Rainbow babies are babies born following a pregnancy loss. They can be both a symbol of hope and a reminder of past loss. Mixed feelings of excitement, worry, and sadness are common. Understanding your feelings, honoring your loss, and preparing to welcome your rainbow baby can help you cope with this difficult but special time.
What Is a Rainbow Baby?
A rainbow baby is conceived and born after a woman experiences a pregnancy loss. A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy during the first 20 weeks, while stillbirth is a loss that occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The term rainbow baby refers to the idea that a beautiful rainbow comes after a difficult storm. Parents who experience pregnancy loss may feel like they’ve weathered a storm.
Why Rainbow Babies Are Special
After experiencing a loss, learning you are pregnant with a rainbow baby can feel like nothing short of a miracle. For some parents, rainbow babies can serve as a reminder of the child they lost and a symbol of hope. It can also feel like a beautiful ending to a difficult journey. If you are expecting a rainbow baby, you will likely experience many different feelings, both positive and negative, about your pregnancy.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Rainbow Baby
Expecting a rainbow baby can be an exciting and overwhelming time. Many women experience both positive and negative emotions when they become pregnant following a loss. Some of these emotions can include joy, grief, anxiety, and depression. Each woman’s pregnancy journey is different and there is no “right” way to feel when expecting a rainbow baby.
Here are possible emotions you may experience if having a rainbow baby:
1. Excitement & Joy
After experiencing a loss, you may have wondered if you would ever become pregnant again. Learning that you are newly pregnant can bring about positive feelings like happiness, joy, relief, and hope. Your attention may turn to the future that will prepare you for your new addition. Give yourself permission to enjoy these positive feelings and share them with those you love.
Anxiety is excessive worry that can be hard to control.3 After a pregnancy loss, it is common to experience worry about the possibility of a future loss. This anxiety can present itself as intrusive thoughts, irritability, difficulty concentrating, tension in the body, and/or a sense of restlessness or agitation.
You might find that anxiety also affects your energy levels and sleep. While anxiety is normal when you are newly pregnant and have experienced a loss, too much anxiety can be a sign of a mental health disorder.
Grief can occur following a pregnancy loss. It involves emotions like sadness, anger, yearning, and depression.4 Some women find that grief resurfaces after learning that they’re pregnant with a rainbow baby. You might find yourself thinking about what life would have been like if you didn’t lose your baby. If your loss was physically traumatic, you might re-experience the event through flashbacks or nightmares.
This can be confusing, especially if you felt that your grief was previously resolved. The truth is that grief never fully goes away. Instead, you can get to a point of acceptance of the loss, but even then, feelings of grief can resurface. These feelings are normal and can be mixed in with positive feelings as well.
How to Cope With Mixed Emotions
Coping with miscarriage or any kind of pregnancy loss can be a deeply upsetting and traumatic. Experiencing mixed emotions is common. While you likely feel excited and happy to be pregnant, you also may feel worried about your pregnancy and sad when you think about your loss.
Here are three ways to deal with mixed emotions:
- Remember, these feelings are normal: rather than judging or ignoring emotions, it can be helpful to acknowledge how you feel and find ways to express them in a positive way
- Talk about how you are feeling with a supportive person: consider talking to a close family member, friend, therapist, or support group
- Pinpoint why you’re feeling worried and take action to address your fears: for example, if you are concerned about your risk for a future miscarriage, it is important to discuss this with your medical provider. They will be able to provide you with more information and potential actions you can take to reduce your risk.
While mixed emotions about your pregnancy are normal when you have experienced a loss, if you are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, or depression, then this may be a sign of a mental health disorder. Therapy, medication, and support groups are available to help. Consider these options if your emotional symptoms are severe, interfering with your life, and/or do not decrease despite your best efforts to cope.
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How to Support a Friend Expecting a Rainbow Baby
If you have a friend who is expecting a rainbow baby, you may be wondering how you could help them welcome their new addition while acknowledging their previous loss. It can be helpful to provide them with a space to talk, if they are willing, and find ways to honor their previous child.
Here are five ways to support a friend expecting a rainbow baby:
1. Check-in On How Your Friend Is Feeling
You may be inclined to express happiness and joy when you learn that your friend is pregnant with a rainbow baby. You may have seen your friend struggle and want to share in her excitement. While it is important to celebrate this special news, remember that your friend may also be having mixed feelings about their pregnancy.
Your friend may be reluctant to share these negative feelings out of fear of being judged. You can help them by checking in about how they’re feeling and giving them space to talk about their emotions. A statement like “I know this is an exciting time for you, but it might also be a hard time. How are you doing?” can give them permission to open up.
2. Respect Their Willingness or Reluctance to Share
Checking in with your friend about how they’re feeling shows respect for their emotional experience. However, people may have different levels of comfort when it comes to talking about loss. If your friend is reluctant to share, respect their decision. Pressuring them to talk may have the opposite effect and lead them to isolate. They will come to you if they’re ready to talk.
3. Use Sensitive Language
It is important to be aware of the language you use when it comes to loss and fertility. While you may mean well, sometimes certain statements or questions can be experienced negatively by someone who has gone through these experiences. Questions about having future children can feel insensitive and put pressure on a family. Making comments about the size of a family should also be avoided.
Your friend may count her deceased child as a part of the family, so not taking this into account can be hurtful. Make an effort to be aware of the way that your statements or questions may be experienced by someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss.
4. Give a Rainbow Keepsake
If your friend is open about their loss, giving them a rainbow keepsake can be a nice way to acknowledge their previous baby and welcome their new one. There are many items for sale specifically for this purpose, including baby blankets, stuffed animals, and jewelry. You can also consider making your own gift.
Giving a rainbow gift is best for a friend who is open about their past loss. If your friend is more private, giving a rainbow gift may not be appropriate, since it may stir up more negative feelings that they may not be ready to face. If you decide to do so, be sure to give the gift in private, rather than at a public event like a baby shower.
5. Acknowledge Important Dates
When you have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth, certain dates, like the day that you learned you were pregnant and the day you experienced your loss, will likely stick out to you. It can be helpful to check in with your friend on these days and let them know that you are thinking of them and available to talk.
Many family and friends will overlook the deceased child’s birthday, making these dates painful and lonely for parents. Acknowledging the emotions of this day can help your friend feel supported.
How to Support a Partner Expecting a Rainbow Baby
When you and your partner learn that you’re expecting a rainbow baby, you may also experience a range of emotions. Similar to how you would support a friend, you can help by listening to your partner and coming up with ways to honor your loss together while preparing for your rainbow baby.
Here are four ways to support a partner expecting a rainbow baby:
1. Share Your Feelings
Some couples experience similar reactions to pregnancy loss, while others may grieve differently. The same is true for getting pregnant with a rainbow baby. When you learn of the news, you may feel more excited, nervous, or sad than your partner. Experiencing different reactions can be difficult, but talking about your feelings can help.
Sharing allows you to support one another and validate each other’s feelings, which can help both of you to feel less alone. You should also continue to keep an open dialogue when it comes to how you are feeling as the pregnancy progresses. If you’re having trouble communicating in this area, you may want to consider marriage and couples counseling.
2. Avoid Judging Each Other
As mentioned, experiencing different reactions to learning of your rainbow baby is normal. If you are feeling differently, you will want to avoid judging or criticizing each other. You also want to avoid dismissing your partner through comments like “Don’t be sad” or “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” Rather than helping, this can cause your partner to feel misunderstood and more alone.
Instead, listen to your partner and resist the urge to “fix” their feelings. Listening can help you both to feel closer.
3. Honor Your Loss
One of the hardest parts about welcoming a rainbow baby can be the sadness and yearning that you feel for your deceased child. If you have not already, you and your partner may want to consider ways that you can honor your deceased child together.
There is no “right” way to do this, but some examples include displaying an item, like a statue or plaque, having a blanket or stuffed animal made, or creating a memory box. Honoring your child’s memory provides another opportunity for healing and closeness between you and your partner.
4. Create a Plan For Welcoming Your Rainbow Baby
Even though expecting a rainbow baby can be difficult, it can also be wonderful. You and your partner should also take time to discuss how you’ll welcome your new addition, which can help you feel excited.
Start preparing the nursery, purchasing baby items, thinking of names, and imagining what it will be like when your new baby arrives. All of these activities are opportunities to share in the excitement of your rainbow baby and grow closer as a couple.
Rainbow Baby Statistics
Pregnancy loss is a common experience, but one that is rarely spoken of. Many women underestimate how common pregnancy loss is. Fortunately, many women that experience a miscarriage or stillbirth go on to have rainbow babies.
Consider these statistics regarding rainbow babies:
- 10 to 15% percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth, however, this number is likely higher since a large number of women will have a miscarriage without knowing they are pregnant1
- Approximately 1% of women experience repeat miscarriages, which is defined as having two or more miscarriages in their lifetime5
- 60% of miscarriages are believed to be due to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo5
- Around 85% of women who have had one pregnancy loss and 75% of women who have had two to three losses will go on to have a successful pregnancy (i.e. a rainbow baby)2
Next Steps: What to Expect After a Rainbow Baby Arrives
You may be wondering what it will be like after your rainbow baby arrives. The first 12 weeks postpartum is sometimes referred to as the fourth trimester.6 During this time, you may experience physical pain and feel more emotional as you’re healing from childbirth and adjusting to motherhood.
At the same time, you may also be getting accustomed to breastfeeding and coping with sleep deprivation. It is important to take it easy and give yourself the time you need to recover.
The Baby Blues
Taking care of your mental health following childbirth is important. Many women experience the baby blues in the first week after giving birth.7 During the baby blues you may feel sad, anxious, and/or more irritable than usual. These symptoms are usually mild and typically go away within a few weeks. They don’t affect your ability to bond with your baby.
If your symptoms are severe, affecting your ability to care for yourself or your baby, or do not go away within a few weeks, then this may be a sign of postpartum depression or another perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. If you have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth in the past, then you are at higher risk for postpartum depression in the first month after giving birth.8
Connecting with other people, especially other mothers, can help you adjust during the fourth trimester. Having a good support network is linked to lower levels of postpartum depression and a better adjustment to motherhood.9
If you are struggling or experiencing a lack of support, consider joining a postpartum support group or scheduling an appointment with a therapist. Though the postpartum period can be stressful, you do not have to go through it alone.
How to Find a Therapist
Therapy is a great way to help you manage the emotions of having a rainbow baby. If you are not sure how to find a therapist, try using an online directory to help you narrow down therapists who have experience in perinatal and maternal care. Calling or emailing to have an initial consultation is a great way to determine if the therapist is a good fit. Also, going through your doctor and health insurance is another way to ensure you are in-network.
Final Thoughts On Having a Rainbow Baby
There is no shame in the mixed and wide range of feelings you may feel, and talking with a therapist to sort through all these emotions is a great way to learn to manage and cope with feelings as they come up in the future. Together you and your therapist can come up with a plan to help you feel more comfortable about everything going on in your life.