There’s No Rainbow Baby For Me ... And That's Okay

The only way to move on from the life I imagined is to embrace the life I’m living.

  • Sarah Graves

Written on Sep 08, 2022

rainbow New Africa / Shutterstock

Life rarely turns out the way we plan it. When I was little, I wanted two things when I grew up: to be a writer and to be a mom. (Well, maybe three if you count being Princess Leia.) I succeeded at both, but neither the way I’d planned.

I’d always dreamed I’d make my living writing novels. And while I haven’t given up on that dream, right now I earn my main income writing nonfiction.

And when I imagined being a mom one day, I imagined a house full of kids. I’m not entirely sure how many, but I never imagined an only child.


I grew up as one of four siblings, and my husband was one of five. Not having brothers and sisters wasn’t something I could even fathom. But it wasn’t a choice I got to make for my son when it was my own turn at parenthood.

It’s something they never tell you after you have one kid: that you might not be able to have another. Secondary infertility is rarely talked about. No one expects it. We certainly didn’t.

Rainbows are a symbol of hope after a storm.

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I was 37 when we conceived our son.


I remember feeling so worried about whether I’d be able to get pregnant. I obsessively read every “preparing your body for baby” book I could get my hands on, swallowed every recommended supplement, and downed green smoothies daily.

I don’t know if they helped, but we conceived quickly and easily. And I had an uncomplicated pregnancy.

So it never crossed our minds we might never have another. After all, the first one had been easy.

We started trying again the right way. I wasn’t getting any younger, after all. But as the months dragged on with no success, we sought help. That’s when our reproductive endocrinologist told us he saw more patients with secondary infertility than primary infertility. Who knew?


But he assured us we shouldn’t have any trouble getting pregnant, despite my advancing age. All the tests he subjected us to showed nothing wrong with us. So we shelled out thousands of dollars on hormone injections to control my cycles, and then, after two years — 24 months of dashed hopes — it finally happened.

I saw two beautiful pink lines on a home pregnancy test. A blood test confirmed it. We were going to be parents again!

But our joy wasn’t to last. I suffered an early miscarriage.

I tried to remind myself I was lucky. It could have been worse. We have friends who lost a baby in their eighth month. I can’t even imagine that kind of loss. The nurse who informed me the miscarriage was happening tried to console me with a cheerful, “Well, at least we know you can get pregnant.” And, of course, I already had an amazing toddler at home.


But the truth was, I was devastated. I couldn’t get out of bed for a week. We tried for another year to get back the baby we lost, throwing thousands more dollars at a problem with no diagnosis.

Finally, our doctor delivered the news that there was nothing left for us to try except IVF with donor eggs. My ovaries had stopped responding to the hormone injections. I had undiagnosed infertility, but the simple truth was I was probably just too old.

And like that, it was over. We decided IVF with donor eggs was a route we didn’t want to take. And we were too emotionally exhausted by the rollercoaster ride of hope and despair brought by month after month of infertility treatments to face potentially more years of an adoption journey.

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But a small part of me kept hanging onto a glimmer of hope even after that. I kept thinking in the secret reaches of my mind, where I couldn’t even admit it to myself, that maybe, just maybe, if it was meant to be, a miracle would happen and we’d conceive the old-fashioned way.

But I’m in my mid-40s now and experiencing the onset of perimenopause. My OB assures me there’s still a chance, albeit a small one. But I know my reproductive years are over. There will be no rainbow baby for me.

I know why they call it a rainbow baby. Rainbows are a symbol of hope after a storm.

But the emotions that come with the birth of rainbow babies are complex. As joyful as a new life is, it never quite heals the grief of the baby that was lost.


Our friends who lost their baby so late in their pregnancy went on to conceive twins. But they also each have literal permanent tattoos of their unborn daughter’s name to commemorate the place she holds in their hearts.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

Emotions surrounding secondary infertility are also complicated. I feel guilty because I know how blessed I am to have one healthy, amazing kid. Many couples never get that much. But it doesn’t stop the pangs of longing when I see families with multiple children and wonder what could have been.

I wonder about the late-night whisper sessions that will never happen. The pillow forts that will never get built. The games of hide-and-seek that will never be played. And even the teasing at the dinner table we’ll never have to break up.


People like to say, “Everything happens for a reason.” But I’ve never been a believer in loss happening for a reason. There’s too much cruelty in that kind of logic.

But what I do know is that I can’t wallow forever in what could have been. Some part of me will always wonder what it would have been like to have a second child. But, while there are always losses when it comes to the roads not taken, there are also gains.

I have a close friend who couldn’t have children of her own due to a hysterectomy. She adopted both her kids as babies. Recently, she confessed to me that it felt to her as if her children were always meant to be hers. So, while on the one hand she missed out on the experience of pregnancy and birthing her own biological kids, she also told me she couldn’t imagine things having happened any other way.


As the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell has said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

I may never get to experience the big family I’d always imagined, but I do get to experience the many joys of an only child. My son gets to have my undivided attention. We have a close bond that I hope continues to deepen as he grows. And we have a family dynamic that’s more a united team than a two-tiered system of parents versus kids. And I hope we always hang onto that too.

I could stay stuck forever in longing for the life I planned, a life that will never be. But it means missing out on the joys of the life I have.

So while I’m not quite there yet, I’m working on finding my own sense of acceptance. Because the only way to move on from the life I imagined is to embrace the life I’m living.


RELATED: How I Healed From A Miscarriage Amid A Year That Took Everything

Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer on education, money, parenting, personal development, health, and creative entrepreneurship.