I found out the day after Mother’s Day that I was pregnant with my first baby, Charlie. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first Mother’s Day. My husband and parents bought me cookies and presents in honor of my first belated Mother’s Day. I was so looking forward to the following year when this holiday would look different. It would be my first Mother’s Day with my baby in my arms, and I’d have a four-month-old to celebrate it with.

Mother's Day gift from Cheryl's cookies - When Mother's Day isn't so Black and White

Author’s Personal Collection/Briana Gravino

That next year’s holiday did indeed look very different from what I imagined because instead of celebrating with my new baby, I was grieving my first baby, pregnant after loss with another baby, and grieving that baby’s twin, Baby B.

Mother’s Day is supposed to be a day to celebrate the love we have for our mothers and the sacrifices mothers make for their children. Ironically, it isn’t one my family paid that much attention to growing up. My own mother is the definition of a saint, but we didn’t need a special day to celebrate her once a year. She is celebrated and shown appreciation all year long.

Briana and her husband holding blocks with the letters "c" and "b" - When Mother's Day isn't so Black and White

Author’s Personal Collection/Briana Gravino

And yet, of all the holidays in that torturous first year without my firstborn baby, this one stung the worst.

Why did this one day, this “Hallmark holiday,” bother me so much? It was my second Mother’s Day, but my first one pregnant after loss. I was enduring a very emotionally excruciating pregnancy after loss while grieving Charlie and grieving the loss of my current baby’s twin, who died at ten weeks. I was not able to celebrate the day with the boy who made me a mother – in fact, I never will – and that was so difficult for me to grasp.

"Sweet little one, you are so loved, so missed... and your tiny footprints will forever be on our heart." When Mother's Day isn't so Black and White

Author’s Personal Collection/Briana Gravino

As I come up on my third Mother’s Day and my first with a living baby, I’ve had some time to reflect on why Mother’s Day can be so triggering and difficult for loss moms and for moms pregnant after loss, myself included. Society does not accept loss moms as moms, and women who are pregnant after loss are only considered to be “expectant” mothers. But for my second Mother’s Day, I was already a mother to three babies: two who died and one in my belly whose future was still to be determined, but regardless, I was still his mother.

"Not all twins walk side by side. Sometimes one has wings to fly." Baby B - When Mother's Day isn't so Black and White

Author’s Personal Collection/Briana Gravino

A hill that I am willing to die on is the fact that there is no such thing as an “expectant mother.”

Was I not already a mother when I sacrificed and made all the necessary diet and lifestyle changes upon learning I was pregnant for the first and second times? Was I not already a mother when I sacrificed my sleep, my comfort, and my body for these babies to have a safe place to grow? Was I not already a mother when I fell to my hands and knees on the cold, dirty hospital floor after being given Charlie’s fatal diagnosis, shaking and sobbing and praying to a god I no longer believed in to make him healthy and take me after he is born instead? Was I not already his mother when I thoughtfully chose which urn would be worthy of holding my baby’s ashes for the rest of time? My body sure thought I was a mother when my milk came in after delivering Charlie, my brain knowing he had died but my body not receiving the message.

Was I not already a mother when I made the choice to sacrifice my body and my mind once again to become pregnant after loss, desperately hoping this baby would get to know a healthy life outside of the womb? Am I only now a mother, now that I have a baby who lives in my house and requires me to feed him, a baby who requires me to lose sleep, requires me to make endless sacrifices so that he can be cared for? No. I have been a mother this whole time, and if you are a loss mom, if you are pregnant after loss, or if you are parenting after loss, you have been mothers this whole time, too. I was a mother that first Mother’s Day before I knew it to be true, and I was a mother that second Mother’s Day grieving and growing all of my babies. Benjamin was born healthy and alive, and I am once again a mother for this upcoming third Mother’s Day, but I am not more of a mother now that I was before simply because my child is alive.

Even now that I am parenting a rainbow baby, this holiday is nothing but triggering, and I still want nothing to do with it.

The social media blasts, commercials, and other advertisements showing happy families complete with all their children are so triggering. My firstborn baby, who made me a mother, will always be invisible to the outside world. Benjamin’s twin, Baby B, will always be invisible, as well. Seeing all the happy families at brunch feeding pancakes to their toddlers, while I should have three high chairs at my table is still heartbreaking to see. I’ll never know if they, too, know the pain of losing their babies, but their families sure look complete to an outsider’s eye. And true or not, it’s still extremely triggering. I can only assume it will get easier to see as time continues to pass, but right now, it is hard. My family will never be complete, no matter how many living children we may go on to have.

I also have complicated feelings with Bereaved Mother’s Day, a day that is celebrated on the first Sunday in May. I don’t disagree that it’s nice to give bereaved mothers their own day. There are many, many loss moms who really love it, and I love that they feel heard and seen with this day. But I can’t help but feel it’s a copout. It wasn’t intended to be this way, but I feel it has become a way to keep us sad moms away from the happy hallmark day. People don’t want to hear about the sad things in life. I have found this to be true simply by how many people interact with my happy posts versus my “sad” posts about my babies. But loss moms deserve to be a part of regular old Mother’s Day just as much as the mothers who, by nothing but sheer luck, get to keep their babies.

There is a name for a child without parents – an orphan. There is a name for a spouse without their partner – a widow. Yet, there is no name for a parent who lost their child.

I realize that not all loss moms had a labor and delivery as I did with my first baby, Charlie. Some babies die before they have the chance to be “born” in that way. That’s what happened with B, Benjamin’s twin. But let me tell you this – you are still mothers. You sacrificed your bodies and carried your babies as long as you were able. You gave them their first and only home filled with nothing but safety, comfort, and love. You are a mother. If you are a loss mom, or if you are pregnant after loss, you are just as much a part of Mother’s Day as the mother who is lucky enough to have living children. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This year on my third Mother’s Day, I may be parenting my first living baby, but by no means am I a “first-time mom” celebrating my first Mother’s Day. It isn’t so black and white, and it never will be.

Wishing a gentle Mother’s Day to all of you out there who have made ultimate sacrifices to be the best moms to your babies, both in your arms and in the stars. You are heard, you are seen, and you are mothers.

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