When Theo Jonas Ferguson was born screeching on Aug. 18, his parents, Gavin and Stacy, said they took a deep breath for what felt like the first time in a year.
The young couple, like many who have experienced a stillbirth, were tense during Stacy’s pregnancy with Theo, petrified that the complications leading to their daughter Phoebe’s heartbreaking death last August would play out all over again. Gavin, a local radio personality on 107.9 The End, said they didn’t even tell friends and family Stacy was expecting because they were scared something would go wrong.
The Roseville parents returned home last week with their rainbow baby – a new term for a child born to a family that has already lost a baby.
“(A rainbow) symbolizes the beauty or the hope that comes after the storm, which is the sadness of losing a child before,” Stacy said. “He’s something new and hopeful to focus on. It doesn’t take any of the pain away from losing Phoebe, not any of it.”
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Gavin reflected: “It’s a really weird, bittersweet emotion to love something so intensely that you only have because the worst thing in the world happened to you.”
Their daughter died at full term last August after a rupture in the placenta caused the baby to lose blood too quickly. Stacy delivered the baby on Aug. 12, 2015, and the couple said a difficult goodbye. They sat their now 4-year-old son Connor on the hospital room floor and explained that his little sister would not be coming home that day.
The following months were the hardest of their lives, Gavin said. They joined a support group, Sharing Parents, at Sutter Roseville Medical Center for couples with the same experience of losing an infant. They cherished family time with Connor. They packed all of the clothing and gifts they’d been given for their baby girl and kept the box in a living room cabinet, on top of which sit Phoebe’s ashes and a memorial candle that the family lights on holidays.
A few months later, they enrolled in a different support group at Sutter Roseville called Milestones for parents considering or expecting another child after a loss. They didn’t think twice about trying again.
“We knew that we weren’t done,” Gavin said. “And we both feel strongly that that’s what Phoebe would want. She would’ve been really excited to be our son Connor’s sister. It was important to us to provide him with a sibling and grow our family.”
Every grieving couple approaches pregnancies differently, said Sharon Cox, a chaplain and leader of the Sharing Parents and Milestones groups who lost her infant son Ethan 15 years ago. Some couples want to get pregnant right away, while others wait years to try again or choose not to have another child.
“It’s always going to be a little more challenging because our normal has been shifted,” Cox said. “Until that child is alive and in your arms and breathing, you are holding your breath.”
Rainbow baby announcements have become more popular as people talk more openly about infant loss, Cox said. Still, she urges friends and family to not assume that rainbow parents aren’t still grieving just because they have a new child.
“There is healing that comes with it, but grief is a lifelong journey,” she said. “But you have so much love to give to the child that comes. Those rainbow babies get so much love, and there’s so much awareness of what could be lost. There is such a value placed on these children.”
The weeks leading up to Theo’s due date were the most terrifying, Stacy said. Every time the baby didn’t kick, she thought something had happened. She showed up at the hospital nearly every day for a stress test that would confirm the baby’s heartbeat. The couple ultimately induced labor at 37 weeks, and Theo was born healthy at just over 6 pounds.
Now that Theo is home, Stacy and Gavin are grappling with other questions, such as what to do with Phoebe’s nursery.
Painting over the green walls and removing pictures of black-and-yellow Phoebe birds felt wrong, Stacy said. Instead, they plan to paint a rainbow border around the room and add Theo’s name to the decorations, so the new baby can share the nursery with his deceased sister. On a recent afternoon, Theo wore a onesie reading, “My big sister Phoebe protects me from heaven,” in rainbow lettering.