Making the Choice to Have Another Baby Following a Loss
A "rainbow baby" is a baby that is born following the loss of a baby from miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS and any other infant death.
The storm (loss) has already happened and nothing can change that experience. Storm-clouds might still be overhead as the family continue to cope with the loss, but something colorful and bright has emerged from the darkness and misery.
When you first began your journey to have a family, it is highly unlikely you ever expected to be faced with the loss of your child. No one plans to become a grieving parent faced with the decision whether to have another child.
Tragedy has scared your life, shattering your innate sense of security and left you vulnerable. Your decision to have another child, and when, will be have to be made under the heavy weight of fear, hesitation and joy. It will take great courage.
Because we live in a society that leaves very little room to experience joy and grief at the same time, we often feel forced to choose between one or the other. The truth is that your reality is between grief and joy every day, and it is possible to mourn the loss of your child while expecting the great joy of a new pregnancy.
When Is The Right Time To Plan a Pregnancy After a Loss?
The answer is there is no single right time. The best way to address that question may be when the desire to have another child begins to outweigh some of the grief and worry.
Grief can be a very lonely experience. Nobody prepares us how to go through it, so we often make up the rules as we move through it, continually attempting to redefine normal. But normal will never be the same, and making the decision will be tempered with judgement by others who don’t fully understand.
It is fair to say that the term ‘moving on’ is over used and over simplifies the choice to have another child following a loss.
No one really moves on from the loss of a child. Moving on would suggest that you are leaving something behind. The last thing a grieving parent or loved one wants to do is to forget or leave behind their precious child.
Statements from well-meaning friends and family can pull you in many directions. Being prepared to hear comments like these will help you to stay focused and follow your own heart.
“You are young, you can always try again.”
“You will have more time to spend with your other children.”
“It must be meant to be”
“There must be another child meant to come into your life.”
The Replacement Child
Psychology defines the concept of a “replacement child” as the attempt by grieving parents to validate their loss by having another child. Having another child can and will bring new joy, but it is not about replacement of the child they lost, it is about having the opportunity to feel something more than grief again. It can be a path back to a time when joy was on the daily agenda and not grief. It is human nature to strive for joy. This is why we choose to have a child after a loss.
The idea that people are replaceable is a devastating myth. No one questions a daughter or son befriending a parent figure after the loss of a parent. It seems quite natural. And so is the desire to continue growing your family.
Again being prepared for statements like these will help you to protect your personal decision.
“Have you taken enough time to grieve properly?”
“You know you can’t replace your baby with another one.”
“Do you really want to risk the pain again so soon?”
Once you have made the decision and are expecting your baby, the next challenge will be managing your worries and fear. Dates and events will heighten your anxiety, and coping with those milestones will make you question your decision many times.
If you suffered a stillbirth, your anxiety will escalate as you approach the birth of your child. Following the death of an infant, the age at which you lost your baby will trigger terrifying fear. As you surpass those milestones time will help shift the fear to worry, and ultimately to more joy.
Managing Fear and Worry
Worry is the result of your past experience and has no real risk factor. Fear is the result of a real risk. For example a physical or genetic risk factor that has been predetermined to be possible by your doctor.
As you navigate through your decision to have another child, worry will dominate your decision until your anxiety becomes less and less. In many cases that does not begin to take place until a new pregnancy is already developing. Often, it quietly forces the shift to embrace the new pregnancy. It does not mean that you may be riddled with anxiety. However, it can help you focus on the present reality and not as much on your painful past.
Being able to speak openly to another parent who has experienced the birth of a child after the loss of their baby can also help you manage your anxiety.
The process of managing the guilt is gradual and not an easy task.
Guilt is the most well-known experience of anyone who has lost a child. The helpless feeling of not being able to change what has happened can create profound guilt. We question every moment of our pregnancy and any time we had with our precious child. What could I have done differently? But you need to remember that the death of your child was not your fault, and beyond your control.
How many of us have wished to turn back time and do things differently? The universe can seem so cruel. But life can also hold miracles. And when we begin to consider a new pregnancy, or perhaps have already become pregnant, a new type of guilt may begin to overwhelm your life. You may begin to feel guilt for experiencing new happiness and hopefulness, and being more focused on your new pregnancy, and less on your loss.
As you turn to your new baby, you WILL find that you have room in your heart for both children. Welcoming your new child can be met by honoring the memory of your lost child with the miracle of a new blessing in your life.
Helping Siblings Embrace a New Baby
It is difficult to know what to say to your other children after a loss. Just as children can experience fear, guilt and anger after the loss of a sibling, those emotions will be heightened when you announce a new pregnancy. Adults need to be open and honest. Talking about your own fears on an age appropriate level is very important.
Be cautious not to over use the “Don’t worry it will be alright” or “This baby will be just fine”. Your children are just as worried as you are. Share you tears with them. It is okay to tell them you are afraid, but more importantly, helping them to be part of special memorials for the lost sibling is a healthy way of creating a shift.
Instead of asking them how they feel, ask them what they would like to DO to remember their sibling and what they would like to do to prepare for the new baby. Actions are the greatest tools for helping children take some control over a situation that they feel completely out of control.