The first song I sang to Evangeline when she was born was “You Are My Sunshine.” She was born on a dreary, gray afternoon on the last day of February — I called her my sunshine on a cloudy day. We even had a sunshine-themed birthday party for her a year later.
I didn’t mean for these things to be prophetic.
In pregnancy loss circles, Eva is actually a rainbow baby — a live birth after previous miscarriage or stillbirth. The rainbow after the storm. (In my case, actually, after more than one storm and more than a decade of effort.)
While her rainbow baby status was clear the moment I heard that precious first cry, I didn’t realize until more than a year later that she’d also become a sunshine baby.
Whereas a rainbow baby is the child you have after a loss, a sunshine baby is the child you have before a loss. When Eva was almost a year and a half, I had another miscarriage — thereby granting Eva her new title. Calling her my sunshine suddenly went from joyous to devastating.
The label “sunshine baby” symbolically represents the calm before the storm. And a sunshine baby doesn’t just refer to a child born before miscarriage — it can refer to a baby born before any type of child loss, including stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy, blighted ovum, early infant death, or even abortion.
Sometimes, parenting almost seems to have its own language. In addition to sunshine baby, we’ve already mentioned rainbow baby — a child born after a loss. Here are a couple other terms related to loss:
- angel baby: a baby that passes away, either during pregnancy or shortly after
- born sleeping: a stillborn baby
- golden baby or pot of gold: a baby born after a rainbow baby
- sunset baby: a twin who dies in the womb
- sunrise baby: the surviving twin of a baby who dies in the womb
When I had my most recent miscarriage, I anticipated hearing those insensitive words from friends or family: “At least you have Eva.” The truth is, no baby — past or future — can replace the one you lost, no matter how bright and cheery a label a community gives them.
But when I did end up hearing that not-so-consoling phrase — from someone who has wanted a child for years — my feelings were surprisingly mixed rather than purely resentful. And indeed, your emotions may surprise you. Here are some things to keep in mind as you cope:
- You may feel devastated for your sunshine baby — that they lost the future sibling you wanted for them. (This may be especially true if they’re an only child.) Give yourself time to grieve — for yourself, for your loss, and for your sunshine baby — as you need.
- You may feel like a failure, somehow doing a “worse job” at pregnancy this time around. But here are the facts: Your pregnancy loss likely had nothing to do with anything you did or didn’t do. Perhaps 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic — and that doesn’t include early losses before a person knows they’re pregnant. Most of the time, this is due to chromosomal abnormalities entirely outside of your control.
- You may alternate between resentment for people who remind you that at least you have your sunshine baby and secret gratitude that yes, at least you have your sunshine baby. No, this doesn’t mean you see your living child as a replacement. It means loss is hard and makes us hold on tighter to what we have. Feelings are complex.
- In a world with increasing emphasis on authenticity — a good thing overall — you may find yourself shutting down around others, unsure how such contradictory feelings can be authentic. (Trust me, though: They’re all real and valid.)
- You may feel guilt for trying again. This can be especially true for those — like me — who experienced losses before their sunshine baby or a complicated, high risk pregnancy. Who was I to think I could be successful again? While it’s tempting to blame yourself, wanting another child is a strong, normal human emotion — not a selfish one. Again, the outcome isn’t your fault.
- Your relationships — particularly the one with your partner, if you have one, as well as with your sunshine baby — may go through a period of strain. This is completely normal.
Know that pregnancy loss can have lasting emotional and psychological effects. You’re not alone, and there’s nothing wrong with you. You may find it helpful to:
- journal your feelings, especially if they seem contradictory or confusing
- talk to trusted members of your inner circle
- make an appointment with a licensed therapist
- join an online or in-person support group for those who have experienced this unique kind of loss and grief
Above all, remember to check in with yourself. It’s OK to be not OK — even if that means you look at your sunshine baby with sadness for a while.
Sunshine may sound like a fairly happy term for an incredibly sad situation. But like so many other terms coined by parenting, pregnancy, and infertility communities, sunshine baby is also designed to represent hope.
My sunshine baby is a reminder of what my body was able to do in the past and may still do again in the future. (In fact, many people go on to have a successful pregnancy after loss.) She’ll never make up for my loss, but there was calm before the storm — and yes, there will be calm after the storm, too.