• Molly Stepney

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Rainbow Train: Why I Used to Detest the Term "Rainbow Baby"

Updated: Nov 27, 2019

**Trigger Warning: Miscarriage, Infant Loss, Stillbirth**

A "rainbow baby" is a baby born after miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. The term is supposed to signify the hopeful, beautiful period of time celebrating a healthy baby after surviving the "storm" brought by the previous loss.

In July of 2017 my husband John and I found out we were expecting our 3rd bundle of joy. Our 12 week appointment with my doctor rolled around and the elation we felt was starkly met with overwhelming heart break. We were given the news that the baby’s heart was no longer beating. I was sad and I became jealous of every pregnant bump I saw, but the intensity of the initial heartbreak slowly dissipated. Come Christmastime we found out we were expecting once again!

From the first time those two red lines stared back at me, I embraced the rainbow baby term. I was nervous the first 12 weeks but after we entered the “safe” zone, I just KNEW that God had sent me a rainbow.  We were adding a little boy to our brood of girls. The sting of losing the previous pregnancy felt like a mere memory and I couldn’t wait to meet my little rainbow in person.


My announcement theme was a rainbow, my maternity pictures had rainbow balloons, I felt like after all the storms (not just the miscarriage but many other life events) that our family had been through in the past few years, this was finally our year of HOPE. We named our son Zion, meaning "a sign". This was our blessing for going through so much. We deserved this happy ending. 

Enter August 10th, 2018. I was 36 weeks and 5 days along in the pregnancy carrying Zion and had been having contractions off and on all day. I remember waking up at about midnight to an incredible pain that lasted maybe a few minutes. I laid back down on the bed and all of a sudden realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt baby Zion move. I did all the things they tell you to do in this situation. I drank cold water, I laid on my left side, I ate some gummy bears, and still nothing. I wasn’t extremely worried but figured I would sleep better with peace of mind so I told John that I was going to run in and have them check his heartbeat at the hospital. John stayed home because our older daughters were sleeping and there was no need to wake them up or wake someone else up to come stay with them. I’d be right back after all. But I wasn’t right back.

At the hospital, nurse after nurse could not find Zion's heartbeat on the monitor. Finally the ultrasound tech (although she didn’t have to say a word because I can recognize a still heart on the screen when I see one), confirmed with a slow shake of her head that I was no longer carrying life, but death.

In an instant the hope and vibrancy that all the colors of the rainbow had brought me, turned to the most horrific shades of black and gray that offered nothing but agony, torture, and torment.

The next few hours had a bit of a haze covering them. I was placed in a delivery room at the very end of the unit and later that day, at 1:05pm I gave birth to death. Zion was the most beautiful little 6lb. 2oz. - 19.5in long baby I had ever laid eyes on. From the first moment I held him, I felt an instant sense of relief and peace flood over me.

We were able to spend 24 hours with Zion. It seems like a long time, 24 hours.... but when you are trying to make a lifetime full of memories in one day you will obviously fall short.

I cannot adequately convey the torture of leaving your baby behind in the delivery room, kissing his forehead and saying goodbye to him for the last time, then heading home to an empty nursery. There are no words for the suffocating irony of sitting in a funeral home discussing funeral arrangements knowing I should be at home with a newborn. As I felt my milk come in I realized my body didn’t understand the irony of it either.

Words from others who don’t know what to say stung more than they helped. Leaning on the crutch of cliches, people would say things such as “oh, well he’s looking down on you!", “you have a real life angel now”, “God must have needed him more" and "you are still blessed with two wonderful girls!". This just added salt to the gaping wound I was already afraid will never even start to heal.

But life goes on. It went on and I went through the motions. I took care of my house and my kids all because I just had to. On the outside, I’m sure I looked fine but not a moment went by when I wasn’t thinking about Zion, about the one who was missing.

Come Christmas 2018, three and half months after Zion passed we learned to our complete and utter shock that we were expecting again. Our daughter is to be due the same week as Zion's due date- exactly one year later. I didn’t feel elation, I didn’t feel depression, I didn’t really feel anything. I certainly did not feel empowered by rainbow colored flashes of hope. 

Quite the contrary, I started to detest the term “rainbow baby”. After overcoming the initial shock of being pregnant again I was thankful and felt blessed by this pregnancy. However, this beautiful girl I am carrying would in no way replace Zion. This healthy “rainbow” pregnancy does not in the least bit wash away the memories of the storm because we still live in the storm every day. You don’t get over holding and giving away the most beautiful baby in the world. Not only that but Zion himself was not a storm. It’s not like he was the storm and this new little girl is the rainbow. 

Then one night I was reading one of my daughters the story of Noah out of her children’s Bible and read something that completely shifted my perspective. Don’t you love when children’s books or movies minister to you? In talking about the promise God offers Noah, the commentary of the chapter read, “it’s one He gives to you too: trouble is coming but God is coming too”. (God Always keeps His Promises by Max Lucado). 

Maybe I had been looking at this rainbow thing wrong the whole time. God never promised that we would only ever go through one storm in our lives and then the rainbow of hope would show up on our horizon making everything right again. On the contrary, He actually promises that we will wade through troubled waters but that in the midst of it, He will be there. God is guiding us and He doesn’t need the light of a rainbow to see where He is leading us. 

Not only am I able to rest in the knowledge that God walks with me through the peaks and valleys of my trials and my triumphs, but knowing He is coming. He is coming to bring eternal life in a place where I’m sure there will be rainbows but a storm will not be necessary to create them. My Zion is already there. He will only know rainbows without storms, and this knowledge is more than enough to keep me going on days when I don’t feel like I can.

I researched rainbows a little bit further and one interesting fact that made an impression on me was that no two people will see a rainbow the same way because “a person standing next to you is standing in a slightly different spot and sees the rainbow different because they see different raindrops”. 

Because of the support groups I am in, I know many women who have lost their child and are not able to have anymore. I have met woman who have lost children back to back. Their rainbow is seen from a different angle. We all face storms in life that are from different angles and affect us in different ways. 

The amazing thing is that our hope can still look the same. Maybe God will choose to bless with another baby, maybe the blessing will come in another form, but the one promise that looks the same to all of us is the promise that God, who no matter what situation we find ourselves in, will always be there walking through the storm with us hand in hand. Zion's little sister, Lyvia is due to be born in less than a week. Earlier this summer one of the women I met in an online support group graciously passed along a gorgeous chiffon rainbow train to add onto the dress I wore for our maternity photos. This train has been passed along (Sisterhood of the Traveling pants, anyone?) to fellow stillbirth moms all over the country as a sign of strength and solidarity.

I don't think the beauty of the six colors of a rainbow can convey the beauty in God's promise. I believe it would take colors we haven’t even seen yet to do that. So maybe then I can embrace this pregnancy as a rainbow pregnancy. Not because Zion himself was a storm... not because his baby sister will replace him... not because there won’t be other storms to come; But because I have truly come to understand that even during life’s most difficult moments, I have the creator of life walking right beside me. God is constantly reminding me that He will never leave me, and that there is so much more to come.

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