What are some important things that partners need to consider after the loss of a baby?
A baby is so small, still the loss of that tiny life has huge ramifications for the parents. Not only have they lost their son or daughter, but they must also say goodbye to the future they had envisioned with that child. After my son Zachary died in my arms at birth, the days, months and years that followed were – and continue to be – a journey of transformation and self-discovery. They call life after the loss of a child the “new normal,” and for good reason.
Everyone grieves differently. This can put a big strain on a couple. I encourage bereaved parents to be gentle and kind with themselves – and with each other. Don’t believe you must feel better by a certain time – or even that your grief should fit a societal mold. Be authentic. If you want to weep, beat a pillow, avoid the topic, talk to a therapist, watch Netflix for hours – as long as it is not destructive, do what feels right in those moments.
While everyone grieves differently, they also heal in their own distinctive ways. Connect with those things that bring you peace and joy. What helped me includes: surrounding myself with supportive family and friends, drinking tea, burning incense, exercise, pursuing my passions, art, writing, finding a community and sharing stories.
Where does the term rainbow baby come from?
The term rainbow baby refers to children born to bereaved parents after their loss. While another child never replaces the baby that died, the new pregnancy and the new life represent hope after the storm of sorrow.
The cover of my memoir, Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing, and Pregnancy After Loss, shows a woman holding a rainbow umbrella. This is symbolic for me. She seems to be on the cusp of a storm, beneath a dusty teal sky, but she clutches this umbrella as if she is literally clinging to hope. This hope is what so many families hold onto after personal tragedy. I find this visual metaphor extremely inspiring.
What are some ways that parents can honor their rainbow baby?
I have seen many parents celebrate both the baby they have lost and their rainbow baby in unique ways.
In my family, we celebrate Zachary’s birthday every year by doing an activity together as a family, like swimming or spending time in nature. We will bake a cake and blow out candles. My husband and I and our living children will look through the photo album and scrapbooks I made of the few images we have from Zachary’s birth. It is always a tough day, and I find myself crying by the end, but it has become a special tradition where we honor Zachary and celebrate the love we will always have for him.
One year we planted trees. One tree for Zach the brother, the other for Zach the son. Other ideas include releasing balloons, writing letters, making art and sharing stories with family and friends.
I do not have specific ways of honoring my rainbow babies. Instead I find myself cherishing (and likely over-photographing) every milestone, birthday, and family gathering. I take less for granted and aim to be more present. I don’t want to miss a moment of this precious life I have with my children.
Each one of my kids have their own special song. For Eden, my first rainbow baby, I sung over him, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” which I write about in my book. For Luca, my second rainbow, the lyrics, “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high…” resonated, for obvious reasons. I have seen other families embrace the metaphor in visual ways; wrapping their child in a rainbow blanket or serving multi-colored cupcakes at the baby shower, for example.
How can parents help other children grieve?
While adults can be incredibly uncomfortable with death and do not have a vocabulary to talk about it, children are different. In my family, Aaron and I have been very open in talking about Zachary with our living kids. They know what happened. They’ve asked questions. They are comfortable with the pictures. Sometimes unexpectedly they will say they miss Zachary – and then go on playing with the next breath.
When a stranger asks me, “How many kids do you have?” my oldest, Hannah, who was one when Zach passed, will correct me if I say three. “No Mom, you have four kids. Don’t forget about Zachary!” This makes me proud. They are not ashamed. They do not feel stigmatized for talking about their brother. We acknowledge that they too have real feelings of grief and we encourage them to share their thoughts with us. In their own innocent way, they understand that death is a normal part of life, even though it hurts.
About the Author:
Alexis Marie Chute is an award-winning writer, artist and filmmaker and has set herself apart for her bereavement advocacy. She is a leading expert in creativity and healing. She has become an advocate in supporting and educating others on how to process their grief in creative and authentic ways, promoting healing through the arts and sharing stories in community. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and photography from the University of Alberta, and her Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Chute is a highly regarded public speaker and has traveled around the world presenting on art, writing, and the healing capacities of creativity. Her documentary film, also called Expecting Sunshine, subtitled, “The truth about pregnancy after loss” follows her second pregnancy after loss. She is widely published in anthologies and magazines, and her artwork has been exhibited internationally with critical acclaim. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with her husband and their three living children.
Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing and Pregnancy After Loss will be available on April 2017 through She Writes Press wherever books are sold. Learn more about her book and documentary, Expecting Sunshine: The Truth About Pregnancy After Loss, at