Being a Father to a Rainbow Baby
A rainbow baby is a baby had after loss. Doesn’t matter if the child lost was a miscarriage, a stillborn or died sometime after birth, whether it was hours or years. A rainbow after the storm, is how most define it, but more accurately that rainbow baby is a rainbow during a storm. Emotional storms can be any variety of strength, from a category 5 hurricane of grief, depression, anxiety and pain, to the light drizzle occasionally with bright sun peeking out here and there.
Regardless of where some people may be on this spectrum, the reality of having a baby after loss is a complicated one. The journey is not just potholes, hurdles or mountains to climb. It is all of it and more.
As a guy, I have had a different experience than my wife and I cannot even try to explain the differences between the two. As background, me and my wife lost our son after 7 days of him fighting in the NICU before he succumbs to a myriad of health complications. We then suffered infertility and at least one, possibly two miscarriages over the span of about 4 years. We both had the shared horrific experience of the NICU stay of our son Liam, but the infertility and miscarriages were a whole other monster.
My wife is the strongest person I know. The struggles she has had over the years to maintain even her basic sanity. No partner is prepared to comfort their wife past a depressive low so bad they have to help them shower. No partner is prepared to lose a child and attempt to comfort or even function with their partner.
To scratch the surface of our pain we both have suffered PTSD of the event of our son. Hospitals still give both of us an extreme sense of heightened anxiety, mostly the beeping of a heart monitor and the flashbacks of the alarm going off when his heartbeat went out of range, usually lower.
Those are the things we dealt with in the past, but what we deal with now is on a different level of what I can only describe as complicated. We were strong through my wife’s stay in the hospital and then my daughter’s stay in the NICU and the constant alarms and monitors going off we pushed to the back of our mind, being in the moment for her.
Today, as I write this, my daughter has been home for a little over 8 months and she will be 10 months old in a week and a half, and I can wholeheartedly say, she is not my son Liam and she will NEVER replace him. She is her own little amazing person who I have the best privilege of seeing each and every day as she grows and grows. Something I wish I had seen with my son.
Being father to a rainbow baby is the best thing to ever turn around your life. Being father to rainbow baby is still an extreme amount of pain sometimes. The excitement of every big event and smile and laugh, sometimes is shadowed by a thought in the back of your mind of “I wish I had seen my lost child do this.” It doesn’t happen every time, but the grief will sometimes hit at random. Me and my daughter could be doing something for the thousandth time, but suddenly this time hurts. Even as I fight back my tears and hold up a smile while I try to make sure I enjoy every single precious moment with her.
Being a Rainbow baby dad makes loving your child so easy, so easy that it hurts. You have the love meant for two babies, sometimes more, all being put on this child. You have all the thoughts and hopes and dreams and possible memories-to-be-made all on the shoulders of this one child suddenly and it hurts knowing that it is not fair. Not fair to you and not fair to that little bundle of pure light and happiness.
Today we took my daughter to the park. She is 24 inches tall, 10(ish) months old and 13 and half pounds. She is such a tiny little thing because of being such a preemie. We put her in the baby swing and heard her laugh harder than I ever have heard her laugh before, maybe besides one other time. I enjoyed that moment, I loved that moment… that moment made me incredibly sad. What would my son’s laugh have sounded like? What would he have laughed about?
That is the reality. Some guys may not admit it, some may push down their feelings so far they don’t come up. I’m not one of those guys. I let that pain happen, because at one point, that pain was much worse, and now it’s not so bad. I see the fighting spirit of her brother in my daughter. Because of the severe complications of my son’s stay in the NICU, it allowed her and my wife to get the care that was needed. I feel like my son in a weird, nearly macabre way, was the best brother he could be to make sure his sister made it.
And if that kind of fighting spirit is even possible in my kids, it makes me strive to make sure I can teach my daughter how to be the best person she can be by being the best father I can be. Being a rainbow dad is hard. It’s difficult. It feels impossible some days. But my daughter needs me and her mom, so like every parent, we do our best, we have sleepless nights, we comfort her. We fight with each other about whether she’s hungry or not after she just ate an hour ago at 2 in the morning. We work together to make sure she is the best possible tiny human we could help her to be.
Being a rainbow baby dad is a daily struggle. And to me it is worth every single moment. For every father out there who has lost a child. Your child is meaningful, they are beautiful, they are cared for. Just because you cannot hold them in your arms, does not mean you are not still a father. If you have the chance to have your rainbow baby, it will be a mental struggle, I won’t lie. But you will see that baby and you will love that baby with every ounce of your being. Be strong guys, your ladies will be. And if they are not, it’s ok for you both to feel broken, because you are. Own it. Broken bones heal stronger but they are still painful and they take a long time to heal, and they are never the same as they were.
Remember that you will never be the same person you were before, but that grief and hardship will not define you. And regardless of how broken many of us may be, those babies won’t care, and they will love us. Make that be your motivation. It’s ok to be broken, that’s what makes us human.