2018 is all about erasing stigmas. Stigmas that say women are less valuable than men. Stigmas that surround the very REAL effects of mental health, and stigmas around fertility.
When it comes to erasing the stigma around pregnancy loss, you may have heard someone refer to their newborn as a rainbow baby. The term comes from the idea that just like a rainbow often follows a storm, a rainbow baby is the hope that follows the devastating loss of a previous baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth or death of an infant.
When she was pregnant with her third child, Baltimore, Maryland mom Alicia Lewis signed up for a prenatal fitness class, where she’d hoped to meet some friends while staying active during her pregnancy. And although the classes went well, Lewis never failed to leave the workouts in tears.
You see, her third pregnancy was a big step. Lewis had given birth to her first son, Wesley, back in 2014. But in 2016, just one day before she was set to deliver her second son, Frankie, doctors delivered the most devastating news. Frankie no longer had a heartbeat.
“Frankie was born into the loudest silence I have ever heard,” Lewis told TODAY. “I kept holding out hope the whole time that all of the doctors and machines were wrong and he’d be born alive, but he wasn’t.”
Doctors told Lewis and her husband, Matt, that their son’s stillbirth was “unexplained.”
You can imagine the fears, doubts, and anxiety Lewis was wrestling with as she carried her third child, a daughter named Charlie.
Taking part in the prenatal fitness class was good for Alicia physically, but mentally and emotionally it took its toll. She feared other mommies-to-be would consider her a “jinx” when she told them about the loss of Frankie.
“After that first exercise class, I felt like these women would think I was a bad seed who would give them some bad ju-ju for their pregnancies. Who would want to hang out with a mommy whose baby died eight months ago?” said Lewis. “Why would someone want a constant reminder around them that their pregnancy may not end up the way they hoped?”
Fortunately, the Lord knows just what we need, and when we need it.
Over the next five months, Alicia formed an incredible bond with five of the other Baltimore moms—some of whom had their own experience with pregnancy loss in the past.
When Charlie was born in August 2017, she instantly had five forever friends who were all born within a month of one another. Friends whose mamas had showered Lewis in an outpouring of love and support.
This year, as a celebration of their babies’ first birthdays, the six moms coordinated a multi-baby, rainbow-themed, cake smash photo shoot captured by local photographer, Jessica Carr.
“We all wanted to celebrate making it one year with our babies together,” Lewis told TODAY Parents. “When I met these women, I felt broken and like a failure as a mom because of what happened with the death of Frankie — talking to them helped me fix myself and be strong during my pregnancy. As our children have grown together, they’ve been there for me in my grief journey.”
Not only was the photo shoot a mark of healing and friendship, but it held a special place in photographer, Jessica Carr’s heart as well.
Having experienced late-term pregnancy loss herself, Carr was in love with the idea of what these moms wanted to do with their babies.
“It is truly hard in today’s world where mom-shaming is a very real thing, and pregnancy and infant loss caries its own stigma,” Carr explained. “Seeing how these women have bonded together is awe inspiring — at the end of the day, all you really want is to know someone else knows exactly where you’re coming from. These ladies are mom-tribe at its finest.”
The rainbow baby photo shoot featured each baby representing a different color of the rainbow—sporting everything from tutus to hair bows to bow ties in their designated color.
Lewis says the rainbow baby shoot was fitting, as she’s not the only mom in the “tribe” who’s lost a baby. She says having this group of “mommy friends” has been so healing for her throughout this journey.
“When Charlie was born, I finally felt like I could breathe after 10 months,” said Lewis. “She was here, healthy and everything was going to be OK, but the first year of her life has still been difficult transitioning from one to two children and still grieving the death of Frankie.”
Lewis says she hopes the moms and their babies can continue growing, loving and supporting one another for years to come.