After a rainbow baby is born, loss moms might feel obligated to parent by a certain set of standards. We may feel pressure from society and from ourselves to do things a certain way.
There is a sense that we should ignore the fact that one of our babies died. It can feel like we are no longer allowed to acknowledge the baby who is gone; like we must release the grief and heartache caused by loss. We might wonder how we can be anything but happy when there is new life cradled in our arms.
We may feel obligated to be grateful at all times, never discussing the exhaustion and frustration that exists within the territory of parenting. In the mess and chaos of parenting after loss, we wonder if we are allowed to wish even one moment of it away. We might feel like we have to be perfect mothers because maybe, just maybe, life is too short for mistakes.
We can feel guilty for being happy while the experience of death still lingers. And we can feel guilty for being sad even while looking into the eyes of a living child.
There are some things that we, as mothers who are parenting after loss, simply don’t feel we have the right to do. So I’ve put together this short list of a few things that you absolutely have permission to do as a parenting-after-loss mom, no guilt necessary.
1. You have permission to talk about the baby who died.
This new life doesn’t negate the fact that the life of the baby who died was just as important. Your rainbow baby hasn’t replaced your loss baby and you have the right to keep that baby’s memory alive.
2. You have permission to continue grieving.
A rainbow baby makes life so good, but never perfect. You will always be aware of what is missing and you are allowed to miss the child who is gone. You have the right to grieve without guilt.
3. You have permission to be happy.
It’s okay to smile, laugh, celebrate. To allow joy to outweigh grief. You have the right to detach from the guilt that can come with feeling happy.
4. You have permission to vent.
About how difficult parenting is. Or how exhausted you are and how it all is so much harder than you ever expected. You have the right to talk about the hard parts, or dare I say, complain about them.
5. You have permission to wish for certain stages of motherhood to come to an end.
Maybe it’s breastfeeding, or the sleepless nights, or potty training, or any of the other million “hard” stages of motherhood. It’s okay if you don’t love every minute. You have the right to appreciate certain parts of motherhood more than others.
6. You have permission to change your mind.
Did you promise yourself you’d breastfeed, but it’s not really working out? It’s okay to switch to a bottle. Were you certain that you’d co-sleep, but now find that you’d rather have your own space? It’s okay if your baby sleeps alone in the nursery. You have the right to do things differently than you thought you would, no guilt attached.
7. You have permission to worry.
After losing a baby, it’s only natural to worry that your rainbow baby might die. Others might see these worries as obsessive, silly, ridiculous. But you’ve already witnessed the life of your offspring vanish and there’s no guarantee that it won’t happen again.
8. You have permission to be okay and not okay all at once.
You smile for the baby you see and cry for the one you don’t. Your heart is healing, though scarred. You’re half full, yet half empty. You have the right to be tangled up in all the emotions, good and bad. There is no right way to be happy and no wrong way to grieve.
I believe that motherhood is always different from how we imagine it will be even, and perhaps especially, when we are parenting a rainbow baby.
Let’s give ourselves permission to love and grieve, to set standards and change them, to soak in the good and wish away the bad, to laugh and cry, and to live in the present while remembering the past. And to do it all imperfectly.