The phrase "rainbow baby" has gained popularity in recent years on dedicated baby forums and viral T-shirts, as more and more women realize they are not alone. Losing a baby, whether from miscarriage, stillbirth or infant mortality, can feel like a never-ending storm of grief, depression and guilt. For those who conceive and birth a baby after their loss, their new baby signifies hope and a welcome relief, a bright rainbow that appears when a storm has lifted—or so the reasoning goes.
But it's not always as clear cut as that, as some moms can attest to.
The term never really sat well with Teresa Mendoza, whose whole world changed when her first child, Sylvia Paloma, was born without a heartbeat on Aug. 12, 2016. Her second child, Leo Coronado, was born 8 pounds and 20 inches a little more than a year later, on October 9.
But to call Leo a "rainbow baby" would be problematic for her.
Last night just before midnight we welcomed Leo Coronado Mendoza into the world. He is eight pounds and twenty inches of pure magic. We are so excited, hopeful and overcome with love for him, his sister, our family and this journey. Happy Monday friends! Xo 🕊💜🦁
"For a long time I rejected the title, feeling protective of Sylvia and hurt by the idea that anything surrounding her was a storm," Teresa wrote on Instagram.
Despite the parents being heartbroken over the loss, despite it being a great tragedy, Teresa emphasizes that Sylvia was not the storm that the phrase implies. In fact, as her husband, Carlos, interprets it, both Sylvia and Leo are rainbows shining above the storm.
"She is the rainbow as much as he is ... and the two rainbows that showed up in this photo make me think he’s absolutely right," Teresa wrote.
A rainbow baby is a child born after miscarriages, still birth or an infant or child's death. It signifies the rainbow that comes after a storm. For a long time I rejected the title, feeling protective of Sylvia and hurt by the idea that anything surrounding her was a storm. She is perfect, not a storm, we are heartbroken, but she is not a storm, it was a great tragedy, yes, but she is not a storm. Somewhere along the pregnancy with Leo, Carlos told me that his interpretation equates to both Sylvia and Leo as rainbows that were shining above the storm and that the storm had nothing to do with Sylvia except to bring the rainbow of her and now her brother into our lives. She is the rainbow as much as he is...and the two rainbows that showed up in this photo make me think he's absolutely right. 🕊💜🦁 📸: @pnwbirthtog
"I believe the grief and pain of miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss never completely passes. When I look at my family today, I still see the chronological gap between my oldest daughter and my son, and picture Hope in that spot. I do not believe that ache that absence brings will ever really cease, but I have learned to live with it. It has become a part of my mother’s heart," Koning wrote.
A new baby could bring a mixture of joy, guilt and fear for parents who had experienced losing a child. The "storm," for instance, was still present in Teresa's pregnancy with Leo.
"I cry most often because of how much I miss her and the ache that never leaves my heart or my head. I cry because Carlos doesn’t have his daughter here. I cry sometimes because of guilt I have for what my body did and also failed to do. I cry also because my memories of my daughter in my arms are contained in one afternoon rather than the rest of my life. I cry because of emptiness and approaching dates. And most recently, I cry because I am so paralyzed by fear with this pregnancy that I feel like I am suffocating," she wrote on her blog, Writings for Sylvia.
When it comes to such a complicated experience, there's no one-size-fits-all term. Your decision to use or reject the term "rainbow baby" does not define the love you feel, come rain or shine.