Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rainbow Weekend

Rainbow baby is the term for a baby after the loss of a previous child. It is the understanding that a rainbow's beauty does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn't mean that the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds.  

Several of us got together last weekend near Chicago.  Fourteen broken-hearted mamas and fourteen rainbow babies who helped us find our way back to life.  These are women who sent love and light my way when my world was as dark as it could possibly get.  And they did this while suffering themselves--almost all of us lost babies in late 2010 or 2011 and had our "rainbows" in 2012.  We were in the trenches together, slogging through the worst part of grief simultaneously, and reaching out to carry each other through it.

at the park
When I think about the path that I've walked in the last two and a half years, I know that the greatest loss of my life was coupled with an amazing gift of friendship and connection with people I would never have otherwise met.  It's no compensation for the loss of a child, and many times I heard someone mention over the weekend that we wished we could have all been there for some other reason.  But there is some consolation in shared sorrow, in knowing that you're not alone in your pain.

And there is far greater consolation in shared hope:  these women were also my pregnancy support team, encouraging and worrying and wishing and hoping alongside me in those anxiety-filled days of pregnancy-after-loss.  It's crazy because in some ways we are each other's horror stories--fourteen different ways a baby can die.  There's ten years' difference between the oldest and youngest of us.  We come from various cities, states, and countries (hello, Canada!).  We have different jobs, different backgrounds, different interests (and fall in various places on the "hippie spectrum"--the biggest hippie being the crazy girl with cloth diapers and backyard chickens.  Oh wait, that's me.).

We all experienced a life-shattering heartbreak, and somehow in the brutal aftermath of living with loss, we found each other.  And we formed real friendships, that started because of our losses and then moved beyond that to be something more, something good that grew out of the most terrible thing we could imagine.

speaking of something good - Bode, Zuzu, Kellan, and Grace
The magic of the interwebz allowed many of us connect through blogs, through Instagram photo-sharing, through e-mail and g-chat and Skype.  So meeting in person for the first time (or second time, for a few of us) was weird in the sense that it didn't feel weird at all.  There were very few introductions because we'd seen almost everyone (or at least their rainbow babies) before.  It felt more like a neighborhood block party (on what would be a tragically unlucky block).

B wonders how his home invasion occurred
And let me tell you this:  When hearts break, they do break open.  There was so much love in the room when all those babies were there.  There was chaos, yes, and some screeching, occasional tears, and a few throw-down fights among the bigger boys over a very desirable lawn-mower, but there was SO. MUCH. LOVE.

Some of us were more demonstrative than others!
The thing about rainbow babies is that they are unique individuals, totally lovable and adorable in their own right.  But they also offer a glimpse, a hint, of genes shared with a brother or sister who is no longer here, and we love them for that, too.

Addison's little brother, Mason
Our greatest gift follows on the heels of our greatest loss, and it's a fierce and complicated kind of parental love that grows out of those circumstances.  One of the awesome things about the weekend was seeing other rainbow babies that I've come to love, and seeing my friends love on Zuzu, understanding what she means to us in a way that most people can't or don't or won't.

Zuzu gets some love from Addison and Mason's mom
Being in a room with other people who were relatively close on the grief timeline was like having a kind of weight lifted.  There was no need for explanation--these people got it because they are living it, too.

Grace & Zuzu 
Every tear, every wail, every twinge of guilt, every full-belly-laugh, every prayer, and every doubt--we shared these things and we continue to share them.  This is the sisterhood that grief makes.  It's shitty and it's brutal and it's one we would have all avoided if there any possible way.  But it is also a beautiful thing to know that we're in this awful mess together.  I say this because I don't know how I could have survived it on my own.

My pregnancy support group - we e-mailed each other multiple times a day every single day while we were pregnant with these guys--all born within three months of each other
We had no agenda for the weekend.  We talked and hugged babies and laughed and cried.  We talked about grief and loss and spirituality and pregnancy and marriage and families and fashion and home decorating.  We did a lot of chasing babies and referring fights over pacifiers, sippy cups, and toys (the lawn mower!).

this toy was a huge hit
Zuzu & Catherine are wrestling over Grace's pacifier

three boys in a basket
We ate.  We drank.  We laughed and cried some more.  And then we laughed until we cried.  We joked and made fun of each other.  We shared our secrets, the inescapable guilt, the unavoidable fears.  We existed in a place without judgment even as we described our experience with grief in different ways.  We talked about jobs, about parenting, about food, about travel.  We lit candles for the babies we are missing, and for the other moms we wished could have made the trip, and for the babies that those moms are missing also (far too many candles on that deck).


We're all broken here, and we're helping each other hold the pieces together.  There was something amazing about the way a conversation could effortlessly move from deep grief to superficial commentary and back again, interrupted periodically by baby-chasing or nap time.  To have that sense of ease with so many women I'd never met before?  It was really incredible.

lots of talking
When I left on Sunday, I felt so sad to be so far away from what someone (I think it was Keleen?) had aptly called "the best friends I'd never met."  Because now I had met them.  And they were just as amazing in person as they were online.  And while it's unlikely that we ever would have met if our lives didn't share the same tragedy, I'm grateful for the opportunity to know them and to love them.

Zuzu, Ginny, & Harlow, all missing big sisters
I also felt a little lighter as I drove away on Sunday.  It kind of like we'd all shown up in Chicago with our diaper bags and suitcases, and also our heavy emotional dead-baby baggage and while we couldn't leave any of it behind, we'd been able to help each other shoulder that emotional burden.  My grief rests a little lighter now--I'm balancing it better after soaking up so much love and support.

At the same time, I grieve more deeply for all of the women who were there, whose babies were so loved and wanted and so tragically and traumatically ripped away from them by a fate none of us can understand.  It's hard to fathom all the pain in the world, and at this point I think I've compartmentalized a lot of mine so that I can function on a daily basis.  The empathy experienced when connecting with people who have endured the loss of a child is both exhausting and uplifting.

Being physically surrounded by people who love Eliza and love Zuzu and who understand intimately and intensely what it is to love two babies when one is here and one is not...  I can't find the words to do it justice.

Sonja gave all the babies rainbow hats that her mother had knitted.  Her mom wrote in the note she included that each rainbow baby is also reminder of the brother or sister who isn't here.  It's such a bittersweet combination of joy and grief, and that couldn't have been more vivid than in the moments we spent trying to capture a group picture of the babies in their hats.

This was probably the best picture we got!
Like herding cats.  Who also cry and try to poke each other's eyes out.
So much life and love can be seen in these snapshots, and those little caps represent the way these babies lit up our lives in the darkness of grief.

Our rainbow girl, Zuzu
Bear's little brother, Bode
I'm so sorry that we're members of this club, and I'm so grateful to have found each one of you.


28 comments:

  1. Beautifully written. I've been waiting and hoping for one of you to recap the weekend. I so wish I could have been there, too. Maybe next year.

    Wonderful photos, too, of all of you and all of your rainbows just *being* together. Marvelous. (The second rainbow hat group pic made me laugh...two toddlers all "Peace out, we're done"!!

    Xoxo!

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  2. Those hats are adorable!

    I am glad you had a great time! I definitely love being around other rainbow moms too. :) I agree with everything you said about how comforting and helpful it is.

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  3. This is such a beautiful post. I so wish I could've been there with Evelynn. You all truly are an amazing group of women who I am glad to have met, just under different circumstances.

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  4. Is it weird that I was there and yet was waiting on puns and needles to read your post?!? I suppose I was hoping it would somehow transport me back to this magical weekend to be with you all once again.

    I have felt lighter than I have in 2.5 years since coming home. Not better, just different. I suppose this weekend gave me back some magic in my life I thought I would never see. My response to my family when I got home was that I felt the closest to whole than I ever thought possible.

    You mamas shared your babies with me and I shared mine with you with such ease and comfort. It's like nothing I've ever felt before.

    It's quite a thing to get to wrap your arms around each other after years of sharing my everything with you ladies. To watch you all mother my son to smooch these little siblings and think if their big northers and sisters, knowing we are altogether in those moments. I felt such a closeness to Addison and to ALL the babies. It's a weekend I wouldn't trade for anything except for Addison of course.

    I'm so grateful we all connected via blog and then to connect like this. If we have to be without our children thank goodness the Internet could bring us each other. Mason is demanding my attention now, but wow what a weekend. So thankful for you all.

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  5. Oh I'm in tears of course!!!! Well said, my friend. As always.

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  6. See? No pressure was needed. You write and you write beautifully. And then I read and read tearfully.

    I love what Keleen said and it's so true - wouldn't trade that special weekend for anything except Cale, who brought me to you all.

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  7. Beautiful. All these pictures just warm my soul.

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  8. I think you said it all.

    Seeing you all love on Benjamin was like watching you all love on Andrew... because through him that's what was happening.

    xo

    p.s. The lawnmower is out of hiding now. Hah

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  9. Wonderful post- even though I only know some of these BLM's, I found myself in tears reading this- as if I were there too. Hopefully I can make the next one. I'd love to bring my rainbow baby (Rose- named after her big sister, Sofia Rose). She'd have fun adding her own bit of chaos in the mix!

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  10. Well you rocked that post ... Of course! I just wish it was a week long getaway instead of a weekend. Just not enough time to talk and laugh and love when I wish we could do it all the time. Why do we all have to live so far apart? The late night chats and hysterical laughter ... The tears. The missing and the love! Wow. How could this weekend be better than I anticipated??? But it was! It was really magical! I'm so glad I got to actually hang out with a bunch of people from my tribe. The funny thing is how people's personalities matched so well with their written words. I miss you all so much.

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  11. Beautifully said, as always.

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  12. I am bawling now Brooke. To see those babies in those rainbow hats...I just lost it and the tears started. Thinking of all of you and your babies.

    Kelley

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  13. I've spent 3-4 hours now trying to write about the weekend and I purposely didn't read yours first because I knew I'd just chuck mine and say "ditto".
    How you express yourself and speak for all of us the way you do...well, it's a freaking ginormous talent, is what it is. There's a book in you woman, I just know it.
    So I'm not chucking mine, but will still full on admit that you say it better. I just wish I could have been a part of those late-night conversations. Everything is different in the deep dark night over a glass of wine and exhaustion. :) A weekend just wasn't long enough.
    I agree with Brandy - fawning over the rainbows was tantamount to loving on the children missing, and we all felt it. That in and of itself is comforting in a way unique to this group of women, knowing that we all GET IT. Every time someone touched Catherine gently, went to play with her, or just acknowledged her, it was like placing something soft & tender on the still gaping wound left in Anna's absence.
    I'm profoundly grateful for you all, and intensely grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this weekend. You are a beautiful bunch of women that I genuinely look forward to spending time with online or otherwise for the next 50 or so years. :)

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  14. What an amazing get together. I recognize quite a few faces.

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  15. Aw this is awesome! I've wanted to do this before, it's so cool that you got to do it!

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  16. Gosh, you write so beautiful, and have really moved me to tears. Such an amazing weekend for you guys.. just phenomenal.

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  17. oh my god you guys!

    What a blast that must have been for you all!

    When I was thrust into this club, and came across all these blogs - I definitely thought "The Class of 2010/11" losses was the place to be. As ridiculous as that sounds, I really felt I found so many great people - but they all just happened to be about a year or so ahead of me in this journey. But that's what I went searching for after Alexander was stillborn in Feb '12. I was looking for women that were having babies again...making it to "the other side" of this mess. And that's how I found (first) Sally... then Renel, who mentioned Brooke (you!) and then Caroline, LJ, Brandy, Molly.. and so many more were reading and commenting on all the blogs I was reading - and they mostly shared such similar histories to mine...and here you guys all are... and get.outta.town with this cool weekend!!

    I love the hats, I love all the babies... and everything you wrote about what meeting those babies must have felt like in regards to missing and loving the babies that were not there... oh man, my heart soared and ached all at once.

    I love you all - I feel so cheesy saying this - but I'm so happy for you all and this wonderful opportunity of getting together and finding your tribe.

    <3

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  18. loved this post. and loved meeting you and Zuzu. that pic you snapped of my little love was hilarious!!

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  19. I did not even make it through the first paragraph before I began crying. Just wow.

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  20. This is awesome. I too lost my baby in 2010 (3 days after you!) and followed many of these mamas' blogs over the years. My rainbow was born Jan. 2013. I kept my pregnancy a secret, but I got so much out of reading others' blogs while I was pregnant with my rainbow. I would have loved to have been there. <3 I think the Internet is a much better support group than any "formal" one I've attended! I so enjoyed this post and seeing familiar faces in the photos. ~Lindsay (Elias's mommy)

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  21. Love this post so much. I was crying just reading it and thinking of all the love, strength and encouragement that you all poured into each other during that weekend and over the course of the journey each of you have been on.

    So amazing, wish we could have joined you!

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  23. Catching up on blog posts from the past week...so beautifully written (as always). Missing you already!

    (Accidentally commented with the wrong email so I deleted it so you would know who it was from...sorry about that!)

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  24. Love the post ❤ As always you got it exactly right with your words :) So glad to have hugged you and Zuzu this weekend! Thanks for being my egg salad taste tester and helping me with Mase when I needed it!

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  25. Ugh. Just ugh. I'm so, so, so thankful that you have this bunch of amazing women and beautiful bebes in your life. So thankful. This was beautiful, friend.

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  26. What an awesome idea! After reading this, I think someone should organize a BLM convention. The rainbow hats made me sob, partly because of the joy they represent and partly because I can't believe that I'm still waiting for that. December can't come fast enough.

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  27. This was so wonderful to read. :) And those photos are just priceless (especially the group shot with the hats!!) While I never had a rainbow baby, I've been at gatherings of families who lost babies, & it's a powerfully validating experience.

    Just wait until your rainbow babies get old enough to talk to each other & start talking about their brothers & sisters among each other! I'll never forget being at a support group picnic when my friend's six-year-old daughter (who had lost a little brother) plunked herself down beside me and asked, very matter-of-factly, "So, who do you have in heaven?" I could hardly answer, I was so floored by how awesome a moment this was.

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