A Rainbow After the Storm…

‘A "Rainbow Baby” is the understanding that the beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn’t mean the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may still hover but the rainbow provides a counterbalance of color, energy and hope.’

It seems a lot of grieving moms struggle with whether or not to have another baby. There are so many emotions tied into this, and personally I went through them all. Right after Hayden died I remember standing on my deck saying to my husband ‘I need to have another baby right now. We need to adopt a five-month-old right now’- and at that moment that’s exactly what I wanted. And I remember the next morning thinking I can never have a baby again. The fear of having another baby with a heart condition and possibly having them die was too overwhelming and not something I wanted to even consider. The first couple weeks to a month after he died my mind felt like a ping-pong ball- going back-and-forth between wanting a baby right that second and not wanting another child ever again.

My chest and body ached for him to fill the spot he always was in- and obviously I wanted a baby and just because I lost Hayden didn't mean I still didn't want a baby- I wanted him, no doubt- but still ached to be able to mother another child on earth.

A couple months after Hayden passed away I asked my husband what he thought about having another child. He was 100x more scared than I was -which was a lot considering I was scared to death. But, because he knew I needed and wanted it so badly, he agreed. However, I guess because of the stress of grieving, my body just wasn't ready. With my first two, we practically looked at each other and got pregnant. But with this one it was different. I ended up struggling for what would seem to an outsider a short period of time but struggling nonetheless to get pregnant. I finally decided to try acupuncture and after three months of treatment, I finally read the words ‘pregnant’ on that test. So, between the two months after he passed away the six months without any treatment and the three months with treatment, 11 months after we lost Hayden, I was pregnant with our first rainbow.

I remember reading the test and both of us literally saying ‘thank God we're finally pregnant’ but almost simultaneously, we thought ‘Shit were pregnant. Now what.’ Now we have to wait for 20 weeks. Now we wait, and see what happens. But it wasn't just waiting. It was full of anxiety and stress. Part of me wanted to believe that we had already seen our family tragedy.  So, this baby was bound to be perfect in every sense of the word and we wouldn't have anything to worry about. But, the other part of me knew that there are some families that have more than one heart baby and unfortunately some that have more than one heart angel. And of course, families who have more than one child with a health issue- heart related or not.

So, for what felt like forever, we were in constant stress and anxiety and worry. We ended up going to see the cardiologist at 18 weeks because I just needed to do it as soon as they would allow. I'll never forget the moment she took that probe over my stomach and within three seconds she said loud and proud ‘FOUR CHAMBERS!!’ Those words still bring tears to my eyes typing this. At first, I didn’t believe her and said ‘how can you possibly know that so quickly?’ She happily showed it to us on the monitor. And, clear as day, there they were! Four perfectly formed chambers! We both cried such happy tears and were beyond relieved. But the second we got into the car, my tears made a shift. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I felt I had failed Hayden. I was beyond grateful that his older brother Jackson had already been cleared of a perfect heart and now his younger brother was given the same- so why not Hayden? Why couldn’t I have given that same gift to him? It was a painful ride home as I desperately tried to shift back over to the happiness that was first there at our appointment. Little did I know at the time that this would start the constant feeling of ‘bittersweet’ through every milestone and happy moment of my rainbows’ lives. 

Unfortunately because of all we had been through, the settled and relieved feeling we felt in the doctors office that day faded. I was still incredibly anxious. The rest of the pregnancy I just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I kept waiting for them to find something else beyond the heart that would be wrong with him. I was afraid to believe and be naïve again and think that everything was going to be OK.

I remember the therapy sessions leading up to his birth. The focus was on our rainbow and how scared I was of how much I would love him. Fearful that because Hayden and I had a bond that was so rare and unique that I wouldn't feel it with my rainbow baby and therefore wouldn’t love him as much. I was afraid I would resent him. I was afraid I'd want him to be Hayden. I was scared to death of what was about to come. I wanted this baby no doubt, but started second-guessing my choices in having him so soon.

Those feelings lasted much of the rest of my pregnancy. There came a time that I had to acknowledge my real fears- I was afraid to love him and loose him. I was afraid to give my heart to him like I did to Hayden and have him die and leave me with another shattered heart. Once I allowed myself to admit that those feelings were the root to my fears, I was able to overcome them. I have always believed with Hayden that it was better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. And so with our rainbow, I would do the same. I would love him with all I had to give and if he too was taken from me, at least I know he would die knowing he was loved more than life- just like Hayden did.

Fast forward to his birth- the moment I laid eyes on him I never let him go. My husband always joked when we had Hayden and said he’d tell his surgeon once he was done with the Norwood, he might as well surgically attach him to my chest because that’s where he’d be until his next surgery. And now that same joke (minus the heart surgeries) started again with Hudson. He went everywhere with me- I never let him out of my sight. I slept with him, watched him nap, woke up in a panic several times a night to check his breathing, took him out to dinner with friends, everywhere I went, he went.  The very few times I did leave him, I was a nervous wreck. I started going to the gym once or twice a week when he was around 6 months old. I was in spin class- music blaring, lights dimmed. I told Rob to text me when Hudson woke up from his nap.  Well, of course he decided to take an extra long nap that afternoon but when I called Rob and he didn’t answer, I started to panic. I called again- still no answer. So, in about 15 seconds I had convinced myself that Hudson had died in his sleep and with tears streaming, I jumped off the spin bike halfway through class to rush home. I just about got out of the door and my phone rang- Hudson had just woken up. SIGH…. I caught my breath and sat there thinking how will I ever live without the fear of my children dying? What kind of a life is this??

Since having Hudson, we have also welcomed another rainbow, Greyson. His pregnancy wasn’t planned, so the stress throughout it was less- it took awhile for the shock of even being pregnant to ware off. But the anxiety kicked in full gear on the day he was born.  I was laying on the table of my C-section with tears flowing out the corners of my eyes- once again scared to death that something was wrong. I must have asked my doctor 15 times if everything was ok.  I was again convinced he was going to either be born dead, or something was going to be tragically wrong.

As grieving mothers, our emotions- every single one of them- are more intense – more real- raw- than ever before. We know bad things happen to good people. We know babies and children die. We are no longer naive, living in what seemed a perfect world at one point in our lives. And because of all of this, we love harder, cry harder, and fear harder than anyone else. Having my first rainbow was tough in so many ways, but having him also saved my life. He brought joy back into my broken soul. He is now just over 2 and I look at him with so much love and gratitude for what he has done for me. His smiles, laughs, even his tantrums bring joy to my heart. He is heaven sent- they both are. They both have pieces of their brother in them and I cant imagine where I would be today without them and their oldest brother, Jackson.

Deciding to have a rainbow, and then having them can be so magical- and can also bring heartache.  My hope for you is that you allow yourself time to feel all the feelings your body wants you to process through this time. If nothing else, I hope you realize that whatever you are feeling, you are never alone…