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Cherlaine Tabo

What Is a Rainbow Baby?

Learn the meaning of rainbow baby and read inspiring rainbow pregnancy stories.

When you see that second pink line on a pregnancy test, your whole life transforms in the blink of an eye. Having a baby is an experience unlike any other in your lifetime, and you are filled with joy, hope, and expectation. Alongside this joy though, comes the fear of miscarriage, stillbirth, or loss of the baby you’ve dreamed about so fervently. But what about the women who do experience the tragedy of losing a baby? How do they live through the unimaginable pain and sadness? And what happens when they eventually go on to have another baby after such a crippling loss? This is what it means to have a rainbow baby.

What is a Rainbow Baby?

A rainbow baby is a baby born shortly after the loss of a previous baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or death in infancy. This term is given to these special rainbow babies because a rainbow typically follows a storm, giving us hope of what’s to come.

What Makes A Rainbow Baby So Special?

Having a baby soon after losing one brings a slew of emotions, and many rainbow moms will tell you that not all are positive emotions. Many mothers who have weathered the loss and gone on to have another baby feel a tremendous sense of self-doubt and guilt at times. They fear that others will think they have gotten over their previous loss, or that they have moved on or replaced their baby. They fear that having a rainbow baby after stillbirth in some way dishonors their baby who has passed, and that the joy of the next baby will prevent the mother from properly grieving.

But a rainbow baby does not mean that your loss should be forgotten; such a devastating loss can never be forgotten. Rather, your rainbow baby will carry the torch of the love you will always have for the child you lost, and when you hold that precious baby in your arms, you will fully understand the meaning of the term. The beautiful rainbow baby stories told by rainbow moms are triumphant tales of renewal and healing; the underlying emotions ranging from bittersweet happiness to overwhelming joy.

Recently, there have been many viral rainbow baby stories. The Bump has interviewed some of these moms who have experienced this unique clash of emotions first hand.

Personal Rainbow Baby Stories

The Bump recently spoke with Dr. Jessica Zucker , a clinical psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive issues like fertility, pregnancy loss, and prenatal and postpartum adjustments, as well as mood and anxiety disorders related to pregnancy. We had an inspiring conversation with her where she explained the term “rainbow baby” and shared her personal experience. Her campaign #IHadAMiscarriage, along with her beautifully illustrated pregnancy loss cards, serve to bring awareness to the issue of miscarriage and create an open forum for discussion about the topic without shame and stigma. Dr. Zucker tells The Bump, “in our culture, it’s so problematic for people to discuss miscarriages, the cards were inspired to give a concrete way to connect in a very meaningful way. It helps the loved one support the griever.”

Dr. Jessica Zucker worked in the reproductive and maternal mental health field for a decade before experiencing her own miscarriage at 16 weeks. From the start, Dr. Zucker’s second pregnancy was the complete opposite of her first. It was a trying pregnancy and things just didn’t feel right. She had some episodes of spotting but was assured that she was fine. On her drive home from work one day, she started experiencing what she later realized were contractions. It did not occur to her that she was in early labor. While getting ready to visit her perinatologist one morning soon after, she went into active labor. With the help of her doctor over the phone, she delivered her baby alone at home. The baby, who was not nearly at the age of viability, which is considered to be week 26 of pregnancy, did not survive the traumatic birth. About three or four months later, she was pregnant with her rainbow baby, whom she delivered without any medication as well. Her journey of pain that ended in loss inspired her to deliver her daughter without an epidural so that she could experience the precious pain that is truly a labor of love.

Dr. Zucker’s own loss prompted her to realize that she was not well versed in the language of loss, which ignited her passion for activism in the pregnancy loss community. She found that pregnancy loss can be even more isolating than other types of loss and grief because people just don’t know what to say, so they have a tendency to withdraw and say nothing at all. Dr. Zucker says, “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.”

Dr. Zucker believes that her rainbow baby story is one of many miracle journeys out there; a belief that has been reinforced by the thousands of tweets to the #IHadaMiscarriage hashtag.

For Jessica Mahoney , learning the devastating news that her baby had no heartbeat at nearly 12 weeks pregnant was just the tip of the iceberg. She and her husband had brought their one-year-old son with them to the ultrasound, eager for him to see what would likely be the first of several siblings. Jessica tells The Bump, “I had always wanted to be a mother; always known that I was destined to have lots of children. I felt like Corbin was just the start of all the babies we would welcome into the world.”

Despite the immense sadness they felt following their loss, Jessica and her husband began trying again. They became pregnant immediately, but that pregnancy also ended in a miscarriage, this time at 8 weeks. After enduring a second D&C and then another early miscarriage at home, Jessica began seeing a fertility specialist who was finally able to shed some light on the reason for her miscarriages. After genetic tests were performed, results indicated severe genetic abnormalities on two of the three babies—trisomy and triploidy, neither of which are compatible with life. As a result, Jessica’s fertility specialist strongly recommended In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) with genetic screening, a request that was denied by her health insurance since Jessica was not experiencing an inability to conceive. Despite this, a glimmer of hope came in the form of a round of Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI), resulting in a closely monitored pregnancy into which Jessica placed all her faith and hoped for with every shred of her being.

Tragically, Jessica and her husband would endure yet another loss. Jessica tells us, “This loss affected me the hardest. I was unable to function following it. I could not go to work, and I had a very hard time sending my son to daycare. I had overwhelming anxiety that something would happen to my son and I was so afraid he was the only child we would ever have. Following this loss, we went to a support group for pregnancy and infant loss and I started seeing a therapist.”

It took Jessica several months to even consider trying again. Knowing that they were at the bitter end of their options, she and her husband made the difficult choice to pay for a second round of IUI out of pocket, which would allow her fertility specialist to submit yet another request for IVF with preimplantation genetic screening to the insurance company.

Amazingly, the IUI turned out to be the best financial investment the Mahoneys ever made, as it resulted in a viable pregnancy that Jessica carried to term. They welcomed their rainbow baby just a few weeks ago; a beautiful little girl who Jessica says “has been a warrior since conception.” After their incredibly tough journey and the loss of six babies, their baby girl has made their family complete, giving them hope as they look to the next chapter of their lives.

Cheryl Heitzman is another miscarriage survivor who shared her story with The Bump. Cheryl is currently 24 weeks pregnant with her rainbow baby, a boy who already owns his very own (very tiny!) Rangers jersey. When she learned she was pregnant with her first baby, Cheryl had a tough time getting excited. The pregnancy was unexpected, and due to some mental health struggles of her own, she wasn’t sure she was quite ready to be a mother yet. However, she took comfort in the depth of her husband Ben’s excitement and tried to put her worries aside. Cheryl tells us, “At our first ultrasound, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but I knew enough to recognize that there was no heartbeat. My heart sunk, and when I looked over at Ben, with a big smile still all over his face, it completely shattered.”

Many years later, armed with a new doctor and new medications that made her feel whole and healthy again, Cheryl decided that she felt strong enough, physically and mentally, to try for their rainbow baby. Her husband was ecstatic, but Cheryl was worried, as so many rainbow moms are when they begin this journey. Nevertheless, she got pregnant quickly; within four months she and Ben were expecting their rainbow baby. At first, Cheryl’s severe first-trimester morning sickness did little to quell her fear of miscarriage. But as the weeks went by and she hit the 12-week mark, she began to slowly relax. She felt baby’s first flutterings right at 16 weeks, and says, “Maybe he knew I was worried and decided to make his presence known.”

As she awaits the birth of her rainbow baby boy, Cheryl has started a blog where women can share their personal miscarriage stories and find support in doing so. She has found peace and encouragement in a group of women who have also experienced miscarriage. She strongly believes that having a supportive group to talk to has been a great help to her in her journey. To sum it up nicely, Cheryl tells The Bump, “Miscarriage is terrible, and terribly common. Let's talk about it.”

PHOTO: Shutterstock, @aimleephotography, JoAnn Marrero/From Labor to Love, courtesy of Cheryl Heitzman