Celebrating a rainbow baby on Mother's Day can bring mixed emotions

"It’s definitely hard to talk about him, but it also would have been harder not talking about him.”

Jocelyn Bennett 6 minute read May 7, 2022

On Sunday, Rustee Tosh celebrates her first Mother’s Day with her rainbow baby, Ellie Mae. This will be her fourth Mother’s Day as a mom.

“It’ll be extra special, just being a mom for three years and then this one being the first one where I actually have my baby with me and able to celebrate,” she said.

A sign of renewal and hope, the first healthy baby born after the loss of an infant has come to be known as a rainbow baby — likened to the rainbow that appears in the sky after a storm.

Eight-month-old Ellie is now six months older than Henry was when Tosh and her husband Alex said goodbye to him in 2019.

Rustee Tosh plays with her rainbow baby Ellie Mae on May 3, 2022 in the nursery that was originally made for her first born, Henry, who never made it home from the hospital. “We had her and since then, it’s just been so great. We’re so happy. But also really sad at the same time. It’s super hard to know, well Henry should be here,” says Rustee. Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Henry was born with a heart problem and had to be sent to Edmonton for surgery. After two months and four surgeries, he contracted an infection and died in hospital.

“He just tried so hard to stay with us,” Tosh said.

Mother’s Day is a day to recognize and honour all mothers, including those who have lost their babies.

“Our lost moms are definitely still moms. And these holidays can be hard on them,” said Amy Killick, a bereavement companion with Empty Arms Perinatal Loss Support Services.

Tosh said she and Alex have had a lot of support from loved ones, especially around this time of year.

“I have such a good support system around me of family and friends that make sure to celebrate Mother’s Day with me ever since I had Henry,” she said.

Last Mother’s Day, when Tosh was pregnant with Ellie, she had mixed emotions.

“I felt pretty happy. I was looking forward to her being here. But … it’s always sad to know that Henry’s not here with us.”

Rustee Tosh holds her eight-month-old daughter Ellie Mae and a photo of her first born son Henry who died in hospital on March 10, 2019 from an infection, after undergoing four open-heart surgeries, before they could ever bring him home. “We’re so happy. But also really sad at the same time. He’d be three years old and he’d be a good big brother. She hits milestones and we think about how Henry never got to experience those. So that’s hard,” says Rustee. Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

After a rainbow baby comes, Killick said it’s helpful for loved ones to remember the lost baby. The new baby is not a replacement, she said.

“Welcoming the new baby and still honouring the little one who passed is really important … They’re very much a part of the family, even though they’re not physically with us.”

Tosh said she shares her story with others because she finds talking about Henry keeps his spirit alive.

“This was a thing that we went through and that he went through, and he was here and he mattered. It’s definitely hard to talk about him, but it also would have been harder not talking about him,” she said.

“When I share my story, I think it brings a little bit of awareness, too.”

Killick said it’s beneficial for grieving families to feel comfortable talking about their loss. It can bring out unexpected help from people who have had similar experiences.

“When you’re more open about what you’re going through, it is shocking how many people come out … You don’t know about your support if you keep things tucked away,” she said.

At the beginning, when loved ones didn’t know what to say, Tosh said some would choose to say nothing.

“I think that their silence was more hurtful than anything,” she said. She wanted people to talk about Henry, but she also wanted them to simply be there.

“Having people reach out and just say, ‘We love you and we care,’ that was the biggest thing for me. I didn’t need anything else other than that.”

Rustee Tosh shows her rainbow baby Ellie Mae an imprint of her first born Henry’s hand on May 3, 2022. Ellie will never get to meet her older brother, who died from an infection in hospital on March 10, 2019, after undergoing four open-heart surgeries. Henry held on for two months and made a big imprint on his mom and dad who are going to make sure Ellie knows her brother — her own personal guardian angel. “When I talk about him, it just seems like he’s still a part of our lives. And he is a part of our lives and he always will be, and I’m happy to keep his spirit alive in that way,” says Rustee. Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Tosh said she and Alex found some organizations that have been helpful to them as they grieve for Henry and celebrate Ellie.

One organization, Mending Little Hearts Fund of Saskatchewan, reached out to Tosh two years ago to tell her about Treeternity Memorial Forest, a park near Vanscoy.

“They planted a tree and it was for all of the ‘heart babies’ they called them, because he had a heart condition,” Tosh said.

Tosh learned about Empty Arms through family. They help families create lasting memories in the hospital and help them through their grief. They also offer support and resources in person and online, and connect families with other resources they might need.

“Families who experience loss and maybe didn’t know about us or maybe weren’t offered our services for whatever reason, they can still reach out to us,” Killick said.

Killick, who has a rainbow baby of her own after losing her third child, said she has found her own experience helps her in supporting other families.

“I’m in a better headspace now to serve families from a place of empathy, compassion and also hope for them. I serve as an example … that we will see the other side of this grief,” she said.

Rustee Tosh plays with her rainbow baby Ellie Mae Tosh in her nursery on May 3, 2022. “There is always that undertone of sadness on that day (Mother’s Day), because of Henry. I don’t think that’ll ever go away. But with time, it softens,” says Rustee. Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Tosh said Ellie’s presence gives her strength, and they have a rainbow theme in their home dedicated to their daughter.

“Just having Ellie here, every single day she just brings me so much happiness … What a nice feeling to have a little ray of light after such a dark time in our lives.”

jbennett@postmedia.com

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