When I became pregnant four months after my miscarriage, I was anxious in the way that only moms who've experienced loss can be. I didn't share my feelings with many people, but I did talk to a co-worker and fellow mom who had experienced a stillbirth. She understood my fear. "This will be your rainbow baby," she assured me. I'd never heard the term before, but pieced together that it's a child born after loss. I appreciated her sympathy and her words, but as time went on I became wary: people need to stop romanticizing rainbow babies.
It's not that I object to the idea. Indeed, when my co-worker introduced me to the term I took comfort from her words, especially since she is someone who understood pregnancy and child loss. It's a beautiful idea: a baby who brings sunshine after rain to create something truly magnificent. Something that couldn't have existed without preceding tumult. And yet, as so often happens with beautiful ideas, they run the risk of outgrowing themselves and, in the process, becoming maudlin clichés trotted out to subdue and explain an emotional situation rather than explore and honor it.
If you are someone who takes comfort in the idea of your rainbow baby, or even just the general idea, that's lovely and I would never suggest it's problematic or something you should think twice about embracing. But romanticizing on behalf of someone else, who hasn't told you their own thoughts and feelings on the matter, is something that should be done cautiously and with the following in mind:
It Presumes A Set Narrative
The idea of a "rainbow baby" simply might not resonate with people or reflect their view of what's happened to them. Honestly, the comfort I drew from my co-workers words was less connected to any child I might have had and would have and more the idea of, "Hey, someone else gets this and has found a way to grow and find meaning and beauty in her experience. That's powerful."
Personally, while my daughter fits the definition of a "rainbow baby," I've never really seen her that way.
We Should Let People Tell Us How They Feel Individually
When you give people a narrative like this, especially such a lovely one, it puts pressure on them (often unintentionally) to conform their emotions to that narrative rather than to give them space to sort through their own feelings.
Emotions Are Complex & Changing
Emotions are messy, and sometimes other people don't want to deal with someone else's messy emotional process, so they offer clichés to try to tidy things up. This isn't to say that the idea of "rainbow babies" are in and of themselves cliché, or a way to avoid dealing with pain, but when someone else tells you how you should feel because they've romanticized a particular idea in their own minds (and these, incidentally, will often be people without experience in this arena) that's a problem.
Plus, emotions change. After my miscarriage I was raw and aching and a mess, but time has largely dulled that ache. That's not every mom's miscarriage experience, but it's mine.
Sometimes Emotions Aren't Particularly Intense
The idea of a rainbow baby is healing and lovely and significant... but some people don't feel corresponding significance as it pertains to their loss. There's no one way to feel about having a miscarriage (anguish, gradually diminishing sadness, annoyance, indifference, relief, and unmitigated joy are all completely valid) and some people just don't experience it as an emotional rainstorm in their soul. As such, the baby they have after their loss doesn't take on the kind of healing presence it might for someone else.
Some People Don't Want The Silver Lining
I'm going to tell a story that's going to sound unrelated, but bear with me because it is.
I used to work at a Holocaust museum and I had the honor of meeting a great many survivors. Now, generally, these folks referred to themselves with that term: survivor. Several, however, described themselves as "victims of the Holocaust." The fact that they were victims was important for them to convey because, yes, they survived, but the importance of their story, for them, was as much in their victimhood as in their survival. "Survivor," they thought, put too positive a spin on what happened.
I think this is true for a lot of different experiences we have. Yes, we get through them, but maybe we want to hold on to the pain and put it in a place of honor in our lives. Because, the truth is, whether we name it or not, it doesn't always go away. Naming it is a means of acknowledgement. "Yes, this awful thing happened and yes, good things happened before or after, but that doesn't take away from just how terrible this awful thing was."
It Runs The Risk Of Making It Seem Like Pain Can Be Erased With A Baby
Again, this tends to be something that happens when someone else dictates your experience to you, rather than when you claim it for yourself. But "rainbow baby" can be a bit loaded in terms of the emotional weight we entrust with an infant. Like "Oh, you had a baby! Problem solved!"
But that's not how it works, and that's the final and perhaps my personal biggest problem with romanticizing rainbow babies.
Promotes The Idea That Grief Ends
There was a storm and now there's a rainbow: the end!
Except not really, because for some the grief of a pregnancy loss never ends. For some it never existed, but for others it will be something that will be revisited and mourned for the rest of their lives. The idea that they should feel better now because that story is over is disingenuous, and the idea that they should follow a particular narrative or emotional trajectory to make us feel comfortable is cruel.
Or maybe it's a perfect metaphor, because rainbows don't actually have an end either.