When I was very pregnant with my rainbow baby – a rainbow baby is one born subsequent to a loss – I remember an awkward exchange with a friend. Standing on the pick up line at preschool where we were collecting our kids, she asked whether I had set up a nursery yet.

Some months before, I had lost my second child to stillbirth.

Children emerged from preschool clutching art projects. The smell of poster paints clung to their jackets.

“No,” I snapped.

I am still ashamed to remember how I shut this nice woman down.

I grabbed my son’s hand and semi-fled. I was scared that she had jinxed me. I wanted to conduct some impromptu ritual smudging. My anxiety spiked.

I never properly apologized to this woman – we weren’t really close enough to go there. But I have always felt badly about my extreme overreaction to her friendly inquiry.

“Have you set up a nursery yet?”

For a woman pregnant after loss, nurseries are among the many things that can be profoundly triggering. Few things are so literally and figuratively charged with both want and lack – an expectant nursery – and then an empty one.

People who are pregnant after loss often experience anxiety and post-traumatic symptoms. Research shows that elevated rates of anxiety/depression are not linked to the gestational age at which the loss occurred – earlier losses can be as traumatic as later ones and will depend upon highly individualized factors.

I remember reading multiple articles in magazines about nurseries. In these articles a good outcome was always assumed.  Readers were encouraged to consider gender neutrality in color wheels, to stock up on onesies. I read these articles after my loss. I allowed the punishing and hubristic side of me to be expressed – jagged sadness piercing me.

Women pregnant with a rainbow baby may have cautious responses to nursery preparation. Says Theresa Robinson, Perinatal Bereavement Coordinator at Vassar Brothers Hospital:

“Many women keep things packed away until right before birth. They have expressed a feeling of not wanting to jinx anything or not being 100% sure they will actually have a baby they will be bringing home.”

If the loss was the first baby, child-related items may be especially bittersweet. For families with living children, the emphasis on nursery-building may be different but the pain of loss is no less acute. If the baby who died was a different gender to that of the living child/ren, this aspect may call up feelings of unique loss.

Consider:

  1. Recognize the symbolic importance of a nursery. A nursery represents new life and new beginnings. For a mother who has experienced loss it also represents the shattering of these human aspirations.
  2. Permit yourself to plan a nursery on your own schedule. Do not feel compelled to plan anything baby-related until you feel ready to do so.
  3. If you still have baby-related items from your prior loss you should consider what to do with them. This is a conversation to have with a partner. Says Dr. Julie Bindeman, Psy-D: “Some people feel like they can’t have the new baby use these items as it betrays the memory of the baby that was lost. Others like the idea that their rainbow will get to share something with its sibling.”
  4. Consider planning a nursery without setting it up. Buy bins in which to put clothing and label them.

Consider asking close family and friends to set up your nursery when you are giving birth. This can alleviate some of the stress a woman may feel around nurseries.  It is advisable that she weigh in with a small team – asking that they include certain items, designs. She gets the nursery she wants for her child as a gift in a twist on House Crashers – but nursery style.

This article originally appeared on BabyCenter.

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