I wonder if there will ever again be a time when my sleep cycles extend beyond three hours at a time. Having weathered this newborn season once before with Baby #1, I of course realize that this too (really) shall pass, but I nevertheless lament the lack of a full eight-hour-sleep these days. Each night I cross my fingers, say a prayer, and kiss my eight-week-old daughter goodnight, hoping for a bit of a longer stretch than the night before. At present, Katherine King (we’ve been calling her KK) lies swaddled and asleep in her crib across her darkened nursery. As I lingered over her warm tiny body a moment ago, I breathed in the scent of her sweet orange vanilla baby shampoo and took note of her little lips, puckered and moving in and out in her sleep as if nursing; the soft light from her closet now spills through the door cracks and onto the carpet as I rock back and forth in her glider (habit). I savor this moment amidst my exhaustion, amidst my emptiness; its goodness will carry me through another long night. That and the glass of wine I’m holding.

This newborn season is hard. I forgot how tough it was. Being emptied (both literally and figuratively) daily has again drawn to my awareness how much I desperately need Jesus, how much I crave a good Word and an abundance of grace, someone to proclaim “good” over me. Specifically, an area that feels a bit different and more complex with Baby #2 is the degree to which I ask for and accept help from others. With my first daughter, I felt like an idiot and took all the help I could get; I didn’t puff up as easily about the way I did things or even try to maintain the illusion of perfection. I didn’t know jack.

This time, however, the shame gremlins tell me, “This shouldn’t be hard; you’ve done this before. You shouldn’t be hesitating or questioning yourself or yawning. C’mon. Buck up.” The tape that plays over and over in my head tells me to get my act together, to patch up a righteousness of my own, to live for my own glory. I just need to put on my big girl pants, get over my tiredness and minor baby blues, and go build a blanket fort with my toddler so she can have a bit of imaginative play today. This shame tape is tough to turn off, particularly when I reflect on what I see as I scroll through my Instagram feed: moms doing it “right.” Moms with four kids baking homemade playdough and lactation cookies for the neighborhood playgroup. Moms with 6-month-olds and actual abs. Moms with Ikea learning tower hacks and sure-proof diaper rash recommendations and craft activities spilling out their ears (#mommyblogger #toddlerlife).

These are the experts. These are the ones who’ve got this mothering thing down. Because what says, “I’m super mom!” more clearly than homemade play dough or a blog post about how to get your newborn to sleep through the night at six weeks? What can more quickly fill a need for maternal worthiness than dozens of Instagram likes telling you, “Damn, you’re so creative with that Montessori sorting activity you made up; you can do it all.” It’s the words of the gremlins that puff up my ego just enough to make me pause and consider whether I should take anyone’s help at all, because then that’d be acknowledging my limitations, then that would be showing my hand.

Fortunately, through sheer exhaustion and the patient insistence of dear, authentic friends and family, that hasn’t happened. Thank God.

One of the strongest memories I have of my first post-partum experience after Annie’s arrival was some specific help I received from a friend of mine. She came over at lunchtime with my favorite crunchy chicken sandwich, held Annie while I ate, changed her diaper without being asked, and when I finished eating and she handed the baby back to me, she took a look at the bowl of hot soapy water sitting in my sink filled with dirty Medela bottles and said, “I’m going to wash those pump parts for you.” Not a question, a statement. An offer with no room for denial. It’s as if it had already been done.

She stood at my sink and scrubbed away the leftover breast milk and set the pump parts out precisely and carefully on our Boon grass drying rack. And I felt beyond cared for and known. This memory has become somewhat of a refrain for me; I return to it in my mind whenever I grapple with my own worthiness as a mom and as a wife. It is an acknowledgement of my need to accept and welcome such gestures. Having babies has grown in me a deeper understanding of God’s grace through the lens of the helper. I need help, and I need helpers. I need others to grant me a bit of mercy, a bit of ammunition to fend off the lie that I need to have it all together, that I’m not enough as is. It’s the helpers who show me what tangible grace looks like.

Grace is letting a friend reach into a bowl of dirty pump parts to wash away the leftover breast milk. It’s having her take your toddler to the children’s museum for a few hours while you nap. It’s letting her wipe the kitchen counter of crusty egg remnants from that morning’s scramble. It’s letting her put your toddler down for her nap so you can nurse the baby without worrying about timing. It’s inviting someone into the muck and mire and letting them see and touch that which makes us feel dirty or not enough.

Grace is what happens when Christ touches and sees and begins to heal that which makes us feel dirty or not enough. And a lot depends on this, particularly now as division and hate-filled dialogue and violence across our nation prompts each of us to take a look at our hearts, to examine our own deepest sin. Christ longs to help us, to heal us. It’s as if each day he takes a long, tender look at our hearts–our hearts full of metaphorical dirty Dr. Brown’s bottles and poop-filled Pampers–and says, “I’m going to wash those pump parts for you.”