When I found out I was expecting my second daughter, there were no whoops or jumping for joy, just silent, profound relief and gratitude. My husband had just returned from a night shift and was showering when I snuck into our one bathroom and took the test that produced two pink lines. I smiled softly on the other side of the shower curtain and breathed a sigh, cradling the news close and holding it secret until after he had slept.
I was thankful for a few hours to treasure being the only one to know about this new life. Four months earlier, I had also been the first to learn that our family was about to change. At nine weeks pregnant, I'd started spotting. With one straightforward pregnancy in the books, the thought of a miscarriage never crossed my mind, but I called my midwife just to be safe. When a precautionary ultrasound showed no heartbeat, I let tears fall, silent and alone in the doctor's office. Since I was sure everything was fine, I hadn't even told my husband I was going to the appointment.
I had to have a D&C, and when I went in for that appointment I asked the doctor to print a picture from that sad ultrasound, knowing it would be the only physical memento of my second pregnancy. As I mourned after the procedure, I bought a beautiful frame and displayed the ultrasound photo in a place where I could see it when I wanted to and avoid it when the grief was too much. Over the weeks my grief went from acute and consuming, to a dull ache, until my miscarriage wasn't something I thought about every day.
During that time everyone was quick to give me hope: "You'll get your rainbow!" they proclaimed. Even though I wanted another baby desperately, the idea of a rainbow—the beautiful baby born after the storm—fell flat for me. I didn't want a prize for weathering the loss—I just wished it had never happened in the first place.
Still, when I became pregnant again I joined a Facebook group for women pregnant with their rainbow babies. The other members posted pictures of rainbow onesies and baby blankets, and I just couldn't relate. That's when I realized that although my second child would be a rainbow baby, I didn't want that to define her. The miscarriage was something that I experienced, not her, and I didn't want her to wear the title of my loss.
Progressing through a pregnancy after a loss changes things. On medical forms, my number of pregnancies no longer matched with my number of live births. I was eligible for early screenings and my midwives got me into an ultrasound as soon as possible to make sure I saw a healthy heartbeat.
Still, they reassured me that miscarriages are shockingly common, and unfortunately a normal part of the reproductive process. I found a lot of comfort in that and I realized that, for me, the miscarriage represented the loss of what might have been, not what was. In grieving, I was adjusting to the fact that I could have been meeting my second child in December and now wouldn't meet her till June. However, I didn't think of my miscarried pregnancy as the baby I would never get to meet.
Of course, my loss was on my mind through some pregnancy milestones. I breathed a sigh of relief when I passed the 9-week mark. On what would have been my due date I paused to think about my loss, but didn't dwell on it. The biggest impact that the miscarriage had was on our naming process: We had already selected a girl's name before the loss, and I wouldn't consider using it for our next baby. Instead, my second daughter was nameless until the day we took her home.
When I announced our pregnancy on Facebook, I didn't use the "rainbow" moniker. Instead, I announced the pregnancy on the winter solstice, ahead of my due date on the summer solstice. While the idea of a rainbow never clicked for me, the symbolism of light returning after darkness was not lost.
Last summer—a few days after the solstice—I told my husband it was time to go. Fifteen minutes after we got to the hospital my rainbow baby burst into the world like a storm, fast, furious and full of life. When I held that beautiful red-headed girl in my arms I was so consumed by love for her that I didn't even consider the fact that she was a rainbow baby until days later.
Now, my daughter is four months old. She loves her sister, hates her car seat, and gives me the best smiles when I walk into her nursery after a nap. Now that she's here, the miscarriage seems like a small event compared to the enormity of her life. Because of that, I don't want to define her existence—or even her babyhood—by the fact that she was born after a loss. The framed ultrasound from my second pregnancy still sits in the room where my baby daughter sleeps, but I turn to it less and less often. While the miscarriage is a part of my story now, it won't define our family—or my daughter—moving forward.