Postpartum 101 with a Rainbow | Counseling | Therapy

Postpartum 101 with a Rainbow

Dr. Erica Goldblatt Hyatt , LCSW, DSW — Therapist

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Not every woman who has experienced babyloss wants to have another child, but many women do decide to try to conceive again. Though this path can be fraught with anxiety, trauma triggers, and fear, the anticipated joy of a "Rainbow Baby" often helps babyloss moms to cope with the many challenges of a subsequent pregnancy.

If you haven't heard the term before, a "Rainbow Baby" refers to a living child born after an earlier loss. The conception and birth of a rainbow baby does not erase or negate the life of the baby that died; rather, just as storms and dark weather are required to produce the most beautiful rainbow, the term suggests that a rainbow baby is a colorful extension of the life of the baby that came before him or her. Rainbow babies honor the legacy of their predecessor siblings and allow for the rebirth of hope, happiness, and brighter days.

I know so many women who ached and yearned for their rainbow babies, only to welcome them and feel pulled in many different directions. Often, in the postpartum period, new mothers feel overcome by strong emotions that are both the result of fluctuating hormones as well as new swells of grief for the baby they lost before their rainbow arrived. There are many understandable reasons for waves of sadness: upon giving birth to a healthy child, babyloss moms may feel immense loss because they were unable to do so with the baby that died. This may trigger earlier feelings of grief that centered around their lost babies being unable to fulfill the dreams their mothers had for them: for their first steps, first words, first day of school, and so on.

Furthermore, parenting an infant can be tough: sleep deprivation is overwhelming, breast or formula feeding may feel complicated and burdensome, and if there are other siblings to take care of, a new rainbow mom may feel as though she exists only for her child(ren). It's common to go long stretches without any form of reprieve, from bathroom break to shower to any form of true physical rest. During times like these, I've heard new mothers berate themselves, saying things like "I wanted this baby for so long...I shouldn't be struggling! I shouldn't be hating it! What's wrong with me?" The answer: Nothing. You are entitled to wrestle with having a new baby in spite of your earlier loss. Time and time again, I've provided the same advice: It's OK to feel simultaneously grateful and resentful. Your life is full of new and overwhelming changes. The steep learning curve of parenting a living child is one of life's toughest transitions made all the harder by welcoming a baby after loss. In telling yourself how you should or shouldn't feel during the postpartum period, you create unreasonable and unfair expectations for yourself that will only lead to self-shaming and disappointment. Just because your rainbow is here and in your arms doesn't mean you have to love every moment!

Emotions are raw and tender, and some new moms may feel as though by caring for their new baby, they are neglecting the memory of the baby that died. This could not be further from the truth. You honor both babies on this parenting journey, and you do not need to constantly remind yourself that you lost a baby in order to care for the baby in your arms. Afterall, you know, deep down, that you'll never forget the baby you lost.

What do you need to survive the postpartum phase? As much self-forgiveness and grace as possible. A good sense of humor and some light, bingeable Netflix series to watch during late night feedings also help a ton (I recommend Schitt's Creek or even the oldie but goodie, Friends). If you don't have family or friends that live locally to help, consider hiring a postpartum doula to offer both emotional and practical support. If you have friends asking what they can do to help, consider asking them to create a meal schedule like the ones at Take them a Meal. Lean on others as much as you feel comfortable, and remember to clean when the baby cleans :D. Breathe, mama. You'll get through this.

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