Babies born after loss are called rainbow babies because it is like a rainbow after a storm: something beautiful after something intensely dark and sad.
I lied to myself almost every day. I pretended that a kick and a roll from my rainbow baby meant that the anxiety and fear melted away. The truth was far more complicated. My love and attachment to Piglet, the baby I lost by miscarriage, was so instantaneous and so intense that for such a long time after my loss, all I could feel was confusion and heart ache and mistrust.
But I never lost hope. In February of 2019 I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy called Billy Reign Hanley. We chose the middle name Reign, short for rainbow, because he will forever carry a part of Piglet with him. Billy has made me happier than I ever thought possible and I love him more than anything else in this world.
However, little did I know the mountain I would have to climb before I felt at peace and ready to close the chapter on what was the hardest and most painful part of my life.
Since opening up about my miscarriage, I have spoken to many women on a similar path; Women who are waiting for their rainbow baby with a mixture of hope and desperation. I can’t speak for everyone, I can only share my experience of loss and how it felt to carry my rainbow baby into this world.
My miscarriage had profound impact on me. My grief penetrated every aspect of my life but mostly I felt robbed of my innocence as a first time Mom.
I found pregnancy after loss emotionally challenging, confusing and hard. I felt everything from fear, joy, anxiety, happiness, relief, gratitude, guilt, shame and excitement. I felt anxiety because I didn’t trust that this pregnancy would ‘last’, shame because I was completely relieved to be pregnant again and guilt because I found the end of my pregnancy very difficult, painful and uncomfortable.
When you're expecting again after a miscarriage, it's normal to feel a bit anxious. It’s normal to feel A LOT anxious like I did.
I thought counting down to each important milestone that would take me one step closer to my healthy baby would help. In some ways it did and in others, it didn’t.
James and I toasted milestones; news that my hCG levels were doubling, a heartbeat at the first ultrasound, feeling movement, passing the week in which I miscarried Piglet, the big scan and viability. With each successful milestone I began to feel like I could trust my body but I always held back, just a little, and when I denied myself this trust, fear grew in its place.
Even at 37 weeks, when a baby is considered full term, a moment of calm and celebration – James we did it, he’s safe – quickly turned into crippling pressure to count his kicks and remain constantly vigilant to his movement.
My cautious optimism felt like a plague, a poison preventing me from celebrating this miracle and trusting my body.
I noticed that some people around me were, occasionally, quick to hide their excitement too. Just in case! Shopping trips and baby conversations came to an abrupt end. Just in case! I wanted to talk about Billy but i was so scared. I unfairly relied on other people to help make me feel like my pregnancy real.
I sought constant reassurance from doctors and midwives that Billy was OK and in his first 12 weeks in my tummy, James and I had twice the number scans than most do in their entire pregnancy. At the beginning, I spoke more of my anxiety and fear than I did of my hope and joy. I was scared and full of doubt.
I didn’t trust my body and whilst the frequent scans were reassuring I found the need to explain to yet another midwife why I was back again exhausting and frustrating.
My answer to the question “is this your first baby” was complicated and even though, in our hearts, we felt the answer was “no”, we found it easier to say yes because it meant we avoided the awkward need to rationalise our pain for someone else’s benefit and understanding. I discovered that unless you have been through it, there are very few people understand the pain of miscarriage.
As a result we were at the receiving end of equal amounts of compassion and indifference. Every day we added to the list of things we would never never say to parents grieving the loss of a baby by miscarriage, and even more specifically parents trapped in the grey space between grief and joy, or a storm an a rainbow; at least you can pregnant, what’s meant for you won’t pass you by, it wasn’t meant to be, you’re still young.
Our loss, Piglet, has been permanently woven in to the fabric of my life, family and pregnancy.
Feeling Billy kick for the first time was indescribable and finding out our baby was a boy was one of the most memorable and beautiful experiences of our entire pregnancy. I began to trust a little more and I started having conversations with Billy. I wasn’t just pregnant anymore, I was carrying my son. I had an active and boisterous son and I grew so head over heels in love with the little boy I could feel kicking inside me. But then I had a son to lose.
With each passing day I would do my best to manage my fear and anxiety using meditation and mindfulness. I would talk and write and speak with other women who have gone through similar journeys.
Nevertheless, a part of me also just surrendered to the fear and instead of fighting it, I grew to accept that the only solution to my heart ache would be my baby in my arms. I needed to feel him breathe and touch his skin. I needed to to take just one day at a time but most of all, I never lost hope.
I never lost sight of the fact that many women experience loss that is far greater than mine. However, I eventually gave myself permission to accept that even though I believed this to be true, it does not and should not reduce my own pain. My loss was so painfully real to me.
I didn’t just stop being pregnant, my baby died. This was my reality. Reducing, minimising or trying to explain my grief away made me feel worse. I judged myself every day until I finally believed that grief does not recognise what you have lost, it simply recognised loss.
The number of weeks is irrelevant when the pain in your heart mourns a love that was lost. I was a mother who lost her baby.
I became a mother long before Billy was born. I became a mother when I saw two blue lines on the first ever pregnancy test I took on the 11th March 2018, Mother’s Day.
Just because I didn’t have the privilege of carrying my first born full term, or raising him didn’t mean I was not a mother. I love both my babies fiercely. The love I feel for each is different but it is fierce.
One baby cannot - will never - replace another. Every day since Billy’s birth I walk around our home, holding him tightly against my chest. I still can’t believe he is mine and that he is real. Not so long ago, I wailed and screamed with grief. It feels like a distant memory now.
When I held Billy for the first time in the hospital , I looked at James and we both just cried and laughed and smiled.
I whispered a quiet thank you to Piglet and for the first time ever, our loss genuinely made sense. I was at peace.
To cope with my miscarriage, I believed that the three of us (James, Piglet and I) shared a destiny and this co-destiny was to bring Billy into the world. I couldn’t accept that Piglet just left me for no reason, there had to be a meaning. Piglets life had a purpose.
Losing Piglet was the hardest thing I have ever gone through but he gave us the greatest gift possible, Billy.
When one life exists because another’s was cut short there lies a miracle so bright, and a blessing that is too great to be counted.
Carrying a rainbow baby was for me, unpredictable, complicated and messy. The fear and anxiety never went away but every day that passed I grew used to living with it, and better at managing it. Most of all, I never lost hope.
I didn’t have to wait long for my rainbow baby and I feel incredibly blessed - Billy was in a hurry to be born.
I know that there are many women still waiting for their rainbow baby who would trade their want for this fear and anxiety. I was one of them and I know how hard it is. There are so few words but I think of you all the time.
Carrying a rainbow baby is difficult, but there are no words to describe the miracle, joy and love that is waiting for us.
Below is a list of resources that will help you, or someone you love, who have experienced loss.
Family and friends
Talking, to the right people, really does help. Find someone who makes you feel safe in your sorrow and pain and give yourself permission to talk. There is no shame in miscarriage, only love.