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 that 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 child loss seem different?
Before losing a child, 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.