I didn’t embrace the term “rainbow” while pregnant with my son even though he is a rainbow in every sense. His pregnancy was hopeful (though anxiety-ridden), and he followed not one but three losses: two miscarriages and his micro-preemie sister who lived for a very short time.
I understood why other people used it and was fully on board with it. I wanted to use it myself, and I’d have even felt comfortable using it after my miscarriages. Miscarriages are stormy, nebulous affairs that don’t always have a lot of concrete answers. But to use that term after my daughter’s passing? Something about it just didn’t feel the same. The losses were so very different.
When I pulled back the layers of grief, hurt, pain, sleepless nights, and anxiety attacks there wasn’t just a cloudy center and unanswered questions, there was my lovely little girl. To call my son a rainbow felt dismissive to her. Like she was just a hard thing to get past or the necessary tears and rain requisite to the rainbow.
Like she was the storm.
When I tried to explain those feelings to other loss moms, I’d hear “that’s not what it means at all. You misunderstand it.” Then they’d send me a little quote from Pinterest validating what they believed while leaving me feeling misunderstood and dismissed too quickly.
I eventually started saying, “I don’t like the term because there are sunshine babies, angel babies, and rainbow babies—they don’t fit together. We have two meteorological terms and one religious term.” I’d smile and wink, or write a quick lol if I was writing. The other party would say “I never thought of it that way” and laugh back . . . then we’d move on. No need to try and explain the deep things I felt in my core that threatened to spill over like a too-full glass.
I didn’t embrace the term rainbow, I did use it (occasionally) because it was convenient and people knew what a rainbow meant. It saved me a mouthful when I didn’t feel like saying, “This is my second child. We had a daughter first but she died shortly after birth.”
When my son arrived I exhaled the breath I didn’t know I’d been holding the entire pregnancy. That’s when I decided, just once, to fully embrace that term rainbow with both arms opened wide.
The worry was over, my baby safe in my arms—it was easier to see all the good in life.
I made an appointment with a newborn photographer (something we struggled to afford on our shoestring grad-school budget, but I was determined to get since we’d missed all those milestones with his sister). I let her know he was a rainbow baby, and I wanted a few pictures that incorporated that theme. The photographer was amiable and eager to give a good product. She said she had ideas up her sleeve. I said I trusted her artistic opinion and looked forward to whatever it was—I’m laid back like that.
Enter the day of the photoshoot. We got the cute photos I’d wanted for such a long time: mom and dad kissing the baby’s head; the baby sleeping and swaddled in a tiny knot that only a newborn can contort into. There was nothing original or unique about the photos except for the fact that the baby in them was finally mine.
Then it was time for the rainbow pictures. White stuffing was arranged cloud-like around my little boy now swaddled in rainbow colors. She snapped away, made a new pose, and continued taking pictures.
My decision to take rainbow pictures felt right. He was bright, promising, and beautiful.
Though our daughter can never be replaced, he brought us the baby-shaped happiness we’d been missing in our life. I stopped the photographer and told her my idea: I wanted a sibling photo, him and her side-by-side. My photographer clapped her hands together and said she had the perfect thing in mind, and I dashed upstairs to grab my baby girl’s photo.
There was a wide rainbow arching over my son who was sleeping peacefully. At the arc of the rainbow, she placed my daughter’s picture with a little chalkboard she’d been writing on moments before. “I saw this on Pinterest,” she said as she stepped back so I could admire her handiwork.
I couldn’t admire it though. It was a sucker punch to the gut.
That moment, that photo, encapsulated everything I disliked about the term “rainbow baby.” Right next to my daughter was the chalkboard proclaiming “after every storm a rainbow.”
There was no getting around it. He was the rainbow, she was the storm.
That is precisely why I struggled with the term “rainbow baby.” This little girl with my chin and fingers, with her dad’s forehead wrinkles and his stubborn personality (though he claims she gets that from me), was being called a storm and no amount of cutesy quotes or circular thinking could change the comparison happening right in front of me. I didn’t know how to address it right then because I was shocked, and I’m a people pleaser by nature, so I smiled and sucked it up while she clicked away. I thanked the photographer for the photos, paid, and sent her on her way.
Then I tried to attend to my feelings while nursing a newborn. Feelings I’d need to circle back to again before I found a resolution that worked for me.
I love my daughter, and I wish we’d had a better outcome, but I wouldn’t change her for the world.
She wasn’t the eye of the storm, no, she was a shooting star—beautiful, bright, brilliant, and brief.
She was the bright spot in the night sky. No amount of darkness, despair, grief, or tears could snuff her out. She was the good at the center of all that was hard.
When I started thinking of her as a shooting star, I was finally able to use the term rainbow without internal hesitation. On the surface, it fits in perfectly with the other two terms to make a perfect trio—sunshine, shooting star, and rainbow. Deep inside, it did a lot to soothe my soul.
She was no longer at the center of the storm, she wasn’t the rain or tears that helped form a rainbow, instead, she gets to be the light. Light that has the ability to bend and refract and splay color against the sky to allow us to see something we never would have before, to cherish parts of parenthood that aren’t the easiest, to stop and breathe in the moment.
So daughter, your brother isn’t a rainbow because you are a storm, he is a rainbow because you are a light.