A rainbow pregnancy is an emotional marathon

In the run up to Rainbow Baby Day, journalist and guest blogger Rebecca Reid reflects on her experience of pregnancy and parenting after loss.

The day I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I was happy for about half an hour. And then the panic set in.

Two years previously I had lost an unplanned but much wanted pregnancy in a missed miscarriage discovered after some light spotting towards the end of the first trimester. A very kind, very glamorous doctor looked up at me and said, in the gentlest possible way, ‘I don’t have good news for you’. The aftermath lasted for weeks. Pills to induce the miscarriage my body couldn’t seem to manage. Surgery, when the pills left a small amount of pregnancy tissue trapped in the top left hand side of my uterus. I was throwing up and sobbing, afraid to sleep because of the nightmares. Eventually it transpired that I had PTSD. 

I had therapy, and hypnotherapy, and support from my family and friends, and the greatest healer of all, time. And eighteen months later, I felt ready to start trying again. It took six months to get pregnant (during which time I became totally obsessed with my fertility) and then, on the 1st of August 2022, there I was, sitting in a hotel bathroom looking at two pink lines on a test. The first one light, but still very much there.

“The cheerfulness of the name shouldn’t obscure the fact that a rainbow pregnancy is, for lots of us, a pretty gruelling experience.”

Some people who’ve experienced pregnancy loss refer to a baby which comes after a loss as a rainbow baby, because it’s a rainbow after the storm. Not everyone likes it as an expression, but personally I took some comfort from it. 

The day after I found out I was pregnant, I ordered £50 worth of pregnancy tests. I took two or three a day, writing the dates and times on them in marker pen, trying to take a ‘line progression’, a totally unscientific method of measuring the HCG in your system rising, indicating a healthy pregnancy. This is not a sensible thing to do, because there are so many variables. Your hydration levels, the tests themselves, anything can create a slight variation in the colour of a test, and that way lies madness. I know this because I found myself using a photo app to assess colour swatches on the lines from my tests. I also became obsessed with taking pregnancy tests which told you how many weeks pregnant you are.

“My sole purpose in the world was to stay pregnant.”

When the digital test measured my pregnancy at an incorrect number of weeks I had a panic attack and then called a taxi to a rural hospital near where I was on holiday, and then lied about the date of my last period to try and get them to scan me. Then I spent the rest of the day on a river boat, supposedly having a lovely time, Googling the measurements of what they had found on the scan. All I thought about was pregnancy. All I talked about was pregnancy. My sole purpose in the world was to stay pregnant. I couldn’t find any joy in anything, I didn’t dare to hope that it might work out. 

Once the pregnancy tests stopped scratching the itch, I got addicted to scans. My local hospital offered a reassurance scan at seven weeks to anyone who had lost a pregnancy before, which I gratefully took. During that scan she confirmed that it looked like a ‘textbook’ pregnancy, with a heartbeat. I went home and Googled the statistics, finding a website which I checked every day, watching the probability of a loss reducing day after day. 

Unfortunately, I became addicted to the reassurance of a scan, and found myself paying for private ones every ten days, buying myself a short window of relief before the terror started again. I spent several thousand pounds on non-diagnostic scans which, while not dangerous, are not recommended by the NHS. I got a little bit of relief once I started feeling regular movement, but even then, if she went quiet for even an hour I’d be on the bus to the hospital, begging them to hook me up to the monitoring system so I could lie in blissful reassurance, listening to her perfect heartbeat. 

Medically, I had a perfect, completely uncomplicated pregnancy. Textbook. I could have done the whole thing without a single medical appointment. But I went to hospital fourteen times over the course of the nine months. 

If you’re in a similar situation, then there’s no point in me giving you advice. I can tell you not to take any pregnancy tests after the first positive one, to get one early scan and then trust until your twelve weeks, to allow for the fact that your body can do this, and that outside of extreme risks, very little of what you do will impact the viability of your pregnancy. But you know that. And you won’t listen – because I didn’t. I opened pregnancy tests and went in for monitoring I didn’t need and elected to have a planned c-section because it has the highest survival rate of any birth. And you’ll probably do your own, equally mad things. Because a rainbow pregnancy is an emotional marathon and it makes perfect sense that it can send you a little bit mad. 

“Day by day, week by week, I did heal.”

So while I won’t ask you to listen to advice, I will ask that you listen to a little bit of reassurance. My rainbow pregnancy is currently eating a packet of mini cheese crackers and shouting at Ms Rachel on YouTube. And I am no longer terrified. It took time. After she was born I was constantly petrified that she would stop breathing, I spent stupid money on pointless gadgets, tried to avoid sleeping entirely, and worried with every nerve in my body. But day by day, week by week, that did heal. And these days, other than the normal level of worry that all parents have about their children, I can genuinely say that I’m not afraid anymore. 

We know pregnancy after loss can bring up a whole host of emotions, including anxiety. But however you're feeling, we're here for you. 

You can find verified advice and information on pregnancy and loss from our trusted midwives on our PregnancyHub.