What does this mean? What shape does it take? What are our ideas of it before we attain it? How does it change once we have? Are you only a mother to living children? These are some of the questions I ask of myself, quite a lot! Some I have found answers to, others are still being investigated. With mother’s day fast approaching (although, as a Canadian, my real mother’s day isn’t until May!), I’m feeling these questions more keenly. Both as a woman who has lost her own mother, and as a woman who has experienced miscarriages and baby loss. When I was younger, I knew I wanted to have a family of my own and thought that this would happen by the time I was in my mid to late twenties. I wanted three children, two boys and one girl. I wanted to have the girl first. I would stop work while I had my children, but go back once they were in school. Where did these ideas come from? When I have the benefit of hindsight, all of it was totally naive and of course, the thoughts of someone who hasn’t experienced life yet. My mother had me when she was only 22. She stayed at home with me and my brother until we were in school, then she went back full-time. I was the eldest, I remember my dad saying to me that he’d hoped for a baby girl, and I had obliged! Ultimately, I’ve come to realise that a lot of my ideas of motherhood and family have come from my experiences within my own family.
I have read a lot of articles written by women who have experienced miscarriages, baby loss, still births, etc., which they then go on to talk about their pregnancy and baby after this loss. Their ‘rainbow babies’. I understand the premise of this idea and the hope it is trying to inject into what feels like a hopeless situation and in fact, Benjamin is a ‘rainbow baby’. He came to us after I had experienced two miscarriages in my life, but I never thought of him as this, and still don’t. He’s Benjamin and of course he is here, who else would it be? I guess what I mean is that he isn’t defined by my other losses before him. And when he was born and the midwife put him into my arms, there was an instant recognition: “I have always known you, of course it’s you!”. The feeling that he would have always come to us and that it is right that he is here. He’s special because all children are special and precious in their own right.
I feel sightly uneasy with the idea or label ‘rainbow baby’. Probably because I have experienced multiple miscarriages and the loss of Luna. What if you never get your ‘rainbow baby’, then what? What if you decided that the pain is just too great and you’re not willing to risk anymore in pursuing your idea of family? What if the idea of family needs to change, because everything has changed? Our society is obsessed with pregnancy and babies. We love the positivity it seems to be portraying: vitality, life, health, youth, renewal, etc. Every time I have experienced a miscarriage or when I lost Luna, there was someone to say “you can try again” in some form. This came from doctors, family, friends and strangers. It’s like the perceived failure was too great for them to take. The message is: ‘You need to keep pursuing this’. Do I? ‘Failure is not an option’. Is it failure? And who’s?
Before and during my last miscarriage, which was after losing Luna, I had a distinct feeling that whatever happened to this pregnancy, I wanted to try and enjoy it for however long it lasted. I felt fear, of course, but I didn’t want that to be the overriding emotion. Because pregnancy, if you’re lucky, is long and I wanted to feel the joy that comes with knowing and feeling the life within you can bring. I wanted to see it through from beginning to end, whatever length of time it was going to be. I wasn’t lucky, it didn’t last very long. At an early scan it was discovered that the baby had died. I decided that I wanted to wait and miscarry naturally. It took three weeks for it to start and when it did, it started with my waters breaking. The miscarriage was more akin to labour, not as intense or painful physically, but my body was going through the waves of contractions and a pattern of labour that I recognised for me. Something I didn’t know could happen in an early miscarriage, but probably wasn’t abnormal either. I think, no I know, my mind, body and spirit needed to “give birth” to this baby. This was my baby after Luna, I needed to go through a birth experience again, even if ultimately it was resulting in another loss. I needed to be in control of it and I didn’t want any help, unless medically necessary. It’s important for me to say here that all of my miscarriages have been completely different, both in how the physical part of the miscarriage played out and how I dealt with this physical and emotional pain of these miscarriages. How I dealt with this latest miscarriage is an accumulation of experience over multiple losses. I wanted to explain this because I don’t want anyone reading it to think I am some kind of saint and/or glutton for punishment! I was able to wait and then deal with a very long and protracted miscarriage (over the course of 9 or so weeks) because of my previous experiences and what I had set out to do with this pregnancy in the very beginning: to see it through, for however long it lasts. It was the right thing to do for me and this baby at the time. Does the idea of ‘rainbow baby’ only apply to those that survive? If so, what does this ultimately say about pregnancy and loss?
I think there needs to be more said about those who choose to stop trying for their ‘rainbow baby’ and the reasons why they stopped and how they have made peace with their decision, because it’s not easy. What family looks like and means to me has changed, some of the ideas and thoughts about it are no longer valid. My experience in the real world of my life has thrown me some curve balls and I need to be able to look closely at what all of this means and how it makes me feel. The road to motherhood and family is not always straight. When you experience miscarriages and baby loss, you’re ideas of family get turned upside down. You question your ability to be a mother, physically and emotionally.
The Miscarriage Association has some good resources and forums for people to access, with a specific page and leaflet dedicated to thinking about another pregnancy. Infertility, miscarriage, baby loss and still birth touch so many (too many) people in their quest for a family of their own. Detours along the way are natural and maybe they need to be expected more. I have had to re-frame my personal idea of what being a mother means to me, what family means to me. I am still working this out, with Charlie, my husband, because of course he too had an idea of what fatherhood and family meant to him. What shape his family would take was based on his own experiences of growing up in the family that he did. So we have A LOT of talking and questioning of ourselves and of each other to do! We are still trying to figure out what our next steps will be in our journey. It may well be that we decide we will accept the family we have as it is now, or, we may decided to try again. Having a soon to be five year old asking for a little sister who he can play with certainly pulls on our heartstrings!
Support and acknowledgement of this struggle from family and friends is paramount. We don’t need their opinions (unless asked for), we understand that they don’t want to see us hurting, but a quiet, careful, loving, mindful understanding is appreciated. The professional care we are receiving from Child Bereavement UK and through private therapy (that Charlie and I both receive) is invaluable. And the support of doctors and midwives is important too. All of these avenues of support are helping us to be able to make decisions that are right for our circumstances.