I’ve always hated the term “rainbow baby.” It makes me feel like I have to refer to my daughter as a storm. And although it was the darkest time in my life, the last thing I ever want to do is diminish her existence to a simple metaphor. Project Finding Your Rainbow has helped me realize it’s so much more than having a “rainbow baby” after a loss. Its finding the light and beauty again after the trauma of that loss. Losing Julianna was the hardest thing my husband and I have ever been through. My hope is that we’ve come out of the darkness and will stay within the light and embrace the love we have for each other and for our daughter. I’ve heard stories about couples being torn apart by loss and I feel grateful that this was not the case for us. In fact, it made us stronger, both individually and as a couple. It’s one of the many gifts our baby girl gave us. And to me, that is our rainbow. Finding strength in ourselves and in each other.
Here’s our story:
We found out I was pregnant about 2 1/2 years after I had miscarried twins at 9 weeks. We were both devastated that we had lost them. Losing the twins had made me too afraid to try again because I didn’t want to go through another loss. I thought having a miscarriage would be the worst pregnancy loss I’d experience. So when we finally did decide to start trying and got that positive pregnancy test, we were cautiously optimistic and careful not to share our news until the first trimester had passed. After we made it through those scary first 12 weeks with Julianna and thought we were in the “safe zone,” we were both able to relax and enjoy the pregnancy. I passed all the tests with flying colors. It was a perfectly healthy pregnancy. We watched my belly grow week after week and took the belly pictures every few weeks to compare how much baby and I had grown. It was perfect, and I felt great. Our friends and family threw us a baby shower at about 34 weeks, and it was beautiful. We were all celebrating this beautiful healthy baby, showering her with all of the gifts and necessities that are typical at a baby shower. We didn’t know the sex ahead of time, so it was fun enjoying all of the “gender neutral” themed onesies and outfits, wondering together if we’d be adding pink bows or blue bow ties. We were cruising along the last 2 months, patiently awaiting the moment we’d get to meet our little guy or gal, excited to bring him/her home. Preparing the nursery, washing all the clothes, installing the car seat. It was perfect. Then at our 40 week appointment, it became the worst day of our lives.
We went in for our routine, and were hopeful our last, appointment before I went into labor. The doctor put the doppler against my belly and it was silent. She searched around for a few minutes, asking me the last time I’d felt movement, trying not to appear too concerned. When she couldn’t find anything, she took us to the ultrasound room and put the wand on my belly and found baby. That’s when we heard those awful words again. Those words we had heard three years earlier. “I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat.” My heart sank and I began to sob. How was this even happening? We didn’t even know it was a possibility that late in pregnancy. No one tells you that the “safe zone” isn’t actually safe. No one tells you that you can have a healthy pregnancy for 40 weeks, then suddenly your baby can still die. I had never heard of anyone having a full term stillbirth. We couldn’t believe it was real. Having to leave the OB office and head straight to the hospital to be induced to give birth to my baby that had died was like an awful nightmare. I felt like a zombie, just barely able to see through the tears. I don’t even remember the walk up to L&D. I don’t remember changing into a hospital gown and beginning the process of induction. All I can remember are the sobs and the feeling of being completely broken and shattered. My husband and I laying in the bed together, clutching each other as if holding on to each other was the only thing that would keep us alive. We just laid there, waiting for the medications to kick in, waiting to start the process of birthing our deceased child that we had waited so excitedly for, showered with gifts and with love, were so ready for. We had to call our family and break the news to them, but we didn’t want to see anyone. We just wanted to stay in our bubble of devastation alone and hold each other, which is exactly what we did. If it hadn’t been for my husband, I don’t know how I would have survived any of this.
When the contractions finally started, they were unbelievably painful. The doctors and nurses tried everything to help ease the pain. Two epidurals, morphine, fentanyl. Nothing helped. I laid there writhing in pain for what felt like forever, unable to believe that when this was all over, I’d have to say goodbye to my sweet, innocent little baby. How could this be happening to us? Why did the universe hate us so much? Where was God in all of this? Were we being punished for something? When it came time to push, I was so emotionally exhausted, I didn’t think I’d get through it. I felt everything, none of the medications had worked. Every contraction, every tear, every stitch. At that point though, the physical pain was nothing compared to the emotional pain and trauma of having lost our beautiful child.
After she was born and placed into our arms, we took time to hold her and try to memorize all of her features. My husband and I took one look at her and knew her name. Julianna Mary. Our sweet, beautiful, amazing daughter. She was perfect. 7lbs, 9oz, 21 inches of pure perfection. She was absolutely beautiful, she had her daddy’s lips and her mommy’s nose. Her daddy’s wide feet and her mommy’s long fingers. She had dark curly hair and chubby cheeks. Perfect. Only she wasn’t breathing. We’d never get to see her take a breath, never get to see her open her eyes. She’d never take her first bath, first steps, say her first words. We’d never dress her up for the holidays or stay up all night with her while she cried. We had to say hello and goodbye all at the same time. Seeing her made us so overwhelmed with love, and so completely broken and empty at the same time. She made us parents and we couldn’t even take her home and watch her grow.
After the nurses took her from us, the emptiness really set in. There are no words to describe it. It’s a constant black hole dug so deeply into your soul that you never feel like it will heal. It feels like nothing will ever fill it or take away the pain. Having to call a funeral home to pick up her remains instead of a pediatrician to schedule her first newborn visit. Pick out an urn instead of pink outfits to dress her in. Having to go home to a house full of baby stuff. A finished nursery, an empty crib, clean baby clothes. One of the hardest things was carrying the empty car seat back into the house. We spent a lot of time sitting in the car, trying to cope with what we had to face inside, crying and holding each other.
Over the next several weeks, my husband and I essentially shut out the world. We didn’t want to see anyone and spent our days and nights together at home with our dogs. I began to heal physically and we both tried to heal emotionally. My husband had to return to work within a couple weeks, but I decided to quit my job and take time to fully grieve and figure out how to go on living in a world where my daughter didn’t. It took me a full year to be able to say her name without breaking down and crying. I still can’t tell her story without crying, even writing it down for this project took months because I have trouble finding the words and getting them written out through the tears.
To me, Project Finding Your Rainbow is about seeing the beauty in the heartbreak. Losing Julianna was the most devastating thing I’ve ever endured that made my marriage the strongest it’s ever been. Together, we survived the worst. Nothing would ever be more heartbreaking than losing our daughter. And nothing would ever be more difficult. I don’t know how to put into words the strength that we found in each other. We survived… together. That’s the only way to describe it.
People tell me that I’m strong for what I’ve endured. I don’t feel that I’m strong as an individual. I felt that I had to go on living, that I had no choice. For my husband, for myself, for Julianna. I wanted to be a woman my daughter would have been proud of, and to me that wasn’t a woman that stops living her life. Sure, I took months to grieve, stayed home for most of that time, avoided social gatherings and quit my job. But eventually the darkness cleared, just a little. I picked myself and re-entered the world. I started my career as a registered nurse in the beginning of a pandemic that we are still dealing with, and I truly credit Julianna for the strength to start that journey. I will never stop missing her, thinking about her, wondering what she’d look like, recognizing milestones she would have hit, and shedding tears for her. I will always honor her as best I can. I will always looks for ways to include her in my life and keep her memory alive. I will always love her just as much as I would if she were here today. She made me a mother and she is my daughter, now and forever.
Photos taken by Marty Bockhorn.
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