The dark side of rainbow babies

I have two rainbow babies.

To those not up on the lingo, a rainbow baby is one conceived after a miscarriage. I’ve had several miscarriages. Possibly because I’m an older mom, or because I have endometriosis, or because life just freaking sucks sometimes.

I did finally get my babies. And I am so very grateful. I love them more than anything, and my life would be much emptier without them. Any time the trials and irritations of motherhood begin to wear at me, I remember how very much I went through to have these children, and it makes the moment more bearable.

Sometimes, though, I think I’m a worse mom because of that struggle. Because I am now Ultraparanoid Mom. And we already live in paranoid times.

I’m not just a helicopter parent. I’m a leash parent. I literally cannot breathe if my children leave my sight for three seconds in a store. I know that Gen X in particular tends to hover, and even if we didn’t, the law and social media and a plethora of judgmental strangers would force us to. But I know in my heart I would be at least a little more laid back if I hadn’t lost all those other babies.

I didn’t really understand how pregnancy worked, when I first started trying to get pregnant. I thought getting pregnant was the hard part.

And it was hard. It took me 6 months just to get that way the first time.

I knew before the pregnancy test did that I was pregnant. I was exhausted — couldn’t keep my eyes open after a full night’s sleep. My boobs felt like they were full of barbed buckshot. And every little smell made me queasy.

The line on the pregnancy test was faint. I decided to wait a few days, take another. Just to be certain before I called the doctor. I was looking for a big fat positive. I didn’t realize at the time that not everyone gets one of those.

Then I started to bleed.

Perhaps I was wrong, I thought. Maybe I wasn’t pregnant.

I told the doctor about the incident during my annual exam, a couple of months later. No, he said, I had been pregnant. He told me to call immediately the next time that happened.

So I did. Four months later, another positive test. I went in for the blood test. Definitely pregnant. Then, a few days later, another blood test. The technician called the next day to tell me the results. My levels had dropped. My doctor would follow up to tell me what that meant.

I knew what it meant. I did a lot of reading about miscarriage after the first one. Still, so long as there was no blood, it wasn’t over. Right?

That night, I began spotting.

I told R. We agreed to hold off on worry until we spoke with the doctor. I went to bed early, cradling my belly in my hands, whispering, “Stay with me, baby…please stay,” until I fell asleep.

The next morning, the doctor called and explained to me that my levels meant miscarriage was imminent. I got off the phone, went to the bathroom, and there was blood everywhere. I have heavy periods, but this was a flood. I sat there, sobbing and bleeding, wondering how this could hurt so very bad when I’d been through it before.

It’s because this time I knew. And knowledge is not always power. Sometimes knowledge is pain and fear and grief.

The very next month, I got pregnant again. Progesterone suppositories ensured I stayed that way. And I went on to have an extremely healthy, fierce little fighter princess. But I have never been able to relax since she was conceived.

I worried throughout my pregnancy — that I would have a miscarriage, that she would be stillborn. I knew that most miscarriages occur because there is something wrong with the baby; thus, I worried that by taking the progesterone I supported a pregnancy that should not have been viable and that the baby would be born damaged somehow. I wanted to tell everyone I’d ever known I was pregnant, but I also wanted to hide my pregnancy from the world in case I lost this baby, too.

I did not eat or drink or do anything that could possibly hurt her. I read all the pregnancy books, and followed them like they were gospel. Once she began to move, I would poke her if she hadn’t moved in a while, just to make sure she was still with me. I would literally work myself into panic attacks worrying that she would strangle on her umbilical cord during delivery. Most women worry about the pain of childbirth. I was more worried about the baby.

By the time she was born, I was exhausted. And that was just the beginning.

After I gave birth, I was terrified that if someone wasn’t watching her every second, she would stop breathing. I policed everything she ate and drank, every toy, every interaction with everyone. I washed my hands until they bled. She barely left the house before she was 6 months old. I initially planned to homeschool her because I wasn’t convinced the school would properly care for her. (Okay, I’m still not. Homeschooling isn’t exactly off the table.) Every child-related tragedy stripped me to the bone. I had to stop reading the news, because each story sent me into a tailspin. There was simply no end to the things that could harm my baby.

I was ecstatic to finally have a baby, this child I’d worked and waited for. But I was also miserable, because I couldn’t relax. She didn’t help, either — since she learned to walk, she has been running. She’s fiercely independent, and resents bitterly the restrictions I place on her out of fear. “I be okay!” she says. And I know she believes that, but…I know better.

A few years later, after a couple more early miscarriages, I got pregnant again. And the cycle began anew.

I have relaxed ever so slightly since Kai was born. After all, I did manage to keep his sister alive this long. And he’s a much more laid back kid; I never have to wonder why he’s screaming, as I did with his sister. But there are two of them now, and he does all of the things his sister never did. He climbs, and opens baby gates, and is just far smarter than my nerves can handle some days.

I try to contain my crazy-mamaness. I do. But I find myself reading stories of child abductions, wondering what went wrong. Wondering how I survived childhood, being the latchkey 80s child I was. My parents were overprotective for the time, but by today’s standards they were lax and reckless. And bad things happen. To people who are vigilant and attentive and doing everything right. Every single day.

Maybe I am kidding myself. Perhaps I would be anxious even without all those miscarriages. But I don’t think I’d be this bad. I went into motherhood under the shadow of loss, and I can’t stop waiting for the other shoe to fall.

It’s not all rainbows on the other side. The grief stays with you, always.

I read once that when a woman gets pregnant, there is an exchange of cells — not only are the mother’s cells in the child’s body, but the child’s cells are in the mother. That those cells help the mother fight off illnesses like cancer, even years later. I like that. I like knowing that they are a part of me, those babies who never got the chance to be born.

They will forever be in my heart, as well. For better or worse.


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