In honor of National Rainbow Baby Day
Trigger warning: pregnancy loss, miscarriage, sexual trauma, obstetric violence, suicidal ideation, police brutality
My rainbow baby was conceived months before she took residence in my womb. I was at a postpartum doula training learning about reproductive psychiatry for mothers with mental illness. Paige Bellenbaum from The Motherhood Center in Manhattan came to Brooklyn to inform us doulas-in-training about the resources that were available to our future clients should they experience PMADS (a.k.a. postpartum mood and anxiety disorders). Little did I know that I would be my first client.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 18, the first thing that came to my mind was that I would be a terrible mother. Now, no one gave me this messaging explicitly. I guess the age old legacy of hysteria and eugenics had saturated our culture to the extent that internalized stigma captured my psyche. But it wasn’t until this moment as a young 20-something seeking the right path through training to become a doula that I finally found some hope. I could be a good mom after all! There was help out there so I could have a stable pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting journey! I could take medication and protect my sanity without harming my unborn child! I couldn’t help but weep with relief.
From that moment onwards, the thought of having a baby was all-consuming. My ovaries were on fire. I had visions of my future children when I meditated. Because of the different circumstances and birth partners I pictured, these visions served as metaphors. The solitary birth of an unaccompanied baby in what seemed to be a pool resembled my rebirth — an indication that I was entering a new phase of life and becoming a new version of myself. In another vision, I labored on a living room carpet with an old lover and had a stillborn child. I look this as a message that I needed to grieve and move on from that relationship which had long died.
These visions started getting more real and specific. Once my new partner (my now husband and father of my child) entered into my life, he started appearing in my birth dreams. We could feel the presence of the child we created in the astral realm in our day-to-day lives. When I dreamt of her, she was palpable. The moment I brought her to my breast to nurse still stays with me — her glowing eyes piecing into mine, her sweet newborn scent, the love she evoked was unlike anything I have ever experienced. And she wasn’t even (physically) here yet!
My romantic life with my new partner blossomed quickly. Our overlapping paths to becoming life partners and parents became clear early on. After a short courtship, we were pregnant. And after 8 weeks, I miscarried.
You are probably wondering why this whole experience was so intense. What’s with the visions, the fast romance, my deep connection to a child I had not conceived? It was the result of a kind of madness. I would not call it mania or psychosis, although I definitely experienced those states during this period. The certainty behind my actions, the depth of my intuition, and the strength of my conviction goes beyond what psychiatry and the medical model can explain. I had a supernatural connection to a soul that wanted to come through me and when I miscarried, I thought I lost it.
The miscarriage itself was a traumatic experience. Not just because I lost this child that I so desired, but because it plunged me into a deeply disturbing psychotic state. The physical and psychological pain I endured when I suffered a violent transvaginal ultrasound at the hospital is an encounter I hope I will have the words to effectively articulate at some point. For now, all I can say is: Sh*t got dark.
This was just the beginning of a long road to recovery. I got pregnant again and I experienced an extended psychotic mania which turned into a suicidal depression. I couldn’t quickly find adequate support navigating New York’s broken mental health care system. When I was in psychiatric crisis, I was incarcerated in a facility that had little knowledge of reproductive psychiatry. Thankfully my partner helped me escape. I reached out to The Motherhood Center multiple times, but they told me to check myself into an ER because they only worked with people who were already on medication (even though they do have reproductive psychiatrists…). I tried three ERs and they all turned me away. My stress was so intense that my retina detached and I needed eye surgery during my second trimester. Finally, I found a psychiatrist who was affordable and willing to work with me. She got me on the right meds. I stabilized in my third trimester just in time to birth my rainbow baby.
Aliya Luna’s birth was magical, not only because she came after so much loss and hardship, but because her birth was divine confirmation. During psychosis I would see the same numbers ##:## again and again like angel numbers. I was obsessed with astrology and the full moon. The fact that she was born at exactly ##:## on a full moon lunar eclipse was the Universe telling me, “You’re not crazy. I gotchu. You’re on the right path.” The stars synchronistically aligned and I was not in an altered state! You could say, “Maybe it was just luck.” But there were too many points along my journey where I might not have made it. Be it when the police showed up at my door when I called 911 when I was in crisis, needless to say these crisis response police encounters are often lethal. Or when I contemplated jumping in the East River because I was in so much psychological pain and felt there was no hope for me or my child. God only knows what other bodily appendages could have detached given the amount of cuts, falls, sprains, and scrapes I got not being able to contain all that unbridled manic energy. But alas, I’m still here. I’m healing, taking the medicine from my madness and navigating my way though motherhood.
My rainbow baby is 19 months old now. We’re doing alright! And I might just actually be a good mom. Cheers to the journey.
Image Description: A baby’s hands gripping a parent’s finger