“Anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.”
The friends and family that are committed to you living your best life are what I call your “Support Circle.” They want to see you thrive in every aspect of your life, including parenthood. For moms that have experienced loss, the role that the Support Circle takes on will look different.
The way you support a friend before a pregnancy loss will be different with their rainbow baby. Losing a baby strips the innocence away from any future pregnancies. As moms of angels, we celebrate our new baby but we also worry about the worst case scenario with our new pregnancy. The type of support we need the second time around will be quite different.
What is a rainbow baby?
A rainbow baby is a baby that is born after a mom experiences a miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death. The term “rainbow baby” represents the beauty and comfort of a rainbow that you see after a storm.” Losing a baby is one of the most devastating things that a family can experience. Pregnancy loss creates a very dark cloud over grieving parents and for many of them, it takes a long time before they can see brighter days. Having a rainbow baby reignites their hope just as seeing a rainbow in the sky does for all of us.
What does pregnancy loss feel like?
Before I jump into how you can support your friend who has a rainbow baby, it’s important to understand what their pregnancy loss felt like. Losing a baby is by far, one of the hardest things that grieving parents have to experience. Grieving parents have to say hello and goodbye at the same time, and re-plan the rest of their lives without bringing their baby home. As parents of angels, we don’t “get over” our loss. Instead, we learn how to live with our new reality.
To learn more, read: 5 Things I Want You to Know about My Grief
Getting pregnant after a pregnancy or neonatal loss is one of the scariest times of a mom’s life. The excitement of a new baby is met with fear of another loss. During my first pregnancy, I didn’t care if I had a boy or girl, as long as it was healthy. For all my future pregnancies, I wish for more than good health; I wish for a living, breathing baby.
Things You Don’t Say to the Mom of a Rainbow Baby
- “I’m so excited for you!” While this may be true for you, it may not always be true for the parents. After pregnancy loss, the next pregnancy is automatically labeled “high risk.” Doctors take additional precautions to make sure that the expecting mom is healthy and safe. Naturally, moms are extremely nervous during this time, and for the months following the birth of their rainbow baby. As a member of their Support Circle, it’s important to be sensitive to their nervousness. Instead of expressing your excitement, ask the mother how she feels or what she has been thinking about.
- “Now you have [insert number of living children]” Don’t remove the angel baby from the mom’s birth order. After my cousin gave birth to her angel baby, one of her best friends said, “You finally have your family of four.” The problem was that my cousin and her husband actually had three children. One child was five, the middle child was an angel, and their rainbow baby was a few days old. Don’t omit the angel baby from the parents’ birth order. A rainbow baby isn’t a replacement for the angel baby; it’s the newest addition to the family.
- “You shouldn’t be so overbearing with your new baby. He/she is going to be fine.” Having a baby after pregnancy or neonatal loss is an ongoing emotional challenge within itself. Moms are joyous for their new baby, but many parents also feel a need to be overprotective as well. When you talk to your friends, don’t criticize their parenting because their experience with loss helped to shape the way they choose to raise their rainbow baby. After loss, parents will always be concerned for their rainbow baby. It’s not overreacting; it’s called being a rainbow mom and rainbow dad.
How to Support the Mom of a Rainbow Baby
- Follow the mother’s lead. This goes back to willingly expressing your excitement for a rainbow baby’s arrival. Allow mom to express how she feels at that moment. As a member of her Support Circle, it’s your job to validate her feelings (not correct them), and make her feel as comfortable as possible.
- Remember their angel baby. Every year, one of my good friends sends me a heart emoji on the anniversary of the day my husband and I lost my son. It reminds us that our own Support Circle still remembers our son and that we aren’t alone in honoring his memory. It’s hard to find the right words to say on milestones like that, but a simple heart can say everything for you.
- Buy a rainbow keepsake. After the rainbow baby is born, send the parents a keepsake gift that celebrates the birth of their rainbow baby. This onesie is an excellent choice. You may also consider a rainbow blanket or picture frame for the baby, or a rainbow necklace for mom.
- Help them with their usual responsibilities. While I was recovering from childbirth, many people said, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” That’s a great gesture. It’s socially appropriate and it leaves the opportunity for new parents to reach out for anything they need.The problem is that we aren’t always programmed to ask for help even when we really need it. Instead of waiting on the parents to ask you for help, proactively offer to bring them dinner or pick up their groceries. Hire a cleaner to clean the house for them. Offer to run errands for them or assist with replying to all the messages people sent after the rainbow baby was born.
- Encourage mom to take care of herself. Often times, mom’s receive an overwhelming amount of support right after her baby is born. People stop by the house to bring food and gifts, but they rarely do things just for mom. As soon as mom is able, take her out for a facial or a mani/pedi and coffee. Bring some snacks and spend the day binge watching her favorite show. Do things that take mom to her happy place as often as you can.
- Respect their triggers. There is so much that can be said about the beauty of having a rainbow baby. Even with the gift of a rainbow baby, moms will still be triggered by things that remind her of her angel. Looking at her rainbow baby can easily trigger grief, especially if her angel and rainbow babies look alike. Caring for her rainbow baby may serve as a reminder of those moments that she never got to experience with her angel. It’s hard to understand this dynamic if you haven’t experienced pregnancy loss before, but the best thing you can do as her Support Circle is to listen to her and show grace and empathy if mom chooses to talk about it.
A mother’s grief doesn’t end when her rainbow baby is born. Having a rainbow baby can bring so much joy, but it can also trigger grief from her angel as well. She has to find a way for both grief and joy to coexist in order to honor her angel’s memory and raise her rainbow baby. As her support system, it’s important for you to be sensitive to mom’s feelings while also making sure that she’s taken care of emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Caroline Jefferson is an author and founder of Parents of an Angel, a comforting community for grieving parents. After experiencing her own pregnancy loss, Caroline became committed to helping grieving moms and dads find the resources and support that she desperately needed after her son was born sleeping at 39 weeks. She talks about her own experience with loss and shares a lot of helpful advice in her new book, Heartache, Healing, & Hope: The story of one mom’s courageous journey after pregnancy loss.