As metaphors go, describing grief as a storm is pretty accurate. Where happiness and clarity once were, now everything seems dark, volatile, and all-consuming. For families who have experienced the loss of a baby, the storm can be especially dark; they are mourning not just the loss of a life, but also what could have been. In truth, the storm that comes from the death of a baby is something that never goes away, but slowly, over time, beams of happiness can begin to peek through. For some families, a rainbow baby helps the healing process.
A rainbow baby is the child that a woman births after the loss of a previous baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant mortality. In essence, the new baby is supposed to signify light at the end of (or during) the storm of grief.
Coined deep in the comments section of baby blogs and message boards around 2008, it's easy to see the appeal. In contrast to the darkness of the family's grief, a new baby is a burst of optimism and hope. There is also a possible religious connection from the story of Noah. According to the Bible, God tells Noah that the rainbow will appear after a storm as a symbol of God's covenant and love for all those living.
The phrase seems to have gained momentum more recently, stepping out of the message boards and into the public consciousness. Rainbow-baby-centric maternity photo shoots, op-eds, and custom special onesies are now a common part of the pregnancy experience.
This uptick in exposure seemingly coincides with an increased awareness about miscarriage and stillbirth. Long believed to be a silent struggle, now women are more vocal about their experiences with the death of a baby. Considering that 25 percent of all pregnancies end in either miscarriage or stillbirth, it's something that affects a lot of women.
"All women handle grief differently and may or may not find the term helpful based on their own loss."
POPSUGAR spoke with Lara, a woman who is currently pregnant with her rainbow baby who wishes to use a pseudonym since her family does not yet know. With her previous pregnancy, at seven weeks she endured a miscarriage. While she understands the purpose behind the term, she doesn't feel connected to it.
"I didn't have many pregnancy symptoms, I never heard a heartbeat or saw an ultrasound, I didn't feel the baby kick inside me, I didn't have a bump. Other than two pink lines on a stick, I barely experienced pregnancy at all," she told POPSUGAR. "That said, the minute you find out you're pregnant, you immediately start planning the future. You think about names, you start planning a nursery in your head, a gender reveal, and telling loved ones. Although I grieved and was incredibly disappointed when I miscarried, I didn't feel like I lost a baby, but more the possibility of a baby."
The relationship that women and families have with the term is incredibly personal and connected to their own healing process. Some believe the term shouldn't apply to them, and others believe that it belittles the grieving process. When a baby is taken away from a parent, the process of grieving is a long and deeply personal journey that never fully heals. By labeling a baby as a "rainbow," some feel that it diminishes the experience of loss or implies that the new baby has completely healed the heartache.
"All women handle grief differently and may or may not find the term helpful based on their own loss," Lara continued. "Many women will blame themselves after such tragedy, going through so many moments of self-doubt and depression."
Yet for many women, the phrase is a signifier of hope. After experiencing such a deep and intimate loss, this little bit of bright color can begin to draw them away from the darkness.