When my first child was born, I was unqualified for the job. If there were a test, I would’ve failed. Knowing my ineptitude, doctors and nurses would’ve snatched Noah and shooed me out of the hospital.
A hormonal haze clouded me into thinking I did fail. What else would you call a botched birth and a wretched aftermath? They sure didn’t smack of success. Like Hester Prynne, I felt I had a scarlet letter stamped on my chest. Only mine was an “F” (for failure) instead of Hester’s “A” (for adultery).
My skewed thinking went something like this: I lived a childhood twice broken; first by my parents’ divorce, and later by my mom’s death. I was a self-centered, 34-year-old workaholic. My belief in God was riddled more with suspicion than love. The uprooting of my early years rendered me a damaged seed. No way could I be a safe harbor for a child.
Substitute for Love
Until Noah, I spent life qualifying: for college, graduate school, reporting and editing jobs, and my freelancing career. Nearly a compulsion, overachieving was also a substitute for mother love. Hope Edelman writes in Motherless Daughters:
‘Compulsion is despair on the emotional level,’ writes Geneen Roth in When Food is Love: Exploring the Relationship Between Eating and Intimacy. ‘The substances, people, or activities that we become compulsive about are those that we believe capable of taking our despair away.’ These behaviors develop and persist because we can convince ourselves that they aid us in some way. … A girl becomes an overachiever to elicit the praise and respect from strangers that she can’t get from her family, or to force her surviving parent to acknowledge her success.
Noah’s arrival revealed just how reliant I’d become on my ability to succeed. Once I acknowledged it, I could begin self-repair. Dr. Diana Barnes, a psychotherapist who specializes in women’s reproductive mental health, recently told me:
There’s a whole psychology to becoming a mother. … The loss of a mother is so profound that even if we have a hostile relationship with our mother, all of that material comes flying to the surface. It is kind of embedded in our experience of becoming mothers.
PPD might’ve magnified my feelings of loss and inadequacy. I suspect I would’ve encountered them no matter what, though. As Barnes says, for a woman without a mom, having a baby returns her to her roots. Four years later I see more clearly what God was after. To use something good—motherhood—to help heal something bad—mother loss.
Lovely Are Those Who Lack
God doesn’t pick beautiful, talented people to be his messengers. He taps unusual candidates, people with tragic flaws and a looming lack.
God called him to lead his people out of Egypt. “He was reluctant and unwilling, and he couldn’t control his temper,” L’Engle says. Yet he wasn’t consumed by the burning bush. His face was blindingly bright after he spoke to God in the cloud on Mount Sinai.
Liz Curtis Higgs speaks of being an unlikely messenger for Christ. After a serene childhood, she followed a dangerous path of drugs and promiscuity. “I’m one of those people who had to fall all the way down to the bottom of the pit, until I had nowhere else to look but up,” Higgs writes in explanation of her faith journey. With the help of colleagues at a radio station where she worked, Higgs found Christ.
Speaking at last month’s Writing for the Soul conference, Higgs said:
My story is nothing but proof that God can work with incredibly unpromising material. Whatever it takes God waits with us in the darkness until we wake up. Now I understand that God was … with me in the darkest times of my pit. That’s an overwhelming thing to realize, and it’s true for us today.
Like Higgs, I fell into a pit. My descent followed childbirth. I was an unlikely candidate for motherhood, at least in the world’s eyes. Sometimes I still entertain that mean thought. But it’s less frequent now. Early on I asked God to fill the massive gap, to show me how to be a mom. It’s a daily prayer, really, because I’m still unqualified. The good I see in my children, the depth that’s been added to my life—it’s all God’s work. I’m just trying to follow his lead.
L’Engle puts it best:
In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.