There’s this white elephant with a rainbow belly who has been in my life for 30 years. My mom is very good at keeping sentimental things from her children’s lives. So it came as no surprise to me that she would have this stuffed toy that I inherited. What made me tear up was making the connection that I was gifted a rainbow elephant and the reason why my mother a particular desire for my life before I was even born. As a grown up rainbow baby and a birthing professional, it has been a profound experience to encounter miscarriage and loss in my work.
A rainbow baby is a baby that is born following a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. Something that I don’t hear spoken about often by birth workers is how to cope with prenatal loss as professionals. I get told a lot of things by clients and random folks about their reproductive journeys. I have had to learn how to hold the things I am told, as they are often the stories of loss and not being understood throughout their reproductive lives. I have been on the end of not being the most understanding, nor supportive, and have seen my growth in handling the dark side of reproductive experiences as connected to being a gift after loss.
I remember the first time I realized my mother had a miscarriage before me. The memory is blurry but I can distinctly recall my mother going to a service at her parish when I was in elementary school. She was sad about it and I could feel the pain emanating from her. It was this moment that made me vehemently pro-life for a large part of my life; I just couldn’t understand why someone would choose to end the very thing that had my mother in a state of grieving until she made peace with it. I’ve learned that abortion is also wrought with emotions that are often not considered by pro-lifers fighting to remove an individual’s choice to gestate another human. The loss that is experienced in the reproductive lives of childbearing people are not so black and white, much less respected by the patriarchal way of confronting life.
When my friends and I began to be sexually active, the decision to terminate a pregnancy became topics of tense and upset conversations. It was having people close to me confide their emotions and thoughts about their choice and loss that I became pro-choice. I understood that even when deciding such a profound act, there was a lack of support before, during and after the procedure. It was made real for me the one occasion I was able to serve as an abortion doula for a peer. Loss is never easy.
Miscarriage has taken time for me to learn how to process it and hold space for it. I find it interesting that I’m a rainbow baby and this topic has been one of the hardest for me to grow through. I’ve had clients who have lost their creations and early on in my career, I was not as supportive as I could have been in retrospect. I didn’t know how to process the emotions that came with the loss – mostly feelings of guilt that the miscarriage was my fault somehow, of being a bad doula, and ashamed that I wasn’t better with bereavement support though I deeply wanted to.
In midwifery school, the most impactful experience with miscarriage hit right at home. A former roommate miscarried at the beginning of my time there. Being in the house, witnessing how they lost the fetus and completely shutting down was jarring.
when i looked in the toilet
and saw blood.
so much blood; the scent of death
was palpable. houses go silent
when there is something dying.
it kept dying and
dying, spilling from between her legs
out into the world.
i did nothing. paralyzed. unable to
I knew, after processing and healing from this experience, that I had to grow in how I cope with miscarriage and loss in birth. I thought and meditated on it, trying to do better each time I was invited into someone’s intimate pain. It was helpful to contemplate being a rainbow baby doing the work I’ve been called to do. For me, my process with loss has been a tranformative one and one can say that it was ordained at birth for me to take on such a visceral journey. I came across this book, Ended Beginnings: Healing Childbearing Losses, and was about to see the larger experience of loss in childbearing years. “Because of its wide scope (infertility, miscarriage, sudden infant death, abortion, release to adoption; emotional disappointments including handicapped babies, cesareans, premature or traumatic birth; and help for grieving children), this book will help parents and care-givers understand the great burden of all loss experienced.”
I think what has been one of my takeaways as I develop and grow through this is that people who experience this loss suffer in terrible silence and isolation. Miscarriage and childbearing loss is taboo to speak of. Often we do not know how to comfort someone due to how little we acknowledge it, despite the fact that miscarriage is the most common type of pregnancy loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Studies reveal that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage. We as a society have no coping skills with death and loss, particularly around birth. It is the perception that the childbearing person is supposed to be joyful and excited about the coming life that blocks out the fears, losses and trauma that often happens.
More support around childbearing loss is necessary. I have found The Seleni Institute as a valuable resource for mental health support, as well as bereavement groups for childbearing loss. There are also groups on social media where grieving parents support and share with each other. My recommendation would also be to develop more programs like The Doula Project, which has abortion doulas available and push for the development of full spectrum healthcare providers, as well as bereavement support and resources.
I feel honored to be a rainbow baby doing my work. It helps me understand how parenting folks recover and become more resilient as they process and heal from such painful experiences. I hope to only become better with bereavement support both professionally and in my personal life.