A Rainbow, Not A Replacement

By |2017-07-28T16:03:55+00:00May 13th, 2016|Parenting After Loss, Reader Favorites|6 Comments

When my first baby died, I was obsessed with getting pregnant as quickly as possible.  The grief was so intense, I felt so empty, and I’m not getting any younger.  I worried a lot about others thinking of this baby as replacing my first child, and truthfully I worried I might feel that way too.

  • If a child lives, a subsequent child is not a replacement.
  • If a parent remarries, we are careful not to call the step-parent a replacement.
  • If a spouse dies, we don’t talk of remarriage as a replacement spouse (unless we are jerks).

Why does baby loss seem different?  

Before losing a baby, I might have said something like their individual personality hadn’t formed yet, or they hadn’t fully integrated into others’ lives yet, or people could always make more babies.

But all of that is total crap.

Each baby is an individual.  It doesn’t matter how young they are when they die, or if they die before they are born.  Their innate personalities, their place in your life is unique to them.  Their pregnancy, the circumstances of their birth, their age in relation to your friends and family, these are all things unique to each child.  Their kicks and twists, the noises they make, the facial expressions and features, these are all special and individual things.  

Each baby has a special place in our lives.  Everyone who loves your baby made room for them in their lives.  Space was created for your baby, and now that space is empty.  This is painfully obvious for the parents, who made space to care for their child every single day, and now every minute is too quiet.  As time goes on that space stays empty.  When you should have been enrolling in preschool, helping with homework, teaching them to drive, or picking out prom attire, it will be empty.  

There are no guarantees for subsequent children.  It doesn’t matter how young or old we are, pregnancies aren’t guaranteed, let alone healthy children.  Going through a loss makes us painfully aware of that.  There are primary and secondary infertility, crippling anxiety or fear that makes subsequent pregnancy impossible, health issues of the mother with or without pregnancy, genetic conditions, breakdown of the relationship between parents, and many other reasons why subsequent children may not happen.  It is by no means a foregone conclusion that another child is possible, or even that a decision will be made to try again.

A rainbow baby, a child born after a loss, can bring a lot of healing and joy to a family.  A rainbow baby is, after all, a baby.  Babies bring happiness with their adorable features, their sweet snuggles, and countless other joys.    

But just as my brother and I are different people, rainbow babies are not their lost siblings.  They aren’t magically the same as their older brothers and sisters, and they don’t relate to us the same.  While we love them and their little personalities, we will always wonder about their siblings.  While we savor the milestones, we also tick off when they should have happened for our children who are missing.

As parents of rainbow babies, we are older and we are different.  This is true for all parents of multiple children – we are not the exact same for our first child as for our second, or third, and so on.  

A rainbow baby helps very much by filling up space, in our arms and in our days.  They carve out their own place in our hearts and lives, but they don’t fill the hole left by their sibling.  Children are irreplaceable.  

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Thoma
Elizabeth Thoma lives in the Bay Area, California, with her husband, Chris, and two cats, JJ and Pepper. She found out she was expecting their first child Mother’s Day weekend, 2014. With mild symptoms and no significant early warning signs, they adjusted to pregnancy and eagerly planned for their growing family. At the second trimester anatomy scan, they found out they were having a son and that he had an abdominal wall defect, an omphalocele. Ever the planners, Elizabeth and Chris prepared themselves and their families for what the omphalocele meant in a best-case scenario, and some of the possibilities that couldn’t be diagnosed in utero. Their son, Oberon, was born six weeks early and had his omphalocele surgery within his first twelve hours of life. The surgery went well, but Obie was having trouble breathing. At first, the doctors thought it was related to his large tongue, one of the many indicators that he had Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome. When Obie was one week old, the doctors told Chris and Elizabeth that somewhere along the line, Obie’s brain stopped developing. While they could control his seizures somewhat with heavy medication, Obie’s brain would never develop and he would not be able to walk, talk, or even communicate. At this point, they decided to switch Obie to comfort care and try to take him home from the NICU. They successfully broke out of the NICU and Obie rode home in an ambulance. Bringing their son home brought much comfort to their family. Obie passed away at home in his daddy’s arms at 33 days old. Elizabeth found out she was pregnant with their second child a week after Mother’s Day, 2015. Her second son, Everett, was born January 7, 2016. Elizabeth and Chris blog at about their family at Our Little Beastie.


  1. Raerae74 June 17, 2016 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    I am curious if Any other mothers with rainbow babies also find themselves not bonding with their child as strongly as their lost child? I lost my daughter at 7 months old to serious medical and health complications after she contracted spinal meningitis. Then I miscarried twice after. 21 years later I ended up pregnant with my son and things have been “perfect”. But I’m driving myself insane because I didn’t bond with him like he did with his father. For some reason it’s like I keep waiting for something to happen. That he to will be taken from me. I hear about all these mothers who do the polar opposite and go the extra mile to bond even more with their rainbow babies, I was just wondering if there were others who were like me?

    • Elizabeth Thoma
      Elizabeth Thoma June 17, 2016 at 1:13 pm - Reply

      Raerae – you are not alone. I am so sorry for the loss of your daughter and your subsequent miscarriages.

      Many PAL mothers have difficulty bonding with their babies, during the pregnancy and after birth. I’m one of them! My husband was intensely bonded to both our lost baby and our rainbow right away, where as I had a different experience. It’s getting better for me, as my rainbow gets older than my first boy, as he changes and grows in ways his brother didn’t.

      I wrote about the lack of bonding here, I hope it’s a helpful read for you:

  2. Serena August 2, 2016 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    I want to know how her second pregnancy went. I’m hoping it went well. Praying for all mothers,fathers, and family members that have had to suffer through the loss of a child (ren), myself as well. And God bless rainbow babies! As I have one also!

  3. Lisa December 11, 2016 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    Very true article. So well written! I have my 4week old daughter in my arms after losing a daughter at 30 weeks pregnant one year ago. But i find as I get to know this new baby, i find myself thinking even more about what we missed learning to know in our stillborn baby…

  4. Shruti Deep July 28, 2017 at 8:05 am - Reply

    Hi. It was a beaitiful article and as someone who had to go through a pregnancy termination at 20 weeks, I find it comforting. Thank you so much for that. Its been 3 months and I haven’t been able to come out of my depression.

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