When a bereaved mama brings home a healthy rainbow baby, those who love her would do well to remember that her hospital overnight bag is not the only baggage she brings home. (A rainbow baby is a baby born after a previous loss).
When you, good friend that you are, visit a rainbow mama after a healthy birth, consider these points before you ring the doorbell.
The impulse to be ecstatic at a good outcome is both understandable and incredibly moving. As a loss mom, I was so touched at the outpouring of joy that accompanied the delivery of my rainbow baby. There were flowers, there were tears. I accepted those gifts in the spirit in which they were offered and will remain incredibly grateful.
But the brutal truth is that in addition to being incredibly happy, I was also incredibly lonely. I was anxious. I was so frightened that something would happen to my son. The happier people told me I should be, the more ashamed I was that I also so sad.
I carried then (and carry now) grief at the loss of my son whose stillbirth had changed us all.
It has been more than a decade since these events but this has given me sufficient perspective to speak freely about things that should not be said to a rainbow mama or her family.
Here are some of my top say/don’t say things to rainbow moms when you visit.
Do not express that she should be happy that her family is now complete. Her family is incomplete and always will be.
Instead say: I’m so happy to see that you have continued to build your family. (Give her space to speak about the baby she lost).
Do not ask her to tell you how happy she is. She is absolutely happy of course. But it is considerably more complicated than that. She is also sad, scared, anxious, and more. The less you give her space to express those other things the more ferociously she will guard them. This pushes her towards isolation, unnecessarily.
Instead say: You must be so full of emotions right now. Would you like to talk about them?
Do not blow it off if she implies that she might be scared. Listen for things like, “I feel as though I don’t deserve this baby," or “I feel badly that I kind of still miss my other baby." Understand that bereaved rainbow mamas are at heightened risk for postpartum depression.
Instead go there. Say: I think those feelings are normal considering all that you have been through. Is there something I can do to help you think these things through? Can I touch base with you tomorrow?
Do ask her what she needs and pick it up for her. Listen closely to what she says and try to put yourself in her shoes.
Remember: this is not the end of the story as much as it is the beginning of a different one.
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