Rainbow Babies: Light after dark
9 Min Read
What is a Rainbow baby?
A common stepping stone that parents take after the death of their child is to try and have another baby. This is called a ‘rainbow baby’– something beautiful bringing light to the world after a dark, devastating event. It is important to highlight that a rainbow baby does not take away the pain or grief that is felt by the parents for their baby who has died and they are not replacing one baby with another. Nothing can take this grief away.
Taking the next steps after the loss of a baby
This journey of conceiving again will look different for each family and often bring very conflicting emotions. Some parents may become pregnant sooner than anticipated. They may question whether they are ready to go through a pregnancy again and if their friends and family will think they are ‘over’ the death of their baby, as they have a new pregnancy to focus on. Some families may struggle to conceive and experience further trauma and distress in trying to achieve a pregnancy. Others may have achieved their pregnancy for their baby who has died through fertility treatment or surrogacy and feel terrified that they will never have another baby. All these thoughts can start long before the rainbow pregnancy happens with all the emotional difficulties it brings.
Our families often describe their next pregnancy (and often all future pregnancies) as deeply traumatic. They have lost a sense of safety and security in the world – no longer having that unwavering belief that things will be alright , even when they pass key moments such as the 12-week scan, first movements and 24 weeks milestone. Often mothers struggle to make it to term (40 weeks) because their anxiety is overwhelming, instead choosing to be induced or have a c-section from 37 weeks onwards.
Parents may also struggle to navigate difficult questions from new medical professionals and strangers such as ‘is this your first?’. There is no right way to answer these questions. It is for each parent to decide and their answer might change depending on who is asking and how they are feeling that day.
When clinical negligence was a factor
This anxiety can be intensified if a baby has died as a result of poor care. The parents have often lost all faith and trust in their medical team, which can mean the relationship with midwives and doctors is very tense and reassurance not always accepted. In these cases, where possible, some parents have found it helpful to get their antenatal care from another hospital. Other parents may also find this helpful if they feel particularly traumatised about being in the same scan room or labour ward where their baby died.
When their long-awaited rainbow baby has safely arrived, this can cause further emotional turmoil for parents. They may be terrified that their baby who has died will be forgotten, that people will tell them things are OK now and they may feel unnecessarily guilty by feelings of happiness and joy. They may also be terrified at the prospect of caring for their baby, again overwhelmed with feelings that their child will come to harm and scared that they will make mistakes. At a time which is emotional and often overwhelming for any parent, this can be unbearable for rainbow parents and lead to problems with bonding with and caring for their baby. These feelings are entirely normal and parents shouldn’t feel pressured to pretend that everything is OK or be worried that others may think they aren’t happy to have their rainbow baby.
There is support available
It is vital that parents know there is support available to them for every step of the journey (in addition to support from friends and family), from trying to conceive to caring for their rainbow baby. Parents should also feel reassured that there is no judgement – seeking help and support so you can care for yourself and your baby in the best way possible is a sign of strength and shows an incredible parent.
Parents may also find it helpful to try and involve their baby’s memory in celebrating their Rainbow baby. For example, by buying a small gift from the big brother or sister.
Where can I find support when trying to conceive again and during a Rainbow pregnancy?
There are many places where you can get help and support whilst trying to conceive and during your Rainbow pregnancy.
Your medical team
For example, your midwife, consultant obstetrician, GP or health visitor.<p>
If your midwife and/or doctor are not already aware that you have experienced baby loss, it is important to tell them. Lots of hospitals will have some kind of system to make sure this is flagged up on the pregnancy notes, such as a Sands’ sticker. It is entirely natural that you will be extremely anxious during the pregnancy and it is important that your antenatal team understand this and provide you with as much support as possible.
What this support will look like will vary from hospital to hospital. Some will have special ‘rainbow clinics’ which only provide care for parents following baby loss. Some hospitals will offer increased monitoring, such as scans or general appointments, purely for reassurance rather than because there is a medical need. They may also increase the frequency of these the closer you get to your due date. You may also be able to pick precisely when and how you give birth (for example, a c-section at 38 weeks), as long as it is safe to do so. Communication will be key and you should feel empowered to tell your midwife and doctor what you need in order to feel as safe and secure in your pregnancy as possible.
If you are particularly struggling, they may refer you to the perinatal mental health team for extra support, which can continue for up to a year after your baby’s birth. They should work closely with the rest of your medical team to ensure you are receiving consistent support and advice.
Tommy’s has a wide range of support for parents after baby loss:
- Tommy’s has a number of specialist centres where you may be able to get tailored support and antenatal care. In St Mary’s Hospital and Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester they have a Rainbow Clinic run by Dr Alex Heazell which is specifically for parents who have suffered a stillbirth or neonatal death. Tommy’s also has a clinic for parents at risk of preterm labour, who will have likely suffered multiple miscarriages previously. They also have Miscarriage Centre clinics in Birmingham, Coventry and Warwickshire and London providing specialist care for women who have suffered multiple miscarriages.
- Tommy’s has great advice for those struggling to bond with their baby.
- They have a Pregnancy and Parenting After Loss Facebook Support Group which parents may find helpful to join.
Willow’s Rainbow Box
Willow’s Rainbow Box was set up by Amneet Graham in 2019, following the birth of her rainbow baby Willow in November 2018. She felt very anxious during her pregnancy, following a missed miscarriage the year before. She wanted to help other families going through the same thing. The charity provides comfort boxes to help reduce anxiety and to promote positive mental health and wellbeing. Currently their boxes are only available to families in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Durham and Sunderland but they hope to expand as their charity grows. The boxes can be requested online and contain:-
- A journal to help log thoughts
- Flashcards containing positive affirmations and mindfulness techniques
- An A5 Rainbow print to signify the new pregnancy
- Information leaflets from Kicks Count and Tommy’s
- Vouchers for a free relaxing treatment at Village Hotel Spa Newcastle
- Vouchers for a pregnancy course from ‘My Little Hartbeep’ focused on positivity, music and bonding with baby.
The charity’s website also has resources for the non-birthing parent, diversity in baby loss and promotes their #RainbowBabyHour which is held in their Instagram Stories on the first Monday of every month.
JOEL: The Complete Package
JOEL The Complete Package is a charity aimed at supporting families through pregnancy and parenting after baby loss. It was set up by Emma Pearson (with support from her friend Lisa Bramley) in 2012 following the stillbirth of her twins, James and Noel in 2011. Emma found there was a lack of support in her first pregnancy after James’ and Noel’s deaths and wanted to change that. The charity has gone from strength to strength and in 2016 they funded and managed the renovation of a Birth Room at Bassetlaw Hospital into a dual-purpose Family Suite, with the priority being for bereaved families.
JOEL supports Rainbow families in several ways. They have Support Packs which can be requested via email, a Facebook Group, a hub based in the Golden Ball in Worksop where they meet the first Saturday of every month and they refer to volunteer coaches, counsellors, hypnotherapists and befrienders.
Emma has also written a book ‘Behind The Smile’ which parents may take comfort in reading.
National Rainbow Baby Day
National Rainbow baby day is on 22 August. It is a day to celebrate and treasure rainbow babies, whilst also acknowledging and remembering their siblings who have died. Seeing parents publicly talk about what they have been through can offer a huge source of support to those who may be feeling alone, isolated or hopeless about their future. This is key in breaking the taboo around baby loss and providing hope to others that there will be better days ahead, whilst still carrying their love for their baby who has died.
We are here to help
If you suffered the tragic loss of a baby during or shortly after your pregnancy and believe that medical negligence was a contributing factor, we at Enable Law are here to help. Visit Stillbirth & Neonatal Death Compensation Claims or Contact Us and tell us your story.