The secret pain of pregnancy after loss

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

We're all used to seeing beautiful and colourful images of mums who are pregnant with rainbow babies — babies born after you lose a child.

These photos are gorgeous, no doubt, and a rainbow pregnancy deserves to be celebrated, but after carrying my own rainbow baby, I can tell you that a pregnancy following such a devastating loss isn't just colours and smiles. It's also extremely painful and scary, and this is the side of rainbow pregnancy no one talks about.

I remember looking at other mums' social posts documenting their rainbow pregnancies before I lost my baby at 23 weeks. I was touched by these intimate photos that all seemed to embrace the joy of expecting new life while also honouring the angel babies who were lost.

After our loss, images like these gave me hope. I knew I wanted to try again for a baby, and I dreamed of getting to the place these mums had, where they had apparently found peace with their loss and were focused on enjoying their rainbow pregnancies.

But I have learned that you never really find peace with losing a child. A year and a subsequent pregnancy later, I'm still grappling with even accepting what happened. And although I recently gave birth to our rainbow baby, it hasn't erased the pain or memory of what we lost.

I also wouldn't describe my rainbow pregnancy as joyful. Sure, I was able to find joy in certain moments — like when I felt my baby move, or when I got to hear his heartbeat. I also loved buying him clothes and baby gear as my due date neared.

But along with that happiness, I also felt tremendous guilt that I couldn't do these things for our angel baby. I feared I would lose this baby, too, and had a deep, deep sadness that our family will never truly be complete.

I can't understate how challenging the emotions are that being pregnant with a rainbow baby brings. The experience felt far different from my previous pregnancies. Instead of worrying something would go wrong for a beat and then moving on, I constantly obsessed over something going wrong, like it had the last time.

Everything I read that happened to other people, I fretted could happen to my baby, no matter how unlikely. At times, I had so much anxiety that I was certain I'd lose my son as a result.

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On the flip side, I never took any good news about how my pregnancy was progressing for granted. When tests came back and everything was OK, or when something didn't go wrong at any point, no matter how routine, like with a simple urine sample, I was so, so grateful.

What no one tells you is that a rainbow pregnancy is also very long — longer than a normal pregnancy — because you were pregnant before, too. In my case, I was expecting a baby for 15 months in the past two years. I felt like I had to wait forever for my baby to arrive.

Sometimes it seemed this day would never come. And in the days leading up to my son's birth, I remember telling my husband, "He isn't real. I will never get to hold him."

It wasn't until I had endured a painful and emotionally trying delivery, during which I continued to feel preoccupied that something would go wrong, and was gazing down at my baby cuddled into my chest, that I exhaled. He was here. I honestly couldn't believe it.

A week after welcoming our rainbow, I still find myself staring at him, marvelling that he's healthy and safe, and here. I doubt I will ever stop being amazed by my new son, and that is the wonderful part of a rainbow pregnancy.

When it's over, you are so overcome by appreciation for the miracle of life. Other small concerns feel silly and unimportant. All that matters is life, love, and hope.

This story originally appeared on POPSUGAR Australia, read it here.