Reframing Rainbows

I have a complicated relationship with the concept of "rainbow babies," and I've written about it more than once, but I can't find the posts...which makes me think I wrote about it and then didn't post them because people love the term "rainbow babies" and I didn't want to disparage the concept. Hmmm. This past week, Loribeth at The Road Less Traveled wrote a post this week reviewing the book I Had a Miscarriage: A Memoir, A Movement by Jessica Zucker. 


In her review, she quotes Zucker's words about rainbow babies. Two things stood out to me: 

"Blindingly relying on the comforting notion that every traumatic storm is followed by beautiful, awe-inspiring happiness is common within the pregnancy- and infant-loss community. But we all know this isn't always the case. Some people don't go on to get pregnant again. Some get pregnant and have yet another loss. Some stop trying to conceive altogether. So while this hopeful message is encouraging for some, it might feel alienating to others, and in ways that are not always obvious..."

Yes. I find that the idea of the rainbow after the storm represented by a baby or a late-term pregnancy as super alienating, because that is an image put out ALL THE TIME in the media and it gives the mistaken notion that this is the norm, that if you just try hard enough you, too, can have your rainbow. It feels terrible when there is no rainbow baby, when the miscarriage or baby loss is the experience you get and there's no more. It feels incomprehensible, that you won't have the chance to have the same colorful maternity shoot or baby wrapped in rainbows or birthday posts on social media brimming with gratitude that the rainbow miracle was granted. I don't think it's as uncommon as it seems in the media that you can leave the storm and NOT have a rainbow baby, it just doesn't have quite the same optics. 


But then, the author goes on to say:

"Alternative outcomes -- outcomes that do not consist of full-term pregnancies and babies wrapped in rainbow-colored blankets -- deserve to be acknowledged too...Sometimes a rainbow follows, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes a rainbow is a child, and sometimes it's the renewal of vows, a career milestone, a new sense of self, the ability to self-love.


I LOVE this idea. I love that she extends the metaphor of the rainbow beyond the baby. That the storm is traumatic, and the loss is real, and sometimes, the rainbow that comes after isn't a baby at all but is the remaking of your own life, after surviving the turbulence. 

I also love that it doesn't fall into the trap of "if you don't get a baby in the end, you must do something GREAT with your life," because the list also includes such things as "a new sense of self" and "the ability to self-love." 

I don't know why I never thought to consider these things rainbows in their own terms. That rebuilding your life can be that beautiful light of hope and celebration.

For me, I think about the move to a new house that fits our life now, but also the smaller pieces that came before: converting my nursery into my office in the old house, and purchasing oatmeal-colored couches because we wouldn't have children to worry about. I also think of how I throw my mothering energy into my students (but not in a creepy way), and my gardens. How empowering it is to nurture life and create beauty in the garden. How fulfilling it is to work with 8th graders with learning differences and be a "warm nagger" and to embrace the students who feel on the fringe of things. I think of how I have made friends with my body again through Pilates and discovering all the ways that I am strong. I am still working on loving my body even when it fails me, or insists on being fluffier than I'd like, but I can concentrate on the strength and flexibility that I've gained through Pilates lessons. I think of how I have met wonderful people who have also gone through their own storms, and how these friendships have strengthened and expanded in the past year or so. I think of my marriage, and while I don't love vow renewals (um, they are still good, right? They don't expire? Also anytime a celebrity does a vow renewal they inevitably get divorced within the year...), I am proud of how we have survived the storms and really awful experiences with loss and grief and inexplicable barriers to parenthood, and survived that. We are thriving. We aren't perfect, and it was definitely difficult in places, but I am so grateful to have the relationship I have with Bryce and our life together. 

I think about survival anniversaries -- Infertile Phoenix wrote about her 6th here, and it's so important to mark that you made it through the storm. And then to celebrate what there is now, and what there is to look forward to.


Rainbows don't have to be babies. I don't have to feel quite so alienated, because I can reframe the rainbow for my successes after infertility, loss, and leaving adoption. That feels powerful. It makes me think of doing another photo shoot to celebrate these rainbows, maybe this summer if numbers go down. Even if it's a very small audience, I like to put out those pictures that celebrate a life often not seen as celebratory. Now I have ideas roiling around in my head! 

At first when I saw the book review post, I wasn't interested in the book, because I thought it might be too much to immerse myself in the world of pregnancy loss in a book right now... but after Loribeth's review and reading what the author had to say about rainbows...I am reconsidering. 

What are your rainbows?


  1. Interesting points. I had children in the end, as you know, and never lived through the actual loss of a baby, so rainbow doesn’t technically apply to me. But I think, defined on your terms, the “rainbow” for me is being able to move beyond infertility/sub fertility. The whole experience was so engrossing and overwhelming, it was very hard to picture life beyond it (even the life with kids that I was trying to achieve!) I feel like I can reconnect with the many aspects of my identity now instead of being relentlessly focused on biology (as interesting as that is, in its own way...)

  2. Yes. ... Yes. Yes. Yes. I loved that description too. I guess my 25 Gifts of Infertility (on my blog) are 25 different shades of the rainbow of my life post-infertility-and-loss. I know it's very hard for some people to accept that anything other than a baby is a "rainbow" or "gift" and many of those who got their "rainbow babies" or those who are just newly grieving would scoff at the idea. But U think that eventually most of us get there.

    It's so great hearing you talk about your rainbows, Jess. I've just read this after I posted my list of joys today, but this is another one.

  3. I also don't like vow renewals (exactly- they are still good, they don't expire!).

    My rainbow: finding the strength within myself to rebuild a happy life after infertility (despite childlessness).

  4. Aw, thank you for the mention. :)

    I love reading about your rainbows. And you know I love seeing pictures of your garden. (I'm looking forward to reading your next post, which I haven't done yet.)

    I think my biggest rainbow is finding enthusiasm for life again. That was no small feat and I remember the exact moment when I felt excited about something for the first time in years. It was such an unfamiliar feeling at the time that I didn't even recognize what it was. It happened after I watched a video about something. So I followed that interest (went to the library to check out some books to learn more) and that's what led me to my grad school program.

    My other rainbows include moving out of the city (I loved everything the city had to offer but I never want to live in one again), finding a passion for my new profession, and discovering quilting. All my life I've been an artist, but I hadn't found my medium yet. Now I have That Thing that keeps me going. I am always listening to conversations that I'm having, but I admit... I'm also always thinking about fabric, color combinations, and my next quilt top design. :)

    Great post!!! Thank you for the prompt. I like reading everyone's answers.

  5. So refreshing and healing to expand the meaning of "rainbow" beyond just the one outcome. Can't wait to see what comes of the ideas rolling around in your head.

  6. Oh, I'm so glad that passage connected with you! :) I've never felt entirely easy with the whole "rainbow baby" idea -- because what does that mean for me?? -- that I'm still stuck in the downpour, getting drenched?? I like the idea that we can all find our own rainbows after loss & trauma, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a(nother) baby.