Mourning Glory: The Grief and Joy of Rainbow Babies
Posted on Feb 12, 2018
I don't like the term 'rainbow baby.' It makes it seem like the baby is an LGBTQ poster child or a Lucky Charms mascot. He is so much more than a symbol or an artificially-flavored-jacked-u
I relish any opportunity to write or talk about my first baby and his loss two years ago. I haven't kept much around since losing him – no pictures or demarcated shrine in my home because such mementos are too painful to look at. The words, however, are ever-flowing; rife with sorrow, grief, and love. When I was eight months pregnant with him, he died suddenly from a feto-maternal hemorrhage. I labored for 26 hours to bring him into this world, only to bury him in the children's section of the Islamic cemetery a few days later. He was fully developed and healthy-looking, and maybe - just maybe - if the doctors had detected a problem a week earlier, he could have been saved. Or not, God knows. But, he was beautiful and perfect and all mine. The journey toward healing and acceptance was long and hard and is ongoing. One of the doctors I saw after the loss told me that if I wanted to get pregnant again, I'd have to wait at least six months after the delivery to try. With this arbitrary date in mind, my husband and I decided for another go-around. How we did it after such a traumatic loss is anyone's guess. I had read that if the desire to have a baby outweighs the fear, then you know you're probably ready. And the desire was very much there.
My pregnancy with my second baby, Hamza, was a blur. I was a mess of anxiousness, dread, and fear. I was uber-conscious of my diet down to a T, giving up sugar, caffeine, and even workouts at the gym – which had become my safe haven since the loss of my firstborn. Every time he moved, I'd say a silent thank you to God, and if even an hour went by with no movement I raced to the ER right away. I had to see his heartbeat on the sonogram in the flesh to ease my own pulsating and heartbroken heart. I didn't enjoy the pregnancy at all – it was literally one long 'pregnant' pause of breath for nine arduous months. I vehemently denied any requests for baby showers, delayed setting up the nursery, car seat, or getting his clothes ready. I only begged anyone who asked to please, please pray for a healthy, live baby this time around. On June 6, five days before my due date, Hamza made his arrival.
Throughout the delivery, I was so focused on the hope that he'd make it out okay, I forgot to feel most of my labor pain (emphasis on most – at 9 cm dilation, you really can't think your way out of that mother of an excruciation). In the dwindling moments before Hamza came out, the nurse said, "Just think, your baby is almost here!" which caused me to burst into tears. "This one will be here, and my other one isn't!" I thought to myself. In the throes of those final contractions, I looked out the window. The sun was up, the trees were bright green, the sky was clear blue. The world was running on its schedule. Physically, I seemed to be "moving on," too. I was having another baby, and my husband and I would finally get to experience real parenthood. This realization only made me miss my first baby more, and I could feel him making his final ascent to heaven, out of my reach once and for all. I was having my next child, and my arms would no longer be empty, I wouldn't come home to a silent house absent a child, a cradle no longer laid bare. Hamza was making his own mark on this earth, but by no means was he replacing his older brother. As these thoughts dawned on me, the wounds I worked so hard to stitch came apart once again, forcing me to face my grief head-on.
"Need some more anesthetics, hon?" the nurse asked, seeing my face twist from ugly tears.
I couldn't begin to tell her that no amount of medication could numb the deep, bottomless pain I felt once again at missing my first baby.
I never knew it was possible to feel piercing devastation and limitless joy simultaneously. When I heard Hamza's first cry, my relief and joy were surreal. Until then, the only experience I'd had with labor and delivery was that of dead silence and a lifeless body pulled out of me at the end of it. My PTSD made me doubt if I'd ever get to experience the joy of holding my moving child close to me after his or her birth. But here he was, squirming in my arms, his cute tiny head poking about. My husband would later tell me that I was smiling from ear to ear and refused to let him go, even when the nurses asked for him. I have no recollection of this, but it sounds pretty accurate.
As the weeks passed, I was overjoyed at Hamza's arrival but surprised at how much I still missed my first baby. I naively hoped that by having my second baby with me, my heart would be so filled with elation, there'd be no room left for any other feeling. All I wanted was a healthy baby, and now that I had him (Alhamdulillah!), why was I still feeling blue? I felt as if the me from last year – the mourning mother – was observing the current me and I felt jealous of myself. This was jarring, as I was accustomed to feeling jealous of other new moms, hating them for having what I lost, but how was it possible to feel jealousy toward myself? Everything I did with Hamza, from changing his first diaper to putting him to sleep in his rocker to rubbing his back for a burp reminded me of what I didn't get to do with my first baby. Grief is sinister in how it creeps up on you when you least expected it, tarnishing even the happiest of moments with its poison. When I needed more burp cloths, even going to the baby aisle at Target felt heavy. It felt like I was stepping into a foreign country for the first time, as I had religiously avoided these sections of stores for over a year, the sight of diaper rash creams and pacifiers making my head spin and heartache. Now I was perusing these aisles every other week as if it was completely normal and I'd been coming to them all along.
Over time, I've learned to deal with these feelings as they come. They'll probably resurface again when Hamza says his first word, starts school, or meets his paternal grandparents for the first time (inshaAllah). To attempt to suppress these feelings is futile. Time has blunted grief's stinging, omnipresent sharpness, but the yearning for my first child never goes away. While the haze lifts, a new normal, built on hope and the sunrise that is Hamza, emerges.
Did you or someone you know have a rainbow baby? Share this story along with them, or share your experiences in the comments below! We're all here to support you!