I’m due with my sixth baby any day now, but there are only three car seats fitted into our car. Three of our babies have died before we ever held them. Three of them never took a breath as we know it.
This pregnancy has been fraught with difficulty for me. Sometimes I think I’ve handled it well; other times I’ve seriously doubted my maturity and my capacity to handle stress. Physically, I’ve had pain all the way through. Emotionally, I’ve had anxiety all the way through. Spiritually, I’ve had questions all the way through. Mentally, I’ve had battles within my own head all the way through.
Perhaps there was a certain grace keeping me from understanding the depth of my fragility during these last nine months, but now that I can look back over my shoulder it’s easy to see how weak and vulnerable I’ve been all along. I knew that to an extent, but the emotion has slowly and steadily built to a crescendo and it’s hard to imagine anything but birthing this child will cause it to all spill out and find the freedom it longs for. I anticipate many, many tears in the days to come and—strangely—I look forward to them and the release they inevitably will bring.
You’d think hearing the baby’s heartbeat with a doppler or seeing a fluttering heart on an ultrasound would help curb the anxiety. It did, but I’ve seen that before only to return to see a dark, blank screen weeks later.
You’d think making it to the fourteen week mark would bring a sense of relief. (All of my miscarriages happened before thirteen weeks.) It helped, yes, but there was still apprehension and angst.
You’d think feeling the baby move would help ease the fear. It has, but there are plenty of times during the day when the baby isn’t moving and you don’t know when they will next.
You’d think a growing belly and ongoing ultrasounds and dopplers and fundal checks and relentless signs of pregnancy would all help alleviate the thought that something could happen to the baby at any time. Those things all helped, but when—like I have—you’ve heard story after story of a baby’s heart suddenly stopping or a baby born still or an infant dying of SIDS or a child’s life claimed by terminal illness or a friend’s adult son taking his life, you know you are never really “safe” from death no matter what age your child reaches. You know you’re never truly safe from a broken heart.
With all six of our babies we announced our pregnancy early before doctors considered it “safe” to do so (that so-called ‘magical’ twelve week mark when chances drastically reduce for having a miscarriage). And with all six of our babies we’ve known we were risking public grief should something go wrong. But we’ve never once felt a moment of regret for being open or honest about our lives.
Celebration is best done in the company of others; mourning is, too.
Even now at thirty-nine weeks and three days pregnant, I still have moments of fleeting unease—when did the baby last move? (Poke, poke—you’re still okay in there, right darling?) There have been times I’ve wanted to go into labor just so I could see him breathing on the outside even while knowing the safest place he’ll ever be is within my womb, protected from the world. The mind is a funny thing. So is the heart.
But mostly these days I simply feel ready. Ready to hold this child in my arms. Ready to give him a name that will speak of his identity and point toward his destiny. Ready to see my sons greet their little brother and grow into a new version of themselves. Ready to see my husband cradle a newborn again. Ready to have a baby at my breast. Ready to share him with the world outside.
I may be eating my words in a few weeks but I even feel ready to be awake in the night, knowing what an incredible privilege the sacrifice of motherhood really is. I understand it better now. I’m ready to lean into it.
In the loss community, the term “rainbow baby” is often used to describe babies born after miscarriage or stillbirth. The metaphor is happy and it works for a lot of families as they see their new baby as a gorgeous gift after a storm. I’ll probably never use the term for myself personally though. I blame that on the bible.
The first rainbow we see in the bible is the one that comes after the great flood detailed in Genesis. Whether you believe the story is fact or myth is irrelevant in being able to clearly see its intention. God speaks to Noah of promise and hope and a new beginning, yes, but he also gives Noah word that he’ll never again flood the earth. That promise came with assurance that history wouldn’t repeat itself in the same form. It was the hope Noah needed to lead his family into something new, not forgetting the past but knowing it would never happen again. Although bizarre from a literal perspective, I love the story and can easily recognize its beauty and find plenty of application for my own life and for humanity.
But I’ve never had that same reassurance God gave Noah. I’ve never been promised that my personal storm wouldn’t be repeated.
My first so-called “rainbow baby” after Scarlett didn’t make it. My “rainbow baby” after Oliver didn’t live either. My “rainbow baby” after Ruby is now strong and full term and already engaged in my birth canal; he’s hiccupping as I write. But as long as I mother on this earth I have no guarantees that calamity will stay away from my family. I might view rainbows as a lovely reminder that this particular personal storm is over… but they in no way carry with them reassurance that another devastating storm isn’t around the corner. The metaphor is flawed for me and I’m okay with that. I don’t have to use it to appreciate the gift this child is.
My son is not my rainbow baby. He’s my son—wholly and completely loved… just as my other babies are wholly and completely loved, though absent from our home. This child ready to join us in the outside world doesn’t replace them, he doesn’t make up for the heartbreak of death and loss and grief. Love doesn’t work that way. Love stands on its own while also bringing all things together. (That, friends, is a true miracle.)
Miscarriages ensured I lost a certain innocence about pregnancy that I carried before. They also ensured I wouldn’t take cover under false promises or assume that life will turn out as expected. I am not entitled to happy endings, nor am I ungrateful for them when they come. If anything, suffering has made me appreciate joy more… but I will not demand it more. I can’t. I know too much.
I don’t “deserve” this baby or this happiness. I receive him and this happiness with arms and heart wide open. I open the gift with gratitude and—hopefully—I embrace it with the measure of wonder and humility the gift warrants. There’s no assurance my life will never be flooded again, but I’ve made peace with that and I choose to see and absorb the beauty anyway. I don’t need storms or clear skies to find rainbows anymore. I’m less interested in formulas and more interested discovering hope in whatever form it decides to take.
Believe me, I realize my rejection of the “rainbow baby” term could sound negative. Perhaps it might make others uncomfortable to hear a hopeful person say things that could be interpreted as doom and gloom when I talk about the possibilities of more storms to come. But the way I see it, it’s not distain. Rather, it’s a depth of hope and trust that comes not in spite of the risks but because of them.
I have seen the faithfulness of God in the midst of the storm—while in the eye of it surrounded by eerie silence yet thankful to realize I’m still alive, and also while tossed in the fray of it, gulping and gasping for a lifeline, wondering if a rescue boat will come before I drown. I’ve also seen it while safely back on shore, recovering under a blanket and wrapped in the comfort of love and sustaining grace.
There he is—God faithful within it all. (It’s who he is. He can’t not be.)
I’ve also seen the faithfulness of God well after the storm when the clouds are well and truly parted and the seas have grown still. I know the sun will rise in the east again tomorrow and the buds will eventually push their way through the barren winters. I know that love always finds its destination. I also know that new life comes after death—it’s the order of the world (made in light of heaven) and we can always hope for it, look for it, and call it into being.
I understand how little I understand and I see Jesus anyway, through it all. He is the source of life as I know it and my hope rests securely in knowing he never stops creating, never stops reproducing life, never stops loving us into becoming more of ourselves.
Maybe I’m too little of a poet and too much of a literalist but the term “rainbow baby” is a broken metaphor to me so I’ll probably never use it as a descriptor myself. But to be clear, it’s not offensive to me when people refer to our son as our rainbow baby. I understand the sentiment and I receive it gratefully, joyfully, and with my whole heart. He is a gift and he will be birthed out of the aftermath of our storm. There’s enough beauty in that to call forth the splendor of a rainbow, indeed.
And that, my friends, is one more reason to rejoice in his coming.
There’s so much to celebrate with the impending birth of our son. I cannot wait to share the beauty and our joy with you soon.