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Why some parents dislike the term 'rainbow baby'

A child born after loss is commonly referred to as a "rainbow baby," but this term can be problematic.
Rainbow baby is a term used to describe children born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, like light at the end of storm.
Rainbow baby is a term used to describe children born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, like light at the end of storm. Bouton Pierre/ EyeEm / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Teresa Mendoza was one day past her due date when she found out her daughter had died.

"Sylvia was my first pregnancy," the Washington-based nurse told TODAY Parents, adding that her pregnancy was routine. "I had an appointment the day after her due date and it was there that we learned she had died, unexpectedly of course, and unexplained."

After 24 hours of labor that was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting, Mendoza met her daughter.

"She had dark hair, long fingers and big feet, we like to think she would have been a dancer," Mendoza recalled. "Our families were able to be there, meet and hold her, celebrate her existence and grieve her death until we said goodbye."

Mendoza heard the phrase "rainbow baby" at a local support group meeting afterwards. The term describes children born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or child death: They're like a beautiful rainbow after a storm. It doesn't sit right with her.

"Referring to anything with her as darkness or a storm felt like it focused strictly on her death rather than her very real life," Mendoza shared.

Currently pregnant with her fourth child, Mendoza explained the storm and rainbow reference might not be the best imagery to describe the loss of a pregnancy or baby.

"Pregnancy and infant loss is already so very stigmatized and shrouded in families feeling isolated and pressure to ‘move on,'" she said. "My kids are siblings. One of them is dead and others are alive. I don’t feel the need to call their existence anything other than they are their sister’s brothers and she is their sister."

In the miscarriage and pregnancy loss community, the term rainbow baby is widely used, but not all parents embrace this title.

Meg Konig, a photographer and mom in Colorado, first heard the term shortly before she miscarried her daughter, Hope. When she delivered her son, Everett, after her loss, Konig said she wasn't "in love" with the idea of calling her newborn a rainbow baby, partly because she doesn't want to define Everett in relation to Hope.

"When I think of losing Hope and then of having our son Everett I think of it as two separate events," Meg Konig shared.Sara L. Price Photography

"For me the term aligned with the idea that we wouldn't have 'tried for another baby' if we had had a successful birth with our previous pregnancy," Konig said. "It's been many years since our miscarriage, but when I think of losing Hope and then of having our son Everett, I think of it as two separate events."

Konig published her thoughts in an essay on the Colorado Springs Moms Collective and discovered she was not alone in her discomfort with the term.

Her baby Hope was not "a kind of tumultuous event that we had to overcome," Konig wrote. She wasn't the storm: "We want to remember her, herself, as the rainbow."

The mom of four echoed Mendoza's feeling that there's pressure to "get over" or "move on" from a loss. Storms pass, and then a rainbow appears. Loss doesn't clear up like a storm does.

"Loss cannot be compared or measured. My loss with Hope was deeply impacting, and I had to work through it for a very long time," she said. "The timeline for grief varies by each person, and there was no grand rule book or timeline for bereavement."

Both Mendoza and Konig mentioned the importance of recognizing their emotions.

"A tremendous amount of healing and connection is possible in sitting with sadness, acknowledging it and working through it," Mendoza said. "There will always be someone missing and the profound longing and sadness I feel from that are OK emotions to carry. Some things don’t need a positive spin."

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