspective as parents shifted. Whenever things get hard—feeding challenges, sleeping challenges, mild illnesses—we always make it a point to step back and remember that things could be so much worse."
Parenting a Rainbow Baby May Feel Different
Mama Stephanie Sherrill Huerta, who has one daughter, is also expecting a rainbow baby, via adoption, after several miscarriages and failed adoption attempts. She too acknowledges that parenting her rainbow baby will be different, telling Parents.com, "We will love him a little differently than our daughter because we went through so much grief and pain before meeting him. He will truly be the light at the end of the tunnel, the pot of gold under the rainbow, and the rainbow after our storm."
That same spirit has encouraged me to enjoy my current pregnancy more than before. Morning sickness and heartburn can't take away my gratitude for the chance to carry a healthy baby.
Elizabeth Lorde-Rollins, M.D., MSc, OB-GYN at CareMount Medical says this is normal. "For parents who have experienced the loss of a child, whether that loss occurs before or after birth, the life adjustments associated with pregnancy are accompanied with an acute sense of gratitude even when they are uncomfortable," she notes. "And although most of us have the great fortune of being wanted babies, parents tend to have a special, and in many cases incredibly sharp, sense of being blessed when they are expecting and then giving birth to a baby that follows loss."
But Dr. Kulp-Makarov cautions, "The birth and newborn stage of a rainbow baby are different for parents who have suffered a loss. They can expect a rush of strong and complicated emotions. Parents may swing between this amazing awe at their new baby and strong fear that something may happen and they may lose this new baby too."
Welcoming a Rainbow Baby Can Be Emotional for Parents
Guilt is a common feeling for parents who welcome a rainbow baby, adds Dr. Lorde-Rollins. "Parents can feel that being excited about the new pregnancy, or loving this new baby when he or she arrives, is somehow a betrayal of the baby they lost." Dr. Kulp-Makarov says. "These parents need a lot of emotional support during pregnancy and birth."
For me, support has come, in part, in the form of knowing I'm not alone. As Dr. Kulp-Makarov points out, the term "rainbow baby" is becoming more mainstream, and this has helped to increase awareness around loss and healing. "These babies are a beautiful example of how women's bodies and spirits can heal after a pregnancy or neonatal loss," she says.
Healing doesn't mean forgetting. "Don't be afraid to keep the child that you lost as part of your lives, in whatever way is special and important to you," Prak Pandiyan says to other parents who have endured loss. She adds that creating new, beautiful traditions with your rainbow baby is also a special way to celebrate their new, miraculous life.
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I had 2 miscarriages before my current pregnancy. I'm at 21 weeks right now. We didn't think this one would make it either when my ovary burst and I was hemorrhaging blood but baby was too young to do surgery on me. I really thought I'd be adding a third to my....you know. I'm blessed to say we have made it this far. And the way you explain that love is profoundly accurate. This pregnancy has been so intense emotionally. It's been devastating physically on me but I couldnt wish for anything different if my rainbow shines.Read More
I have five angel babies and two rainbow babies who are now adults. This is why my daughter-in-law and I wrote a book that explains it to young children. It is called A Rainbow Baby Story: The Rainbow After The Storm.Read More
I'm sorry, but I really don't like the whole concept.Read More
If you haven't felt the grief of a lost pregnancy or child, and then the incredibly complex surge of emotions that come with a live child following, there's no way to explain the reason for giving these names. If you have, and they don't bring you comfort, that's fine - no need to use them. I have a 17 year old son (my Sunshine), an Angel who will not turn 16 this summer, and a Rainbow who will turn 15 5 days before the anniversary of the birth of the "other brother" she never had the chance to meet. My older teens are so much more than those names - they are complete, textured, incredible people well on their way to becoming adults. But the names fit. When Jeremiah was born, we didn't know how fragile life could be. When Elijah was born not breathing, and lived his entire 12 days in a NICU, we learned, and our lives were changed forever by his death - then changed again, in another direction, when Annalise was born and thrived and brought hope and light and a fractured kind of completion to our family. For me, the concept encompasses all of this.
I’m sorry, but I don’t like the whole concept of your opinion.
This article was special and personal to me, even though my own miscarriage was over 35 years ago. When my daughter had her own rainbow baby, she and I began to write and illustrate about this topic as a way of both processing it and reaching out to others. Our kickstarter project is titled Rainbow and Sunshine. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1378131774/rainbow-and-sunshineRead More
It's been almost 3 years since my rainbow baby was born. I still feel awe and gratitude that I get to keep her. I thought that feeling would fade but even now I feel it almost every day. - The Curious FrugalRead More
Mine will be 15 next month, and I'm still in awe that she's here, and healthy, and very nearly as tall as me! 5 days less than a year younger than her angel brother, she is vibrant and sassy and expansive. I only recently heard the term "rainbow baby" so she was already my "rainbow teen" by then. But, from the time she was two, rainbow sprinkles were her thing, so maybe she knew before I did.