My life split in two at the moment I found out our baby’s heart had stopped beating. Our beautiful firstborn baby girl was stillborn in June 2022. In September 2023, we joyously welcomed our rainbow daughter into the world. I can not fully put into words the way this baby girl has healed my heart, but she is not a replacement or an eraser for the pain of losing her big sister. Loss changed me. Sometimes I miss the woman I was before, but I know I can’t go back.

I now live my life in this place of coexisting grief and joy, holding both within my grasp at the same time.

Shannon Thompson with her husband, rainbow baby, and a bear representing her daughter who was stillborn - Holding Both Grief & Joy after Stillbirth

Author’s Personal Collection/Samantha Thompson – Photo Credit: Morgan Ravenscraft Photography

As I hold my rainbow close, I study her profile and see so many shared features of her sister. I wonder what it would be like to have them both here in my arms. Would they look like twins being just 15 months apart? Would we have even had them that close in age had we not lost our first child? As she nurses, my daughter reaches up and grabs my memorial necklace. It’s such a tender moment. I’m so thankful for my body being able to nourish her now. I think back to the early postpartum days after my first pregnancy when my milk came in but there was no longer a baby to nurture. It felt incredibly cruel that the body that failed to keep my daughter alive would produce milk after she was gone. There has been such redemption in these quiet moments nursing my rainbow now, feeling her gentle breaths and knowing she is here safe and alive.

Our rainbow is growing now, and I’m so grateful to see her reach each new stage for the first time.

I begin packing up her outgrown clothes into boxes for storage. I collapse in tears as I fold up the little overalls because I remember buying them back when I was that other person who believed in happy endings. It’s been bittersweet seeing our secondborn wear the clothes we bought for her big sister, but I’ve taken comfort in the thought that “normal” siblings wear hand-me-downs too. But now I’m struck by the fact there are not many more hand-me-downs left. Soon, our daughter will outgrow the last item that was purchased for her big sister, and that will be another loss to grieve.

I struggle with innocent questions now.

“Do you have kids?” There’s not a simple answer. Do I speak honestly, share my story, and see the discomfort? Or do I lie and just speak of my child on earth but not the one I carry in my heart? Both answers can feel wrong. I know my traumatic story makes people uncomfortable, and yet, no amount of awkwardness for them can compare to the pain of it actually being my life. “How many kids do you all want?” I want what I can’t have. I want my baby who died and my rainbow too. I want pregnancy to be an exciting time, not consumed by fear. Pregnancy after loss was the second hardest thing I’ve ever endured, and I honestly don’t know that I can go through that again. But then, I look at my daughter in my arms, and she was worth the risk. I’m so filled with conflicting feelings.

Shannon Thompson with her husband, rainbow baby, and a bear representing her daughter who was stillborn - Holding Both Grief & Joy after Stillbirth

Author’s Personal Collection/Samantha Thompson – Photo Credit: Morgan Ravenscraft Photography

I would never choose this life, but I am who I am now because of loving and losing our girl.

While some days I wish I could go back to my old self again, this new me has gained so many other things through loss. My faith has been refined and made stronger. There’s nothing like wailing at God to break away all the superficial and discover what’s real faith. I lost my naïveté but gained a pure appreciation of everything I get to experience as a mother. Middle-of-the-night wakings and cluster feedings are a privilege because I remember the days I prayed for the chance to have a living child. I have a deep compassion for the other women in this worst of all clubs that I could not have without knowing this pain intimately. I have a stronger marriage and deeper love for my husband because when I couldn’t see the light in my grief, he worked so hard to pull me back to the surface.

So while I miss who I was before, I know I can’t go back. I just have to learn to live in this new life of grief and joy until my time on earth is over. Each day brings me one day closer to the day when grief will be no more, and there will only be joy eternal, but today I live where grief and joy coexist.

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