How ‘Rainbow Mamas’ Are Helping to Spread Much-Needed Miscarriage Awareness
Most people probably think of this guy when hearing the words “double rainbow,” but for me, the term takes on extra-special meaning. Almost two years ago, I became pregnant with fraternal twins after several soul-sucking years of infertility. (One IUI, two canceled IUIs, three IVF cycles and two miscarriages, but who’s counting?) When I shared the happy news of my rainbow-babies-to-be on Facebook, I was just as jubilant as the famed double rainbow dude — but not without mention of the babies I’d lost.
I’m one of an increasing number of women embracing the “rainbow baby” concept as a way to further the conversation around miscarriage. (If you’re not familiar, a rainbow baby is a baby born in the wake of pregnancy or infant loss.) The hashtag #RainbowBaby currently has more than 257,000 entries on Instagram, and rainbow-inspired maternity shoots are a thing now too. Rainbow baby props abound on Etsy, and some expectant moms are taking it a step further with elaborate photo setups.
Case in point: Connecticut-based pediatric nurse Jessica Mahoney, who sought to commemorate her successful pregnancy after six miscarriages. Her photographer utilized colored smoke bombs to form a rainbow cloud backdrop, with the results going viral. And Mahoney’s far from the only one making a visual statement about life after loss:
Boldface names have also played a vital part in spreading miscarriage awareness through raw, real pregnancy announcements. When Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla announced their baby-to-be in 2015 (on Facebook — where else?), they discussed it in the context of their three previous miscarriages and how they had deeply impacted them. Last May, four months-pregnant actress Eva Amurri Martino wrote a post on her blog, Happily Eva After, about “Pregnancy after Miscarriage” and the complex whirlwind of emotion that accompanies it.
It’s all part of a collective movement toward not only much-needed catharsis, but also removing the shroud of silence that has long accompanied pregnancy loss.
“For some women, it feels poignant and meaningful to acknowledge previous losses while pregnant,” explains clinical psychologist Jessica Zucker, who specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health. “By talking about [a] baby as a ‘rainbow,’ women are inviting others in on the storms they have weathered and the hope that continues.”
Zucker’s no stranger to the heartbreak of miscarriage herself, having experienced a traumatic loss at 16 weeks. In 2014, she coined the powerful viral hashtag #IHadaMiscarriage, and last fall, she released a line of Rainbow Babe- and Rainbow Mama-themed apparel — which sold out within the first 48 hours of launch.
“[The response] highlights just how much we women want to connect and share our stories — of grief, of hope, of complexity,” says Zucker. “We don’t need to sequester pain, but instead we understand that by shining light on dark times, the grief process does, in fact, move along and does so even more gracefully when we feel supported.”
Few know that better than LA-based moms Jennifer Chen and Rachel Schinderman, both of whom discovered they were pregnant with rainbow babies after opening up very publicly about their miscarriages. Chen’s BuzzFeed essay “Why I Don’t Want My Miscarriage to Stay Secret” sparked a subsequent video with over 1.85 million views on YouTube; less than a month after shooting the video, she learned she was pregnant with twin girls.
As for Schinderman, her long-awaited good news arrived during a stint in the show Expressing Motherhood, for which she performed a piece about having three miscarriages following the birth of her first son. “Reading [my piece] up on stage in front of so many people was really special, knowing I had this secret and it felt different, like it was going to take,” shares Schinderman.
Of course, not everyone who is open about pregnancy loss is a fan of the term “rainbow baby.” Writer Angela Elson recently penned a New York Times piece titled “The Japanese Art of Grieving a Miscarriage,” in which she detailed the traditional Jizo statue she and her husband created to honor their grief.
Though she is now a proud mother of two, she doesn’t view her children as rainbow babies: “I get the concept, but it makes it sound like the miscarriage was a gray and stormy time,” Elson says. “It was, but I still loved that baby: I had sun for [the] 10 weeks [I was pregnant]. I feel warm when I think of him. I don’t like to discount that.”
Schinderman agrees. “I try not to equate my son with the idea of being a rainbow baby,” she says. “He didn’t cause that sadness for me and I can’t expect him to solve it.”
Whether it’s rainbow-tinged or not, I believe that open discourse about miscarriage matters… a lot. After all, recent research shows that more than half of Americans mistakenly believe that miscarriage is rare — even though around 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss. Even worse, nearly half of women who experience miscarriage feel guilty about it.
“It’s time that we embrace heartbreak rather than running from it,” says Zucker. “My hope is that future generations grow up in a world where conversing about pregnancy loss is considered normative. Miscarriage isn’t going anywhere. It’s not a disease that can be cured. So the sooner we get comfortable talking about it, the faster the reported shame will dissipate.”