The most difficult event a parent can experience is the loss of a child. When the child is a newborn or in utero, the pain is particularly acute, and a subsequent pregnancy can bring about equally intense feelings of joy and relief.
A baby born after a miscarriage or stillbirth has come to be known as a "rainbow baby" — a term coined because a rainbow follows a storm — and a large and growing online community supports families in the celebratory and sometimes complicated feelings that can result from that pregnancy and birth.
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On Instagram, there are more than 300,000 photos tagged #rainbowbaby, documenting the huge range of experiences involved in having a rainbow baby: Positive pregnancy tests, joyful expectant moms at every stage of their pregnancies, adorable photos of newborns and their families, and inspirational quotes and tributes to babies that have been lost.
The Instagrammer olivers_branch posted a letter she wrote to her stillborn son, Oliver, before the birth of her daughter:
More happily, parents often dress their newborns in rainbow-printed clothes and accessories and women pregnant with their rainbow babies pose for joyful multicolor-tinted photos.
Other expectant parents openly document their hopes — and, often, fears — on Facebook and popular blogs and sites such as HuffPo Parents. "The path to a rainbow baby is very anxiety-provoking and scary," says Kara Hanson Micucci, a licensed psychologist who had a rainbow baby herself after experiencing a miscarriage. "When the results are not what you were expecting, going into it the second time you focus more on what could go wrong. It's very stressful for most women."
While the social-media phenomenon surrounding rainbow babies is mostly bright and joyful, many are taking advantage of the platform to raise awareness of the stigma surrounding miscarriage and stillbirth. The psychologist Jessica Zucker, who had her own rainbow baby after miscarrying at 26 weeks, started the awareness campaign #IHadaMiscarriage and launched a line of illustrated cards that help parents communicate their loss and friends and family express condolences.
“In a situation where a woman has a miscarriage, a later loss, a stillbirth, or an infant loss, people are mortified and bewildered. We have a hard time sitting in uncomfortable spaces and as a result, people go quiet. Is it worse to stay quiet or say the wrong thing? Being quiet is worse, in a way. The person who says something that might sting is at least trying and they haven’t disappeared altogether.”
And some parents have found a way to both celebrate rainbow babies and keep the discussion going about pregnancy loss. Expectant mom Autumn Tolliver Safley started a line of T-shirts celebrating rainbow babies, which have a decal reading "I'm a Rainbow" over the belly:
"It's like 'hey' — this is something beautiful," Safley said. "And something that people need to hear. The story of hope and perseverance."