A sunshine baby is a child you give birth to before the loss of another baby through complications such as miscarriage or stillbirth. This loss brings conflicting emotions, as parents simultaneously grieve and try to move forward for their sunshine baby. Learn the symbolism of the term sunshine baby, and how to help yourself or someone you know who has lost a baby.
Sunshine Baby Symbolism
The term sunshine baby equates to hope, much like the rising dawn. Amidst the painful experience of losing a child, a sunshine baby brings parents comfort and happiness. The term sunshine baby refers to the beam of light that represents the child who precedes the darkness of losing a baby. This combination of joy and suffering can be very confusing and difficult for parents to navigate.
January 22nd is touted as being National Sunshine Baby Day; and on the National Day Calendar, it is listed as Celebration of Life Day, a day for honoring and celebrating children. It is important to realize that it's up to the parents to decide whether they refer to their child as a sunshine baby. Some may not like that term, because it can seem inappropriately positive in response to a deep loss.
Emotions That May Arise After the Loss of a Baby
The loss of a baby comes with a wide range of emotions. This can include anger and sadness because the baby was not able to live, longing for the baby, and grief manifesting with physical sensations (fatigue, pain, nausea and chest pains).
Fear is very much a part of the emotional experience too. Parents may worry even more about their sunshine baby when the child experiences an illness. Parents may also have a strong sense of ambiguity and anxiety with regard to planning another pregnancy.
Guilt is also commonly experienced when parents blame themselves for the loss of their child. However, it is important to remember that parents are not at fault. Biological processes are outside of your control, and nobody is to blame for such a terrible loss.
Navigating Relationships After the Loss of a Baby
An additional stressor parents might experience is tension in their relationship. This may stem from it being difficult to share their feelings with each other about the baby who passed away. This can happen, for instance, if one parent seeks comfort from their partner who is too grief stricken to provide it. Moreover, parents must continue to be present for their sunshine baby amidst their grief, which can add more strain to their lives.
Furthermore, the loss of a baby can come with the loss of the family's social network. This may occur when extended family or friends are uncertain about how to support the parents. They can inadvertently distance themselves from the parents by making statements such as, "You are young, you can have another one." Parents naturally avoid people who may act insensitively, to protect themselves from further emotional pain.
However, this is a time when you need connection and support. There are things you can do to minimize or avoid miscommunication and distance from others.
Coping with the loss of a baby in an active way is important for healthy grieving, rather than repressing grief or being in denial. Parents who feel the most supported during this time are those who have friends or relatives who are available to them for logistical help, such as running errands, without trying to use words that may or may not be comforting.
Some things to help work through the grief can be:
- Reach out to those you trust and inform them what you need in terms of support. For example, "I don't want to talk about it, but if you could stop by the grocery store for me on your way to babysit Olivia, that would be a great help."
- Join a support group for parents that deals with the loss of a baby or pregnancy.
- Openly communicate with your partner about your grief.
- Seek therapy if you need guidance through the grieving process or help communicating with your partner.
Ways to Help Grieving Parents
Knowing how to speak to and support parents who have lost a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth can be very difficult. Some things to keep in mind include:
- Ask them explicitly how you can help. They may not know what to ask you for, or they may be reluctant to ask for assistance. If that's the case...
- Take the initiative and provide hands-on assistance that you know will be helpful, such as dropping off home-cooked food or picking up groceries for them.
- Know that their needs can depend on their values or multicultural factors. If they emigrated from India, for example, they may not seek support because they do not want to worry or burden their social circle. However, do not assume that they are over their grief if they do not reach out to you for help.
- Comfort with words that express empathy. Do not say things with the goal of making the parents feel better such as "Maybe it was meant to be," or "You will have more children," or "At least you already have one child."
Whether a couple has kids, or is planning to have kids, is a very personal and emotionally laden issue. It is best to avoid asking a couple if they plan on having kids, because you never know if they have already dealt with stillbirth or the loss of a pregnancy.
Allow Yourself to Grieve
The loss of a baby leaves a heart-wrenching void in your life. It is important to allow yourself the time you need to grieve, so that you can heal the best you can and look to the future to continue a healthy life.