The Two Sides of Parenting Again After the Loss of a Child

Parenting after a loss is complexParenting after a loss is complexA "rainbow baby" is a baby born after a family has experienced a miscarriage, still birth, or child loss. People tend to have a positive association with rainbow babies and feel happy and relieved for the parents. That's an understandable reaction, especially since the birth of a rainbow baby is a joyous occasion, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows. The parents of a rainbow baby also experience a lot of complicated and sad emotions that few people understand.

My wife and I lost our first and (at the time) only child, Madeline, at seventeen months to prematurity-related complications. This was an incredibly difficult and emotionally wrenching time as our home went from full of a baby's laughter to ominous quiet over the course of a single day. In the wake of this horrible loss our family and friends desperately wanted to find a way to alleviate our pain. When our second child, Annabel, was born, I know a lot of them felt a great deal of happiness and relief.

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My wife and I felt happiness and relief, too, but it didn't automatically heal the pain of what came before. Everyone loves a happy ending, but there can never be one after the loss of a child. The pain of child loss is felt one's entire life, and that doesn't change no matter how many children come afterward.

One of the hardest things for me after Annabel's birth was dealing with the huge amount of guilt I felt. Though I knew my thoughts were irrational, I couldn't help but feel as if I was betraying Madeline by becoming another little girl's daddy. Whenever I felt joy at being Annabel's father, I very quickly felt sorrow over Madeline. In a lot of ways the months following Annabel's birth were more difficult than the one's that preceded it, a fact which would likely surprise a lot of my family and friends who saw Annabel's birth as my happy ending.

With that said, I don't want to understate the happiness I felt upon Annabel's birth. There was a lot of joy then, and today I can honestly say that my beautiful Annabel saved my life by coming into this world. Still, if you know someone who's had a rainbow baby or is about to, don't forget to remember there are two sides to the experience. It's wonderful to congratulate them on this happy turn in the road, but it's also good to be sympathetic to the sadness they're undoubtedly feeling. Also, don't be afraid to mention the child or pregnancy that was lost. The parents of rainbow babies like to hear that our losses aren't forgotten, and appreciate those who celebrate the rainbow while remembering the rain that brought it. -By Mike Sphor

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