I am the third child. But I am the fourth born.
You could read that again, if you like. But there is no mistake about it. That is the truth. I may be third in place but technically fourth in order.
Try as I may, I do not remember how I discovered the truth about me. I certainly would not have asked about it because – as far as I knew – there was no event between me and the second born. Vague childhood memories give me images of an old record that my mother hides in her dresser. There is one word that has been burned into my recall: miscarriage.
My mother can regale you with endless tales about her days as a girl or years as a student, rich with minutiae that no longer exist in this century and yet she’d remember them with such wonderful exactness that you’d want to hear more. But, one time I asked about that record, the details in her tale become sparse. The storytelling was like an office assistant laden with so many documents and was sweating inside a taxi while trapped in the middle of the busiest highway in the country during rush hour of a pay day. There’s good reason why she does not talk about it and, if ever she does, why it is difficult to do so. I understand her and my father. And I do not blame my parents or question their silence. So I asked only once and never again.
For years, when I would recall her stories of how she bore and birthed me, I would see them as one would see reflections found in a house of mirrors: misshapen, grotesque, unnatural. Growing up with that warped truth wrapped a certain odd sense about me.
How twisted were my thoughts?
I am a replacement for the dead. I am a substitute for the lost. I am a second choice, a second thought. I am the alternative. I am Plan B. I was only created to fill in that vacant seat. I am a mere filler, a glorified stand-in. Whenever I looked at family photos, I would blur out my own face. I tried imagining how the photographs would be if the original third kid was there instead of me. But how could I picture someone who never existed? I shed tears at that failure.
Just a few days ago, I learned that there is a term for my kind: rainbow baby.
Rainbow baby, the child born after a miscarriage, stillborn, or infant/child death. It sounds beautiful, kind, almost magical. Despite being one, I did not understand why we’re called that. I couldn’t make a connection to the rainbow.
Then, came the many stories, each one stained with a sorrow known only to parents who had lost a baby. Could I begin to imagine what my own parents went through when the child was miscarried? Could I fathom how it is to mourn for a life that ended even before it began? Could I understand a pain that only they could bear and never share with anyone else? No.
Within the name is the meaning. Rainbows appear after a storm. They are the color against a dark sky, the hope amidst the despair. All parents take time to move forward after a loss. And I believe it takes even more strength to try again. Mine took about two years. Despite having the opportunities to know about me even before my birth, they chose that I remain a mystery until they saw me and held me and heard me for the first time. They trusted that I would be born, I would live, and I would grow up. And I did all that!
This newfound perspective, this truth has straightened out all the warped memories and twisted reflections I’ve had. The mirrors are cleared, as is my vision. I now see the rainbow in the reflection. I wasn’t just added to the home. I completed my family.
I write this to other rainbow babies like me. Know that you were never replacements or substitutes or fillers in your families. You are hope. You are light. You are life. You are wanted. You, dear child, are loved.