(This essay is Part 2 of Facing Postpartum Depression. Read Part 1 here.)
A few weeks after my third baby, Ruthie, was born, her 1-year old brother fell off the changing table. It happened exactly like they always say: “It only takes a second.” Ruthie was crying in the crib behind me, so I turned to pop her pacifier back in her mouth. I looked back as little Leo was flipping. I can still hear myself yelling his name.
It was a scary moment, but thank God, he was ok. Later that night, my husband and I found ourselves in a sadly familiar place: laying in bed, me crying. This time, I said, “I feel like I’ve been failing at being Leo’s mom since the moment he was born.”
Until I said that word aloud—failure—I hadn’t realized that I pinned the label to myself. I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety for the first year of Leo’s life, finally seeking help just a few weeks before Ruthie’s birth. Since beginning medication, I didn’t feel depressed anymore, but I still didn’t feel much joy. “Failure” worked its tendrils around my heart and was choking the life out of my motherhood.
Some moments in life function like hinges on a door: everything is holding on right there, and it will all swing one way or another. Leo falling off the changing table was one such moment for me. I could either look at it as confirmation that I was, indeed, a failure, or I could accept the grace Jesus offered me. My identity was not “good mom,” “happy mom,” or “perfect mom,” but simply, “beloved child of God.” If God’s grace was big enough to cover my pride and selfishness, my dishonesty and anger, my addictions and fears, then it was certainly big enough to cover my motherhood.
Evan looked at me through the dark of our bedroom and reminded me of the truth: Leo was resilient, and he was doing just fine, and I was a good mom, and I was not at all a failure.
Somehow, for the first time since Leo’s birth, I began to believe it.
Healing from postpartum depression involves some grief. I mourn and lament the year I feel like I lost, the mistakes I made in the midst of it, and the uncomfortable reality that I was unwell.
Almost a full year before Leo’s fall, Evan had asked me if I had postpartum depression. I wish I understood more about the condition at that time, because a better understanding of what I was experiencing might have allowed me to start the healing process much earlier. Still, sometimes pain is what makes room for healing.
Confession is powerful. While the medication was healing the imbalance in my mind, my heart had not begun to heal until the moment I acknowledged these struggles out loud. This grace is helping me challenge the lies about my capability as a mother, lies about the wellbeing of my children, and the lie that my value lies in keeping it all together.
Leo’s fall did not make me a failure, and neither did postpartum depression. To “succeed” as a parent (if we can even measure parenting in terms of successes and failures, which I’m not sure about) means to live, work, and care for our children with courage in the midst of shortcomings and difficulties. I loved and parented my kids as best I could while battling depression and anxiety. I asked for help the moment I was able to.
In motherhood–as in the rest of life–the space between “struggle” and “failure” is vast.
Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.