Sunshine, clouds, angels and rainbows

As I write this, someone I know is labouring and awaiting the safe birth of her rainbow baby. I’ll be honest: I’m not keen on the term ‘rainbow baby‘ or phrases like ‘sunshine baby‘, ‘angel baby’ and ‘cloud baby‘, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I hate labels? Or maybe it’s because those terms touch a deeply buried nerve in me that seems to single me out as someone different – not normal. Not part of the gang…

I know when my first baby, Victoria, died, I felt incredibly isolated. Those were the days (1986) when Sands was a relatively new organisation and the care given by hospitals to bereaved parents varied. We were actually very lucky I think; the midwife who helped me give birth was an amazing person and without her I would never have had the strength to see or hold Victoria. The staff were all very kind, although there was one midwife I met afterwards who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near bereaved parents. But I won’t dwell on her – the majority of our care was great.

Yet what stood out for me at that time was a sense of isolation, a feeling of not being part of normal life. It hit me, as I walked down the corridor of the ward following our discharge, trying to block out the sounds of babies crying, that I wasn’t like those people on the ward – I was now different. I didn’t have a baby to take home all wrapped up and snug in their baby seat and I was now ‘not one of them’. I didn’t think my heart could break any more after what we’d been through, but I died a little more inside on that walk because I didn’t want to be different. I just wanted to be like the parents on the ward. I wanted to be in their gang…

When my son Alex was born I was overjoyed to hold him in my arms and get to take him home. I can see the analogy of the rainbow in this, but for me it was like emerging from a dark tunnel and being bathed in sunlight. I didn’t see the rainbow, but I did feel the warmth of the sun again and it felt like I was finally moving back into life. The year of trying to get pregnant and still grieving for Victoria had been a lonely, dark time, but with Alex I felt like I had been given another chance to get back to normal. I was finally in the gang…

Except of course I soon discovered that life was not normal. It was not how I had hoped it might be. I had my rainbow baby, but I still wanted my other baby – my angel or cloud baby – with me and I realised that my ‘normal’ was never going to be like it was for the majority of parents; it was, as Erica Stewart from Sands says, going to be my ‘new normal’. I think it was then that I finally realised with another sense of grief that I was never going to be part of the gang…

Olivia’s stillbirth in 1991 seemed to single me out even further. As I began raising awareness of the condition that had caused her and her sister’s deaths (intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy – ICP), I was labelled by the press as a ‘tragic mother’. I got used to it, and by then any hopes of being in the gang of normal people had fast faded!

Tim’s birth opened my eyes again to a world of colours, and when I began my counselling training I began to understand that there is no ‘normal’ in anything. I learned that my feelings were my feelings and it didn’t matter if people didn’t get them or even agreed with them – they were my truth in the same way that other people’s feelings and thoughts were their truths.  I realised that the reason I didn’t want to be in the gang I was in was that I hadn’t chosen it and that I’d been fighting it tooth and nail rather than embracing and accepting it. That is SO much easier to say some 30 years down the line, and if I’d been advised to embrace or accept it all back then I think I would have wanted to clout the person suggesting it. In fact I do remember being told by someone just six weeks after Olivia died that it was ‘meant to be’. I didn’t clout her, but I did tell her that she didn’t have the foggiest idea of what she was talking about!

So, back to those terms that I’m not keen on but which so many people are using and that charities are building campaigns on. I am still not sure about them, but I will try them on and see how they feel. I have never had a sunshine baby and that saddens me. But I have three (I also had a miscarriage) cloud/angel babies and I have my two wonderful rainbow babies and I am very thankful for them because I am acutely aware that many women never get the chance to have either a sunshine or rainbow baby.

And clearly something, somewhere, resonated with one of the terms (angel baby) as There Must be an Angel by The Eurythmics is a song I played endlessly when Victoria died and is what I associate both my girls with. I even had it played at my wedding to Mr K in 2012 so that I could ‘feel’ as if all my children were with me on that very special day.

In writing this blog post I find I am left with more questions than answers about what it all means and I feel a little sad. It seems that there is still a part of me fighting what happened, so perhaps for me acceptance is something I may never achieve. But we all handle what happens to us in life differently, and maybe it’s that non-acceptance that drives me on in my work for ICP Support? I also may never feel like I am part of a gang (and that probably says more about me as a person), but as I type this I come back with the question: “Jen, do you need to be?”.  And as for normal… well, what is normal?

So really, does it matter if I spend the rest of my life trying to figure it all out? Because that’s just an element of my personality and who I am.  I may be a ‘ponderer’, but I am also a ‘doer’ and a fighter and I am happy that I have channelled my grief into doing something positive.

And I think once again of the person I know who is waiting to meet her own rainbow baby and my heart is full of gladness. Gladness for her, her husband, and all their family and friends because I know that as this little one makes their entrance, the clouds will part, the sun will shine through and that rainbow everyone talks about will shine bright for them.  I can’t wait to see the photos.





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