Losing a baby is an isolating experience, there is no doubt about it. But I was surprised when I was blessed with my rainbow baby, to find that I remained isolated. With hindsight I understand that having my rainbow just 1 year, 1 month and 8 days after Finley died kicked off a new intensity in my grief, and that I was suffering with post traumatic stress and likely post-natal depression too. Those were factors in my isolation – not to mention the early chaos that comes with learning how to look after a whole new person.
Even so, the isolation I felt was surprising. I still didn’t quite fit anywhere. All of a sudden the loss groups which had been comforting became sources of fear and anxiety. But going to new mummy groups, breast feeding groups, even weigh in clinics were like a new form of SAS torture training.
I’d turn up and wonder how many blissful breastfeeders I was going to see that day, how many toddlers would be called Finley, how many people would leave my company after asking me the “Is this your first” question (and not liking the answer I gave). Eventually I stopped trying.
And in that further isolation, I lost a source of normality networking.
You know what I mean? The chats over coffee with friends where you discover helpful things like hair falling out in clumps after you have a baby is totally normal, or that cabbage leaves in the freezer helps soothe sore boobs?
There were several things that drove me potty (even more potty) when I become mummy to a rainbow baby – and I thought these were issues that were mine and mine alone.
So here are my reflections 8 years down the line about things that are commonplace to mummies (and not unique to rainbow mummies).
- Worrying there isn’t enough love to go around.
When Finley was born forever asleep, I woke up from anaesthetic to the news. I am almost ashamed to say that I welcomed the morphine haze and happily went back to sleep several times. My instincts were screaming at me to leave initially. I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of love for a while – but it did come. My baby may have been dead, but my mothering instincts didn’t die with him. I held him, I was proud of him, I snuggled him and the wrench when I had to leave him behind felt like leaving a piece of myself behind. I was so connected, so attached, and the sense of love for him was immense. And when I fell pregnant it was impossible to imagine that any baby would be able to fill that space. I felt horrendously guilty for thinking about replacing Finley – and horrendously guilty for not wanting my rainbow baby. I was so sure that I would not have any love left for her.
I had no idea that non-loss mums can also experience this when they are pregnant with a second child, that they worry that they won’t love their new baby as much as they do their first child.
- Checking the baby is breathing
Babies should not die. It isn’t right. It isn’t the way things should be. And when it happens to you, it changes absolutely everything. When Finley died, parts of me died too. I changed overnight. Suddenly anxiety became a feature of my every day existence. Flashbacks were a regular feature. I learned to live with them but for a long time they dominated my life with my rainbow baby.
This belief infiltrated everything. I couldn’t prepare for her arrival during pregnancy because I could never imagine she would come home. I took photos of every tiny detail because I thought I wouldn’t see it tomorrow. I struggled to bond with her because I thought she would be taken away as well. Everything became a danger. The slightest cold would freeze me with fear.
But night times were the absolute worst, when I would nurse her to sleep and in the dark, the flashbacks would make her look like my memory of her brother. I’d wake up and look at her in the night and be convinced that she wasn’t breathing. I’d lay her down and walk away having to tell myself that she was still alive. I would return to check many, many times because I thought she wasn’t breathing anymore.
I had no idea that non-loss mums can also experience this when they go into their baby and poke them to check they are ok.
- Mum shaming/Competitiveness/Guilt
Ok, so Mum Shaming wasn’t a term I knew about 8 years ago – but I certainly felt ashamed and guilty at many points with my rainbow baby. And I assumed that it was just me who experienced it, and that I was doing so many things wrong. I didn’t talk to anyone about how I felt.
You could be forgiven for assuming that the babyloss community is wholly supportive. But it doesn’t take long to recognise that there is a righteousness and a certain level of competitiveness within it.
And that reaches a whole new level when you have a rainbow baby.
There is a competitiveness that surrounds the babyloss community, hierarchies and judgements which stem from tragic lived experiences and this seeps into rainbow pregnancies. Maybe the mum who lost at 12 weeks, doesn’t feel that she is allowed to experience anxiety about her baby at full term. Maybe reassurance scans are withheld if the professional doesn’t feel that you have a right to worry at that particular point.
Because of the experiences members of the community have had, babies are precious, even more precious. They are fragile treasures, sought after, longed for, and protected. But this attitude makes seeking non-biased advice from within the community difficult.
You have never felt judgement like it, until you are a breast-feeding rainbow mum, exhausted, emotional, grieving and trying to find a way that you can just get some sleep and you make the mistake of posting that you are co sleeping. You have taken the best decision for your family, made as much effort as possible to do it safely and yet you are cast out, with hundreds of negative posts immediately accusing you of trying to harm your most precious thing. Suddenly, though you dodged the stillbirth bullet, apparently you now risk sids.
I had no idea that non-loss mums can also experience this when seeking support and advice – breast vs bottle, vaccinate or not, bare cot & own room, room share or bed share, baby led weaning vs puree…. The judgement goes on and on.
- Post Partum Bodies
When Finley died my post baby body came as a bit of a shock to me. I hadn’t really paid much attention to what happened to my friend’s body’s after their babies were born. So, the deflated balloon affect had gone entirely unnoticed. I had been expecting the bleeding but hadn’t anticipated the association with my previous miscarriage to occur. One thing I was not expecting to experience was phantom kicks. It regularly felt as if Finley was back in my tummy, fluttering, kicking and hiccupping away. I woke in the night from dreams, with cheeks wet with tears, holding my tummy, almost sure I could feel him there.
I didn’t produce any milk (I was given a tablet to stop it), so that was a totally new experience when my rainbow was born. After my rainbow baby was born, so many of these sensations reoccurred. And I suffered in silence with the flashbacks, feelings of despair and hatred that they created.
I had no idea that non-loss mums can also experience this when their baby is born. Phantom kicks are felt by many – though don’t have the same emotional poignancy and are explained by organs settling back into pre-pregnancy positions.
- Feelings of loss and sadness getting rid of baby stuff
When Finley died, his nursery was ready and waiting at home. We had drawers full of baby clothes, furniture was built, the pram was in the garage, the car seat installed in the car awaiting its tiny cargo. We faced the agonising decision of what to do with this item, and that item. Choosing to keep some things, give some away, sell some. I really thought nothing could compare with the feeling of giving away unused baby clothes.
Then we had our rainbow baby. And I discovered there were some things I just couldn’t use with her. The pram was barely used because it felt wrong. It still sits in the garage. Some clothes were Finley’s alone and she didn’t wear them. Some toys were his. Inexplicable. But true just the same.
I wasn’t expecting to come across a deep deep sadness when the time came for her to move into the next size of clothing. I would empty the wardrobe, and carefully fold these tiny baby clothes, tears running down my face. It was a step that Finley would never take, but also it was a step that my rainbow would never take again.
It still is sad to clear the wardrobe each year of clothes that no longer fit and a wrench to part with some of them.
I had no idea that non-loss mums can also experience this when they part with their baby’s clothing and toys, saddened by the child growing up, particularly if it is their last baby.