In the “baby loss community” there are terms and definitions for our children. Some of them I have heard before and some I never knew existed until I too became a member of this community. Terms such as Sunshine Children, Angel Baby, and Rainbow Baby. They are labels and terms that mothers use to show others their journeys, stories of loss, hopes for the future, and to have their experience known to others both inside and outside of our loss community.
These labels weren’t used, to my knowledge, until quite recently. In the last 5-10 years, they have become more apparent and used heavily in the baby loss and pregnancy loss communities.
I’m sure many people have seen the maternity or newborn pictures with beautiful rainbow colors surrounding a pregnant mom or a squishy, beautiful newborn. Many people have seen them, but have no idea why the rainbow-colored themes are present. They aren’t aware of the symbolism of the rainbow. This is probably especially true if you are no longer in your childbearing days or older than 40. I’ve even met many mothers my age, 36, or younger who have also never heard of the terms Sunshine Children, Angel Baby and Rainbow Baby.
I’ll briefly explain what each of these definitions means. They are as follows:
Sunshine Children are children who were born before a mother lost a baby during pregnancy at any gestation or during infancy. An Angel Baby is a baby who has passed away at any point in pregnancy or after birth during infancy. Finallly, a Rainbow Baby is the baby who is born after a loss of any gestation or any age during infancy.
The rainbow is present in these pictures because this mom is pregnant with another baby after her loss. That cute little newborn surrounded by rainbow colors IS the baby that was born after that mother’s previous loss. This is the “Rainbow Baby”.
I know some people won’t agree with my point of view. However, not all loss mothers feel the same on this topic. Some women find comfort in these terms and label, but I have met so many mothers who share the same views I do with the baby loss terms used for our children. I fully understand and agree that if these terms help you, then by all means use them. We each have to find our way through our grief after the loss of our child. We each have to find what comforts us.
However, I think it is important to recognize that not all mothers who have lost a baby find solace with these terms.
First, I must admit that I find myself struggling to understand the need or purpose for these terms and labels in the baby loss community. I understand the need to try and make sense out of the senseless, to find ways to connect with other people, especially when we feel so alone. To find others who can share our experience and understand our grief and heartache. To find hope when all hope feels and seems gone forever. I understand the shared pain my fellow bereaved mothers have missing their child every day of their life.
I think one of the things I struggle with the most is that I don’t want my older children to be labeled as “Sunshine Children” simply because of their birth order. I don’t think any child needs to be labeled or have a term affixed to them because they are here in my arms or not. Do my living children provide me joy and happiness? Of course, but so does my son, Turner, who passed away. Turner provides me much sunshine in my life from the lessons I have learned and the beautiful gifts he has given me because of his existence. Each of my 5 children has taught me different things about myself and life, and Turner is no different.
I am also painfully aware that many of the moms in our community had their first child pass away and therefore will never have “Sunshine Children” and that alienates these moms even more than they already are. Childless mothers the world can not see. A pain and heartache I will never fully understand because I do have living children in my arms.
I don’t want to call my son, Turner, our “Angel Baby” simply because he isn’t in my arms. He is our 5th child and will always be my son. I am a very Christian woman and this term has an unsettling feeling to me. I believe my son is in heaven with God. However, I don’t believe my son grew wings on his back, is flying around, playing harp, with a halo on his head, and sitting in clouds. When talking to others about Turner I never use the term angel baby. I always say my son who passed away.
There are many other mothers both Christian and non-Christian who feel the same way I do in regard to the term “Angel Baby”. They too express a discomfort with all or a few of these terms and labels on their children. o I know I am not alone in my thinking.
I think the term “Angel Baby” tends to soften the actual death of a baby for others who haven’t experienced the death of a child. Since they are an “angel” it somehow makes the loss easier to bear and less painful to people who haven’t lost a child. My son is my son. He isn’t my angel. He is my child who died from an umbilical cord accident 2 weeks before his due date.
Finally, my struggle with the term rainbow baby. I once heard another loss mom say, when trying to explain what a rainbow baby is to another loss mom who hadn’t heard of that term, describe it like this, “A rainbow baby is like the holy grail in the baby loss community.” I can completely understand why she explained a rainbow baby this way.
I see many mothers, for lack of better words, chasing the rainbow. Encouraging other mothers that they too will get their rainbow. However, the fact of the matter is there are mothers who have had another baby after their loss, only to have that “rainbow baby” die as well. Mothers who either chose not to have another child after the loss of their baby, or they simply can’t have any more children for various reasons. Mothers who have desperately tried and tried to have another baby only to still have their arms empty. These women don’t have the “rainbow baby” that many women talk about in our community. The baby that is supposed to provide some type of healing and hope in their life. Sometimes the rainbow baby doesn’t come and never will.
The symbolism of a rainbow is the promise of hope, beauty and calm after a storm. The rainbow is only seen when the storm has passed, the winds and carnage have calmed, the rain has stopped pouring and the sun is fully shining again. Hope at the end of the storm. This implies there is an end to the storm as well.
My son isn’t my storm. My son’s death is the storm that I battle everyday. Dealing with his death and him not being in my arms is the storm that is raging deep in my soul each day. While in time the storm will calm a bit here and there, this storm will never fully go away. It will always be a part of me. And even if I am blessed with another child, a rainbow appearing in my life if you will, the storm will still rage. There is no end to this storm. The storm of losing a child. No subsequent child will ever stop the waves from crashing, the winds still howling, and the rain from pouring down each day.
Again, we all have to find what brings us peace and comfort in our grieving and if using these terms helps, I am glad you have found them. If the term used in the baby loss community help you find comfort then, by all means, go ahead and use them. At the same time please understand there are many mothers who do not understand these terms and find little to no comfort in using them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on if you find comfort in these terms or if you too struggle with the sunshine, angels, and rainbows.