This week I came across an article on the number 7. I have never thought much about the number 7 beyond there being 7 days in a week and that God rested on the 7th day. But according to the article, the number 7 holds quite a bit of significance in the world. There are the 7 days in the week, but also 7 oceans, 7 continents, 7 vertebrae in the human neck, 7 wonders of the world, 7 layers of skin, 7 notes of sound, and of course the 7 colors of the rainbow. It is said that 7 is the number of completion. I do not know if that is true but it was interesting reading this in my 7th year as a loss parent.
7 years have passed since the loss of my children.
It would have been cool if I had published 7 books, visited 7 countries, or opened 7 businesses but I haven’t. I have done only a few things of significance: sought to grow closer to God, loved my family as hard as I could, mourned the loss of my children, published two books, and raised my rainbow babies as best as I could. So the luck of 7 didn’t pan out in that way.
In these 7 years, I have shared my grief with others and been a listening ear as they shared theirs. These 7 years have felt like a lifetime one minute and mere moments the next. Looking back on my 7 years, there was so much I didn’t know and maybe that was as it should be, but if you would allow me, here are 7 things I have learned in my 7 years as a loss/rainbow mom.
1. Joy and grief are not mutually exclusive.
Others have said this much better than I can but I remember being at my kids’ preschool during a Christmas event. My kids were playing and I was happily watching them interact with their school friends. Then two little girls, dressed in identical clothing ran up to the group. It’s funny because seeing identical twins does not make me burst into tears usually, or feel any negative emotion really but for some reason, I felt my throat tighten and my eyes sting from holding back tears. I didn’t have a full meltdown that day years after my loss but I came close. Was I less grateful for my children? Did I resent those adorable little girls in matching dresses? Did this mean that I was stuck? Was the entire day lost because I had a moment of grief on an otherwise joyous day? Of course not. But days like that happen. If you are lucky you can identify your triggers and prepare for them, but that’s not always how this works. So deep breaths, this is but a moment and it will soon give way to another kind of moment. There is so much joy in your world and that joy will return, just give yourself grace, and space to experience your grief.
*If you do feel that you need additional support with your grief during pregnancy or parenting after loss, please contact your health care provider or support line.
2. You are not alone.
I understand how you feel as a newly bereaved mama. You think that no one could ever understand this pain. You look around and people’s joy, their strength, and even their sadness make you feel isolated. You don’t feel their joy right now, and you don’t have the strength that they seem to have, and the fact that they would dare be sad over losing a job or a relationship makes you mad. Your journey here is so important. It is uniquely yours and that can at times feel like you are all alone but no matter what the circumstances of your journey, I promise you that countless parents are walking this path before you and alongside you. They are all around you and like you, they are searching for a hand to hold, someone who can make them feel less alone. Maybe you will find the person in this community that will be that for you, or maybe greater still you will become that support for another mama.
3. This a love like no other.
The love that you will have for your child will be indescribable. It will be great and small, careful and messy all at once. I want to tell you so much but I know that you will discover this one all on your own. The only reason to mention this here at all, it because it was such a powerful lesson of the last 7 years.
4. Not every day as a rainbow parent is a great day.
There is a disturbing edict, that says you are not allowed to feel anything other than 100% happy as a parent of a rainbow baby. The messaging comes clothed in the dismissive tones of family and friends, the sunshine-y words of the mommy blogs, and most often our guilt. I wish to be honest with you. Just like every day of marriage isn’t great or every day at the perfect job is going to be easy, every day as a parent, rainbow or not, will not be great. Being a rainbow parent does not entitle us to children who never get sick, never act out in public or tell us we have morning breath. Some days will flow like honey and others will feel like gravel. Each day comes with its lessons and you are strong enough and loving enough to make it through.
5. You will not be a perfect parent.
Did you make pronouncements that you would try your best to be everything your child needs, every minute of every day? No? Just me? Okay well, I was pretty sleep-deprived back then but yes, I tried hard to be the perfect parent. I thought that there was no way that I can mess up after all that I have been through before becoming a parent. But I have made countless mistakes, like the time I confused my kids’ cereal, and rather than admit I was wrong when they complained, I lectured them about being grateful. I have lost patience, been late for pick up, and had moments when I just didn’t understand what my children needed. Does any of that make me a bad parent? No. It makes me human. And because you are also human, I want you to know that you will make mistakes, so forgive yourself, apologize and chalk it all up to experience and growth.
6. You will need to separate from your precious child.
I remember holding my rainbow daughter throughout the night. I was too afraid to put her down to sleep. Later, I would sit and watch my son sleep in my arms and be perfectly sure that I would never want to part from him. Back then I thought that I would always desire such close physical contact with my children. Today, I understand needing to be away from them for a little while. Parents get tired, and we need time away from our children. But more than physical distance, we need to create mental and emotional time away from our kids. We need to be engaged in projects, work, and activities that fill us up, we need to do things that feed the other parts of who we are. No parent can find all that they need in their child and no child should ever be given that responsibility. So for your sake and theirs, find separate things that are just yours.
7. You will form the most beautiful connections.
I cannot tell you the number of times, I have read articles or seen comments from people who have had experiences so similar that it is uncanny. Even if the experiences aren’t the same, the experience of the experience is so similar it is reassuring. And their words will encourage you on the harder days. You will know that you are not a bad mother for feeling the way that you do. You will have conversations with strangers who feel like family. Someone you don’t know will admire your strength and courage and you will learn to see those qualities in yourself.
I hope it doesn’t take you seven years to learn any of these but if it does that is all okay too.