What is a rainbow baby?
The term rainbow baby comes from the Shannon L. Adler quote, “After every storm, there is a rainbow.”
A rainbow baby is, quite simply, a baby born or adopted directly after the loss of a child either in pregnancy or after birth. This term is a simple way to communicate that this new pregnancy follows a loss, and quickly encapsulates the complicated emotions this pregnancy likely brings.
The storm, in this instance, refers to the tragic and traumatic loss of a child and the ensuing grief as you process that loss.
The significance of the rainbow is that life and hope not only can survive such a storm – but that the storm itself is integral to the formation of the rainbow.
Why some women don’t use rainbow baby to refer to their child after loss.
Not every pregnant after loss mother wants to refer to their child as a rainbow baby. Some feel the term connotes that their grief for their other baby will end. And the appearance of a rainbow means that nothing but sunny skies are ahead.
Others don’t like the idea of their previous child being associated with a storm.
Some women, especially those with infertility or subsequent losses, rightfully question the idea that every storm ends with a rainbow. Pregnancy for all loss moms is challenging, but for some, pregnancy is impossible. For physical, emotional or financial reasons, they cannot have a child after loss. They are ending their journey on the “storm” – and so the idea that just anyone can have a rainbow is triggering.
Women who suffer the loss of their rainbow baby also find the term confusing at best and devastating at worst. Was this child their rainbow if they died, too?
Why many women use rainbow baby anyway.
Despite the many arguments against the term, it remains one of the most popular terms to describe a pregnancy or child after loss.
Those who defend the concept of a rainbow baby believe that the storm does not describe the child who died. That child and that pregnancy was (and continues to be) worth celebrating. The storm is the grief and loss – not the child.
Also, the presence of a rainbow does not mean that the storm has ended. This pregnancy is not a replacement pregnancy that makes the loss ok. The rainbow baby can appear in the middle of the storm of loss and does not signify the end of grief for the child who died.
When can you refer to your baby as a rainbow baby?
If you decide this term is right for you, you absolutely can call your child a rainbow baby at any point in pregnancy or after. You might choose to think of this as your rainbow from the moment those two lines appeared. Or, you can join other moms who use “hopeful rainbow” during pregnancy and reserve “rainbow baby” once their little one has arrived alive and well. Many loss moms use rainbow baby to describe their child born via surrogate or their child who came to them through adoption.
There is no wrong time to use this term for a child who comes to you after loss.
Does “rainbow baby” also mean a child born after infertility?
Historically, the term refers to babies born or adopted after the passing of a child in pregnancy or after. At Pregnancy After Loss Support, we recognize that infertility is a storm and one that deserves the recognition for the trauma and grief it brings to families struggling to have a child. While there is currently no commonly accepted term for a baby born after infertility (but not loss), we hope this changes soon. A child born after infertility deserves that recognition.
What about other terms, like sunshine baby or pot of gold?
When a woman refers to a child as a sunshine baby, she’s referring to a child who came before their experience of loss. This child comes to signify the calm, hopeful naiveté that often accompanies a pregnancy before loss. A naiveté that sadly will never be experienced again.
A pot of gold baby is a baby born or adopted after the birth or adoption of a rainbow baby. The term acknowledges that even after a successful addition of a rainbow baby, growing your family after loss can still be a challenging experience. These babies may not be born directly after loss, but pregnancy with them can still be a very challenging emotional and physical experience.
Many families will have multiple sunshine babies, rainbows and pots of gold.
How else can you refer to your baby after loss?
Not quite sure “rainbow baby” is for you? There are plenty of other ways to describe your experience of pregnancy after loss. Subsequent pregnancy or subsequent baby is a term many moms choose. You might choose to simply refer to this child as “little sister” or “little brother” to the child or children you lost. You can choose to let people know “this is a pregnancy after loss.”
Or, maybe you aren’t ready for people to know you’ve experienced a loss before this new baby. For you, what feels right might be to refer to this pregnancy and baby without any special recognition.
Is rainbow baby right for you?
Only you can answer that.
But, no matter how you choose to refer to this child and this pregnancy … if it is right for you, it is right. Period.
I liked how you covered so many ways parents respond to loss and what comes later. In reading this, I realized my husband, myself, and our son/only living child are all “rainbows.” My husband was born after one loss after his parents each having had children with their previous spouses (he’s their only child together). I was born with meds after my parents had two early miscarriages, followed by my brother six years later after they’d assumed I’d be an only. My son came four years after an early miscarriage. My MIL doesn’t give my husband a title like rainbow (not her style anyway), but my mom calls me and I call my son our “miracles.” Yes, yes, every baby is a miracle, but some are a little more so. I like miracle better than rainbow because it encompasses our infertility and our adoption attempts that didn’t materialize as well as our miscarriage, but that’s just me.
Thank you for writing this post. Rainbow babies and all the experiences that go hand in hand with them are extremely emotive. I found a very real conflict between the joy of being pregnant, the hopes I had for my rainbow baby and the sadness and anxiety my losses gave me and my husband. One thing is for sure if you’ve lost a baby no matter what the circumstances are, how old that baby was, it’s something you’ll never forget. We don’t talk about these issues enough!
Thank you JOEL for raising awareness on this. It’s so important and it affects so many more individuals than people think.
I never called my rainbow baby by that term. Not sure if I had even heard that phrase then. We called our baby, after 2 older children and then 3 losses, our happy ending. He filled our quiver full and we knew that was our last try. His big brother and big sister were 11 and 12 yrs older than him. He was a very happy baby, he filled our hearts with joy, and he was just our happy ending.