Just over three months ago, my husband and I welcomed our third daughter, our rainbow baby. While awaiting her birth, I was thrilled about the color she would certainly restore to our world, but I was not naive.
I had experienced sufficient life after loss to understand that the birth of my rainbow would neither lessen the intensity of my grief nor make it more tolerable.
I knew it would incite a wide array of feelings. But I failed to realize that parenting a rainbow baby would be the ultimate collision of emotions.
In one instant, I can feel both gratitude and deep, deep sorrow. My youngest daughter’s birth has revealed a brand new layer of grief for the sister who came before her. It has reignited the incessant wondering.
New questions to ask and new comparisons to make arise as we stare at exactly what was stolen from us when our middle daughter died in my arms. I sobbed as our rainbow reached thirteen hours of life, for she had officially outlived her sister. Tears fell freely as we drove her home for the first time, the result of both gratitude for her life and grief for her sister who never saw the world beyond the hospital walls.
As I quietly rock my rainbow baby each night, I find myself mesmerized by her little face.
I cannot help but stare as she drifts off to sleep in my arms. I study her features, just as I studied those of her sister two years ago, as she lay dying in my arms. They, along with our oldest daughter, look so much alike, very clearly a trio of sisters.
I peer into her big, beautiful eyes and feel a love so enormous it seems otherworldly.
On one particular night, I gazed at my sleeping baby’s face more intently than ever. I was compelled by the sensation that I should be searching for something.
My thoughts drifted to her sister, the one who couldn’t stay. My soul was full of longing and heaviness, overwhelmed by the desire for my family to be whole.
“Send me a sign, Willow. Let me know you are near,” I implored.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, my rainbow baby’s eyes flew open. She stared at me so fixedly, she could certainly see deep into my soul. When the most precious smile lit up her tiny face, my heart burst wide open with love and recognition. As quickly as this exchange occurred, she was fast asleep yet again.
And I was left with a head full of swirling thoughts.
“Did you see me there, holding your baby sister and thinking of you? Did you send me that sweet smile?”
I would like to think so, however far-fetched it may seem.
The opportunity to raise a rainbow baby is a beautiful gift. It’s a blessing I will surely cherish all the days of my life.
But contrary to popular assumption, it is not a bandage for loss. In some ways, in fact, it has intensified my grief and added new depth to my longing.
In the wake of our rainbow baby’s birth, my heart has quickly expanded in feelings of both love and loss.
Adding another child to our family has further cemented our sense of togetherness, making our middle daughter’s gaping absence even more salient.
We will forever wonder what could have been if only she could have stayed.
Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash