Turkey and mashed potatoes sit blandly on the dark brown tray of the hospital bed in front of me. I pick at them blithely, despite being ravenous, as I stare blankly at the white walls that feel like they’re closing in on me. I can feel the sob of my soul starting to wind its way up from my stomach into my throat. If I don’t gulp it down, the dam of tears building behind my eyes will break and I know I’ll be consumed with my grief and fear, so I choke its acidity down with the few bites of food I can muster.
The hustle and bustle of the hospital rush on around me; the clock ticks loudly, in direct opposition to my internal clock that seems to have stopped as my time stands still. Frozen. As the minutes keep passing, my thoughts keep circling:
How is our baby?
Is my husband with her?
What, exactly, is wrong with her?
Where’s our 6-year-old daughter who was just here to meet her new baby sister before she was suddenly rushed off to the NICU after delivery?
She must be scared to death. I’m scared, too, but I steel my face and steady my nervously shaking body each time a nurse comes to check my vitals. We have a silent, mutual understanding that it’s better for us all right now not to even ask how I’m doing.
To say this isn’t what I envisioned Ava’s delivery would look like would be an understatement. This wasn’t my first rodeo of childbirth, so I went into this knowing a birthing plan is made to be broken.
If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I had pretty low expectations for this delivery.
I know how labor can linger for days; how I can push for hours; how a C-section may be minutes away from reality. All I wanted was for her to arrive. Safely. And I guess I succeeded in that, with only a few pushes and a much briefer labor than I had with our oldest daughter, but as I gnaw nervously at my nailbeds rather than my much-earned post-delivery lunch I apparently chose as a starkly pale and sad mirror of my emotions, I realize what I really wanted wasn’t a simple, short, and relatively painless delivery. What I wanted was her in my arms, safe and sound. Now.
Ava is my rainbow baby, born after my miscarriage three years prior, which threatened to swallow me up in its sea of dark, all-consuming grief. Losing a child through miscarriage and stillbirth is a painful experience that so many women can relate to. We are a sisterhood that mourns our shared losses, and simultaneously celebrates the lives that come after those losses, the rainbows after the storms. What we don’t often talk about, though, are the rainbow babies born with the mix of both joy and sorrow.
What do we call a rainbow baby like Ava?
The colors of Ava’s rainbow didn’t shine as brightly as I expected them to, as they were overshadowed by the clouds of the storm raging around us when she was born.
There were breaks in the gray clouds from time to time, like when she was released from the NICU after just a few hours of observation, but the thunder and lightning soon crashed around us after she was once again rushed off to the NICU in the middle of her second night of life after breathing problems.
We faced many, many storms early on in Ava’s life, culminating in two minor surgeries before she was three months old. The long muted colors of her rainbow began to brighten as we faced those surgeries, but once again, the clouds moved in, as she faced unforeseen complications after surgery that kept her hospitalized for nearly a month.
I had envisioned her first Christmas and New Year’s would be spent snuggling by the fireplace in the company of family. In stark contrast, I spent those nights alone on a drafty, hard window seat, apart from my husband and older daughter, sleeplessly awaiting the opportunity to hold Ava any chance that I could get.
We’ve lived out many ups and downs since those early days in Ava’s life—more than I have the time and words to recount. But you know what else I don’t have enough time or words to share with you?
The incredible amount of joy Ava has brought into lives.
There will be continued scattered storms throughout Ava’s life, but after facing the storms we have, we’re better prepared for them.
Although having experienced both the trauma of a miscarriage and having a child born with complex medical needs has been, at times, overwhelmingly painful, I’m here today to tell you, mama—it’s going to be alright. You’re going to be alright.
Ava’s birth and life have taught me so many things: that God has a plan for my children I must cooperate with and raise them to follow; that no matter how different that plan is from our expectations, there are no guarantees in this life, even for our children; and that loving blindly, unconditionally, and wholeheartedly is transformational.
As frightening as all of this insight can be initially, it’s freeing when you come to accept these truths and live your life accordingly.
I may not know what the common term for a rainbow baby born with health complications like Ava’s may be, but I choose to call her the most unexpected blessing I ever could have received.
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