Pregnancy after miscarriage brings a deluge of emotions, including incomparable joy and crippling anxiety.
“I don’t think I’ll ever walk out of an appointment with more excitement than nerves but so far, everything is perfect and beautiful and I’m feeling hopeful and amazing,” Chrissy Teigen recently shared on Instagram alongside a mirror selfie showing her baby bump. Teigen and husband John Legend are expecting a rainbow baby, nearly two years after the couple lost their son Jack in a tragic miscarriage.
For many parents like Teigen and Legend, “expecting a rainbow baby opens a floodgate of a range of emotions that are different and sometimes conflicting,” says Pamela Rasheed, nurse care manager at WINFertility. There are the natural feelings of happiness, joy, relief and excitement that are often mingled with fear, anxiety and worry which can consume the expectant parents, notes the registered nurse who specializes in infertility, in-home injections and IV infusion therapies.
What is a “rainbow baby”?
“The term ‘rainbow baby’ refers to a healthy baby born after the loss of a pregnancy or neonatal death,” says Dr. Anate Brauer, reproductive endocrinologist and IVF director at Shady Grove Fertility, New York. The name draws on the symbol of the rainbow that represents light and joy and usually appears after a storm.
You may have come across a lot of posts about it today on social media as August 22 is celebrated as National Rainbow Baby Day in the US.
While some parents readily embrace the term and find comfort in it, for others it’s a jarring emotional trigger.
“Loss of a pregnancy or a child causes unimaginable grief that doesn’t just go away with the birth of a healthy child as the rainbow imagery implies. The loss will always be woven into the fabric of the family,” notes Dr. Brauer.
Besides, every child, whether dead or alive, provided hope and light at some point for the parents, adds Dr. Brauer. So every baby is essentially a rainbow in their own right.
Some parents also dislike the term as it places undue pressure on the child to live up to a certain idea or standard or to serve as a means to heal their parents’ grief.
The highs and lows of a rainbow pregnancy
Parents expecting a rainbow baby can experience a rollercoaster of emotions, says Rasheed. One moment you’d feel excitement, hope and joy which could switch to fear or worry in the next.
The root cause of the prior loss may have been identified by now, which may include, but not limited to, medical conditions beyond one’s control, a missed diagnosis, situation stressors, possible missteps or complications during labor and delivery, etc. Having to face the unknown of whether or not this may occur again—as they prepare for the new baby’s arrival—can cause a lot of anxiety and fear among expecting parents, Rasheed explains.
Guilt is another extremely common emotion during pregnancies subsequent to loss. “Guilt stems from thoughts like ‘it’s my fault’ or ‘I could have prevented it.’ In reality, most cases of loss are completely unexpected and unavoidable,” says Dr. Brauer.
“Some parents may feel even more intense feelings of guilt once the baby is home, reminding them of what could have been, and worse, what should have been,” adds Dr. Brauer.
There is no right or wrong way regarding how each woman feels after becoming pregnant following a heartbreaking loss, it’s a uniquely individual experience, says Rasheed.
How to practice self-care during a rainbow pregnancy
- Create a support system. “Setting up a support system even before trying again is paramount when attempting to mitigate anxiety,” says Dr. Brauer. “Support from family, partners and friends as well as psychological support in the form of a therapist is also extremely helpful,” she notes. “Support groups with individuals in similar circumstances can also be helpful. However bear in mind that every story is different and sometimes listening to others’ stories can trigger even more intense feelings of anxiety,” she points out. “Patience and reassurance from the medical team are also key in supporting such a pregnancy, which may come with extra visits, phone calls, ultrasounds and questions,” adds Dr. Brauer.
- Focus on the small wins. “Every milestone in a pregnancy is a win. Every good ultrasound or doctor’s visit is a good day that should be celebrated. No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but today is a good day. Allow yourself to enjoy it,” says Dr. Brauer.
- Be kind to yourself. Pregnancy coupled with a mixbag of intense emotions can be extremely draining, both physically and mentally. So be kind to yourself and make yourself a priority, says Rasheed. Build a support system, eat well, get some exercise, take time to rest and recharge, unplug from work, take recommended supplements and pay attention to what your body is telling you.
- Talk to your partner. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with your partner can be a great way to manage anxiety and strengthen the relationship. However, be mindful that not everyone processes feelings the same way. They too may be experiencing a range of emotions and may cope with difficult emotions differently, says Rasheed.
- Don’t compare. Pregnancy is stressful enough on its own. Looking at your new pregnancy solely through the lens of your past experience is only going to feed that stress. Instead, try to look at it as a new beginning, a new blessing and be hopeful for a positive outcome, suggests Rasheed.
- Be present in the moment. Try to remain present in the moment and not dwell on the past or ruminate on the future. That said, focusing on the present doesn’t mean you don’t honor the past. “Talk through any feelings of anxiety, guilt or otherwise with your partner, family, friend or therapist. These feelings are normal and should not be suppressed,” says Dr. Brauer.
- Try stress-relieving techniques. Incorporating stress-reducing techniques into your daily routine like mindful meditation, guided imagery, prenatal yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, etc. can help combat stress, anxiety and other negative emotions.
How to support your partner through a rainbow pregnancy
“Partner’s involvement and support are very important when expecting a rainbow baby,” says Rasheed.
If your partner is pregnant with a rainbow baby, you can support them and help them feel less alone by actively listening without trying to minimize any negative feelings like anxiety, self-doubt, worry, etc., suggests Dr . Brauer.
Additionally, you can help by assisting with chores, giving encouragement and reassurance, making lifestyle changes if needed and above all, maintaining healthy communication with your partner, suggests Rasheed.
The best place to start is by asking your partner how they would like you to support them and regularly checking in with each other.
How to support a friend expecting a rainbow baby
A basic understanding of the expecting parents’ perspective and preferences is a good place to start. “Some parents may not want to talk about it. In such a case, giving them time and space may be helpful till they are ready to talk,” says Rasheed.
In addition, “take cues from them in regards to how they want to prepare for the arrival of the new baby. If they do not want a baby-shower, don’t plan one,” Rasheed suggests. You can also ask the parents how they’d like to be supported.
Moreover, don’t offer advice to “fix the problem.” “Not every problem can be fixed, simply listening is often enough,” suggests Dr. Brauer.
Being mindful of your language, especially around sensitive topics like childbirth, fertility and loss is also imperative. “Many people have well-meaning intentions, but they may not know what to say or how to act in such a situation,” says Rasheed. Here are a few things that parents having rainbow baby don’t need to hear.