The room is almost always quiet. Whether it is early in pregnancy or near the end, you can feel everyone holding their breath waiting to hear it. And then it doesn’t come. There is no heartbeat. You take a deep breath to explain what you see but everyone in the room already knows. And then the silence is broken. Sometimes with sobs, sometimes with sniffles, sometimes with a deep sigh. My heart never fails to break in these moments.
October 15th was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. The term “rainbow baby” refers to a child that is born after a woman experiences a miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of her infant. I am privileged to know and journey with many of these mothers. Their heartbreak is overwhelming to consider and at times their grief is immeasurable. Yet these mothers and their families are a treasure to care for. About 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s 1 in 5. Stillbirth occurs in about 1% of pregnancies, which is about 24,000 babies in the US every year. That means if you’re reading this then you know someone who has had a miscarriage and many of you will know someone who has experienced a stillbirth or the loss of a baby sometimes in the first few months of life.
These women share many different versions of the same story. They are ushered into a sorority of sorts that they did not choose and would endure any amount of pain to be removed from. For most of the women I know, they will tell you about arriving for an early prenatal visit with hope and anticipation and leaving in heartbreak. Some of these brave women will tell you about that” longer than it is supposed to be” ultrasound in the middle of their pregnancy and the even longer wait to hear from the doctor that all is not well. But their wait isn’t over. Instead, it has just begun. They wait to see how many weeks they will continue to feel their baby move, how many more appointments they will continue to hear the quick and swishy heartbeat until the disease or malformation takes its toll. And the women who lose their soon to be born or recently born child, their grief is so heavy you feel it long after you have left the hospital. They are often left with little explanations of what has happened and uncertainty of what is to come.
As if this wasn’t enough, women who experience pregnancy loss are often met with painful messages from people telling them that God brings tragedy into life for some twisted purpose of growth or need. We feel the need to explain away the parts of life that make us most uncomfortable. What follows these messages is silence. Why? Because we find it difficult to speak about the parts of life that disturb our sense of our cultures best expectations. We seem to have no idea how to walk alongside this deep sense of loss and grief.
Rainbow babies are the ultimate symbol of hope. These precious children do not replace the ones that are lost. But they do give us a daily reminder of the grace that continually winds its way through our lives.
In the Bible a rainbow is a symbol of covenant and commitment. Families who have lost children deserve our commitment to honor them by acknowledging and remembering their past and holding a candle of hope for them for their future. Ask them about their grief. Have them tell you about the child they lost. Sit with them in the quiet and tell them you are deeply sorry for their loss. And mean it. When you sit with them in the silence you will begin to hear the story. What you will find is a group of women who will change your life with their courage, their strength and their hope.