This Grace Understood
I have become consumed by guilt. I just recently realized it, too. How much time have I wasted living in regret, wading through the murky waters of my own perceived inadequacies? How much living has passed me by as I squandered this time wishing I were better, more equipped, less sad, more adventurous, more than myself.
Postpartum coupled with a tendency towards depression made the first months of motherhood feel so isolating. I had this idea in my head of what it would be, gathered from the stories of mothers before me, like oral traditions. My first moments with my son were not what I expected them to be and they were not in the stories I had etched on my heart in anticipation. I felt robbed. I felt like a failure. I mourned the way I thought I should feel. I felt like I had dishonored the meaning of motherhood by these feelings I had no control over. These feelings didn’t feel right, nor did they look familiar. These aren’t the feelings that make up the stories that are talked about.
The responsibility of motherhood did come immediately, as did the guilt. My inability to connect made me feel deeply ashamed and my postpartum feelings felt sickly. The first few months were spent breastfeeding and holding him. Staring at him and taking pictures of every expression. I was trying to pause time. I knew that these particular moments were limited and precious, which made these snapshots feel more of a desperate necessity.
Months following his birth, my depression became crippling. Waves of despair would wash over me, drowning me in sorrow. My depression only intensified my guilt.
Guilt is a peculiar thing. It eats at us, secretly and slowly, and we are half gone before we are the wiser. It’s a poison that courses through us like blood through our veins. Our decisions stop feeling like our own, but ones that we make to cover the tattered holes leftover.
Guilt doesn’t have a rhyme or reason. Sometimes it doesn’t even come from a place of truth. Truth sets us free, it doesn’t bind us up, and it doesn’t leash us.
How much of the guilt that I experience is the reflection I think I see from mirrored images? How can I trust those reflections when the reflection comes from fragmented mirrors? And how much comes from the ideas of what I thought motherhood would be? Moments in time don’t define me. Perhaps, I am preaching only to myself, working my way towards living in the gray. For me it’s about avoiding the slippery slope of black and white thinking, and remembering, “I don’t have to be perfect.”
How many times he has looked to find my gaze, and instead he finds me lost in a crowd of thoughts, my personal Where’s Waldo of flaws. And as I write this, the pattern wants to start again and the bite of guilt still stings. But I choose to be mindful of my thoughts and mindful of my intentions, towards him and towards myself; even if I have to consciously make that choice over and over again.
I think of the things unseen that I am creating for him, my life’s expression. How am I showing him to live, to love, and to forgive, over and over again? It starts with myself: the love I show myself and the grace I extend to myself. That is the hardest part for me.
He doesn’t need a perfect mama, and I don’t need a perfect baby. We just need each other, imperfections and all. My guilt comes from a place of love, and comes from a desire to be the best I can be. It is hard accepting anything that doesn’t feel like perfection for the people I love, but I can’t think like that, and I know I can’t live that way. Sometimes being good enough is actually all I need, and becomes the grace that makes me perfect, after all.