July is my rainbow baby month. Both my alive children were born this month so it is literally my rainbow after the stormy June anniversary of my first son’s death and birth. Happy July, friends. I hope you all find your rainbow this month.
I turned my head groggily to the left and I saw her. She was screaming. Her mass of dark, curly hair glistened because she was coated in blood. She was perfect. She was alive. She was my rainbow baby.
Then I let go. I closed my eyes and passed out.
I woke up sometime later and there she was again. It wasn’t a dream. She was alive and she was mine. She was perfect. It was July 26, 2012 and I had finally become a mother with a baby the world could see.
In an instant I knew I couldn’t love anyone more and at the same time I could never image all the feelings that would come next.
Having a rainbow baby always sounds like such a simple, beautiful concept. And it is beautiful, but it’s nowhere close to simple.
Before giving birth to my daughter I had a stillborn son and three miscarriages. I was a different person after those experiences and I would be a different parent too. A rainbow is only a rainbow because you have weathered the storm that came before it. That storm still leaves an impression on your life and on your heart. It leaves emotions that you have to cope with and overcome while you learn to follow the road as a parent after loss.
In the month that followed after her birth, I experienced a range of emotions that some would expect and some that I’ve actually never told anyone about.
It happened! I had done it. I made a person. Now what am I supposed to do?
I remember not really feeling anything specific at first because I think I was in shock that I had actually done it. In fact the first thing I thought when I saw my daughter was, “What an unfortunate hairline.” Most people don’t admit these types of things but I feel like that statement really illustrates what was happening to me in that moment.
As the anesthesia was wearing off from my unplanned C-section, I was barely lucid but I was trying to breastfeed and already sustain this little life that I felt like I didn’t know. She had been kicking inside of me for months but all of a sudden she was in my arms and I didn’t really know how to react.
Maybe this would have been different if I hadn’t been a first-time parent, but I’m pretty sure I felt this same thing when I gave birth to my second son too.
After the trauma of having a stillborn baby I was begged my doctor to not let her die inside of me as he cut me open. Now that she was here I didn’t know what to do because I had never believed I would get to keep her.
As I was sitting in my hospital bed I was swelling up like a balloon from all the fluids that had been pumped into me during the C-section. All of my I.D. bracelets, the hugs baby monitor tag and a small, white bracelet that said, “precious lives,” were all on my right arm and my body was swelling so badly that they were cutting off my circulation.
I begged the nurses to move some of them to my other arm – to loosen them somehow until the swelling started to subside. (No one had told me this would take weeks.) I was told they couldn’t cut off the hospital bracelets or the hugs tag. The only thing they could cut off was my plastic, white bracelet.
That bracelet stood for my son, my first son. I received it from that very hospital in a memorial box the day he was stillborn. I had worn it most days since leaving that place without him. Any day I hadn’t worn it I felt guilty, like a bad mom. I couldn’t cut it off. I wouldn’t!
It got to the point where I was desperate for some relief though. I let them cut it off.
All of a sudden I could breathe again. It was like the first time I had taken a breath in over a year. The proverbial weight on my shoulders felt like it had physically been removed. I was free. Free from pain, free from anguish, free from sorrow, guilt and mourning. It’s like cutting off that bracelet somehow gave me permission to be happy.
My arm was still going numb from all the other bracelets but my heart was no longer paralyzed.
Most people might think you experience joy right away being a parent after loss. I didn’t. It didn’t take long for me but it wasn’t the first day.
Maybe it’s because I had her at 7:04 p.m. and I was exhausted from 21 hours of labor and then the C-section. More than likely it was due to the first emotion above.
I don’t remember now if it was the day after she was born or the day after that, but it hit while we were still in the hospital. I had just dressed her in a newborn, pink onesie and laid her on the bed. The onesie was too big for her 19 inches and 7 lbs. 5 oz. She was swimming in it and it was the most adorable thing I had ever seen.
I felt warmth, I felt immense love and I cried happy tears. I had been waiting for her all my life and she was finally here.
Once I knew I loved her, I knew I could lose her. Having a child after loss isn’t easy. Most women experience some anxiety after having a child because, let’s face it, you have to keep that person alive, teach them literally everything and make sure they turn out to be a good person.
It was the alive piece that got to me. I still really struggle with it on occasion if you want to know the truth. It’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be but in the beginning I was sure she was going to die. I could imagine the scenarios in my head and would break down in tears without any warning. Everything scared me.
I’m not really sure how I got through it. PPA was just becoming a “thing” after I had her and the support group I had been in prior to having her didn’t really feel like the place for me anymore.
I stayed up a lot of night watching her breath. I was always there. It was months before my husband and I went out on a date together and she was close to a year before I let her spend the night at grandma and grandpa’s house. I was overly protective. I’m not proud of it but I’m not ashamed of it either. It was the only way I could do it. It was my damage from the storm.
My daughter was a bit colicky the first few months of her life. Since she was the first opportunity I had to be a parent I didn’t know if something was wrong with her or if something was wrong with me. (Full disclosure: I didn’t know how bad she was until I had my second son about two years ago. That kid was a breeze as a baby.)
Nevertheless, it made me miss her older brother desperately. I wondered if he would be the same. I wondered if it would be so difficult with him and I wondered what he would have been like as a baby.
When you have a rainbow baby I think a lot of people believe the story is over. The rainbow is the, “And they lived happily ever after…,” part of the story. The problem is, you can’t replace one child with another.
You still love both children and you learn to live with all the love and all the loss equally.
One day, not long after my daughter was born, I was driving to the post office. She was in the backseat sleeping in her car seat. I was sunny out. It was warm. It was a perfect day.
She was healthy. I was healthy. I was happy. It was the perfect moment.
It was a perfectly ordinary moment that normally wouldn’t stand out to someone. But for me it was the symbolism for my contentment with life and my fulfillment in becoming a mother. I didn’t need anything else. I didn’t want anything else. I had it all and it was glorious.
That moment is the embodiment of a rainbow for me.
Since then the point of life for me hasn’t been about living happily ever after, especially when it comes to parenthood. There will always be storms when raising children. There will always be ups and down, good moments and bad.
Being a parent after loss has helped me get through all of the highs and lows that come with raising children. I have weathered the worst storm of all and have come out on the other side.
Today when I look to my left and my right, I can see my rainbows snuggled under each arm. They are perfect. They are alive and the whole world can see them too.
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