Miscarriage wasn’t a thing people talked about in my grandmother’s time; or even my mother’s, for that matter. Not unless it was in hushed tones, behind closed doors. Maybe it just wasn’t considered polite conversation, or maybe it was because social media didn’t yet exist, offering moms and dads near-instant access to support groups. Whatever the case, it was harder back then to find people who could understand and relate to what you were going through. Thankfully though, there are now a multitude of ways for couples to grieve and share their stories of loss, as well as celebrate their “rainbow babies” — a term we never even had in generations past.
But for one mom, the term “rainbow baby” has never quite seemed to fit, and in a beautiful post shared on Instagram last month, she explained why.
“A rainbow baby is a child born after miscarriages, stillbirth, or an infant or child’s death,” wrote Teresa Mendoza in her October 20 post. “It signifies the rainbow that comes after a storm.”
“For a long time, I rejected the title, feeling protective of Sylvia and hurt by the idea that anything surrounding her was a storm. She is perfect, not a storm, we are heartbroken, but she is not a storm, it was a great tragedy, yes, but she is not a storm. Somewhere along the pregnancy with Leo, Carlos told me that his interpretation equates to both Sylvia and Leo as rainbows that were shining above the storm and that the storm had nothing to do with Sylvia except to bring the rainbow of her and now her brother into our lives. She is the rainbow as much as he is … and the two rainbows that showed up in this photo make me think he’s absolutely right.”
Mendoza tells Babble that she had what’s described as a “medically perfect” pregnancy for her daughter, Sylvia, who tragically passed while still in utero at 40 weeks and 2 days. Mendoza even worked as a full-time registered nurse right up until her due date, feeling healthy and fantastic, which is what made Sylvia’s passing all the more surprising.
“Her death blindsided everyone,” Mendoza tells Babble. “Not only as a mother but as a woman I felt like I had failed by my body’s inability to bring her, living, into this world. The feeling of not completing my one important job I was alive to do brought on the near-obsessive desire to give her a sibling.”
Mendoza says she had heard the term “rainbow baby” before, but elt confused and conflicted about it.
“It certainly isn’t that I am discrediting or rejecting the term,” she explains. “I just needed to find a way that I could relate to it. My initial interpretation related the ‘storm’ to Sylvia and with its passing brought a rainbow or her sibling. I felt fiercely protective to the idea of relating anything dark, chaotic, and stormy to her or to the idea that the sadness, the grief and the longing for my daughter had passed.”
Considering that heartbreaking explanation, it’s easy to see why the term gave her a nagging pain in her heart, rather than bringing her comfort.
“The day she was born wasn’t the worst day of our lives,” Mendoza continues. “Even though we said goodbye on the same day, it was the day we met her, held her, kissed her and told her how much we loved her. Somewhere during our pregnancy with Sylvia’s little brother my husband shared that his interpretation was that both our children were rainbows above the storm. He said he believed the storm was the low lying sadness we will always have; it will not pass, it will not end, the storm will always be raging, but above that our children are shining, happy and most importantly, together.”
Mendoza is now happily settling into motherhood with her new son, Leo, but as she shares with Babble, she and her husband have done their best to keep Sylvia’s memory alive. In fact, as soon as they found out they were having a boy, they were determined to find a name that could honor her.
“We knew he needed a piece of her with him always,” says Mendoza. “With very little discussion, we named him Leo after her astrological sign. Sylvia is our little dove and Leo is our little cub. He looks a great deal like her, which simultaneously fills my heart with happiness and breaks it. He is calm, strong and seems thoughtful even in his five weeks of age. I find myself looking at him and imagining Sylvia, not to replace him, but to put more and more puzzle pieces of her together.”
For other women grieving a pregnancy or infant loss, Mendoza has some comforting words to share:
“What I have learned is that there is no one way to grieve the loss of a child; there is no user’s manual and no one’s experience, emotions or thoughts are the same. Being able to connect with other parents, in person or through social media, has been instrumental in better understanding my own grief just to have someone else say, ‘I get it’. I encourage parents navigating this heartbreaking, confusing path of life after pregnancy or infant loss to reach out to others. There are (unfortunately) so many other people that know exactly how you feel, which for whatever reason, is very comforting.”
Mendoza’s story certainly changes the way I think about the term rainbow baby, by adding yet another bittersweet layer of thoughtfulness and understanding.