Alicia Assad, MAPP '08, Health Counselor is a writer and mother of four. Having survived postpartum anxiety, multiple pregnancy losses, and her son's burn injury, she contemplates ways that concepts such as optimism and gratitude can lead to growth in the aftermath of adversity. She is a former Miss New Jersey and Radio City Rockette. Follow her writing on Facebook, @AliciaAssadWrites, and visit her website, Alicia Assad: Recovering Perfectionist. MOM. Happiness Aficianado. Storyteller. Alicia's articles for Positive Psychology News are here.
During my last pregnancy, I couldn’t escape the term, “rainbow baby.” I wanted to believe the baby in my womb would bring joy, peace, and healing after loss, but I felt that hoping for this can be dangerous.
I set out to write an article about how allowing our happiness to be determined by a baby we may or may not get to hold is risky. A mother never knows if she will hold her rainbow until it is placed in her arms.
The optimist in me wanted to believe I would one day hold the baby I was carrying. With this rainbow, I could heal old wounds and move on. But losing a baby previously forced me to redefine hope. I no longer thought of it as waiting for my expectations to be met. Instead I saw Hope as deriving strength regardless of what life brings.
When pregnant after loss, I didn’t know if my rainbow after a storm would come in the form of a baby. There were health risks involved, and a good chance I would need to go out and paint my own rainbows instead.
Facing Writer’s Block
In my manifesto against rainbow babies, my words weren’t flowing. Eager to make my point on the matter, I reached out to mentor and editor, Kathryn Britton for advice. She suggested that I wait until the baby was born to write this piece saying, “Perhaps just let yourself enjoy these last few weeks for what they are…perhaps [this is] your last time to be waiting to hold your new child in your arms. Let the writing go on in your subconscious. What is the hurry?”I shelved the rainbow baby article, recognizing I was uncharacteristically pessimistic, and, to Britton’s point, I wouldn’t get those final moments of pregnancy back. I intended to savor, but before I could blink, I was in the thick of my end-of-pregnancy nesting routine baking and cooking a freezer full of meals. I warded off my anxiety about the well-being of my unborn child with every bowl of soup I cooked and every closet I organized.
Then I wrote an article on Compassion as a Coping Mechanism because I felt better admitting I was scared and vulnerable than pretending to have the answers to my big questions about how much hope one should have. I found comfort in surrendering to my most authentic self. I needed to reside in a safe place and let myself feel hesitant and scared as I lived the story I knew I would eventually write about.
One Year Later
A year has passed since that writer’s block about the rainbow baby topic. I recently broke my silence in an article published on Huffington Post entitled I Didn’t Believe in Rainbow Babies. Since October 21, 2015 when my daughter was born, she has become the missing link of our family, the blessing that mended our hearts together after loss. The words about how her birth ushered in a time of mindfulness lingered in my subconscious as I savored the blessing I had received. My Rose and the rainbow that she has brought to my world is perhaps more about allowing an experience of joy after loss and luxuriating in gratitude than it is about how much hope we should or shouldn’t have. This remains a question for which I still don’t have a good answer.
As I stood at a precipice between the old life and the new before giving birth to each of my children, I knew my life would change, just not specifically how. Before Rose, I thought it was only adversity that could change you, but receiving blessings changes you too. I well understand how loss can make us stronger, but Rose has taught me that when joy happens, when our most fervent hope comes to fruition, it is time to stop and savor.I also learned that sometimes we need a bit of acceptance or more importantly, self-compassion. The positive psychologist in me aims to be happier, to savor and celebrate more, and to look for my blessings. Indeed, these concepts have supported me in ordinary times as well as in adversity. But when moving through a pregnancy after loss with all my worry, anxiety and hormones, I found it was best to surrender to my most authentic self and honor her existence.
I am once again reminded how much other people matter as it was Britton, the midwife of words, who ultimately helped me bring my perspective on rainbow babies to the world. I started writing under her guidance in the thick of my storm of adversity. My process of writing was cathartic, and she allowed me a space to find my authentic voice in writing, gently making suggestions for improvement and encouragement with her “twinkies” of insight.
Sometimes it is the smallest nudge or suggestion that can cause a ripple effect of change in our lives. Our words are powerful because they can help someone shift their perspective as Britton’s did mine. When another’s insight can bring us to a more positive place that allows our longest held, most far-fetched dreams to unfold, perhaps we should openly share our gratitude and appreciate how much other people matter both in hardship and celebration.
I have long cherished the quotation from by Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
I like to say that sometimes we need to sit with the hard questions, “Rilke style” and I intend to maintain this patience going forward. My rainbow baby writer’s block serves as a reminder that sometimes we need to sit back and let life unfold while maintaining self-compassion in our passive state. Per Britton’s suggestion, I let the writing go into my subconscious, and while many questions still remain in my heart, my voice has emerged in the world.
Assad, A. L. (2016). I didn’t believe in rainbow babies. Huffington Post.
Assad, A. L. (2015). How shifting my focus to gratitude helped my family heal. Phoenix Society Burn Support Magazine, Issue 2.
Assad, A. L. (2015) Growing through Adversity. Positive Psychology News.
Assad, A. L. (2015). Compassion as a Coping Mechanism. Positive Psychology News.
Assad, A. L. (2015) Allowing the Experience of Joy After Loss. Website Blog Post
Assad, A. L. (2015). The choice to find a pathway to hope.
Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Flam, L. (2015, Sept. 26) Stunning ‘rainbow babies’ photo inspires stories of loss, joy and hope. Today Health and Wellness.
Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.
Website discussion of hope:
Pictures are used courtesy of the author.