I do not blame Andrea Yates. Although I don't purport to understand all the pressures she felt, I do know what it feels like to believe that you are a bad mother.
There was a time in my life that I, too, believed I was a bad mother to my four children. As a young 20-something, I married. I wanted nothing more than to please God and my husband, not necessarily in that order.
We joined a small church: Jesus was preached, God was glorified, pastor and wife modeled familial propriety and righteousness. I left my job and rose to a higher calling: Christian mother.
One baby came, then two, then three, then four. Blessed rewards! I kneaded and baked bread; soaked and simmered refried beans; blended mayonnaise from oil and egg with just a dash of dried mustard; purchased flats of half-rotten strawberries and plucked stems, pared away soft spots, mashed, mixed, boiled and "put up" jar after jar of strawberry preserves, with my toddlers at my elbow.
We--my husband and I--were "in" but not "of" a materialistic world, covenanted before God to thrive on one income, to share one car.
After my children's bedtime, I sewed their T-shirts and shorts on my trusty Singer and embroidered pillowcases for each newly married couple at church.
Not a very accomplished seamstress, what I lacked in skill I made up for in enthusiasm. I hunted for bargains; a close-out fabric sale netted six home-sewn brown-and-white plaid two-way stretch swimsuits.
In my "spare" time, I weeded dichondra, jogged with the dog, hauled laundry to the Laundromat and staggered under the weight of dozens of children's library books: Bible stories at breakfast, nursery rhymes on the potty, fairy tales at nap time.
I know how clever Andrea Yates needed to be to keep her five babies clean and fed and amused and enriched and refined--manners, of course, were learned at home. Housecleaning was a given. No nannies or Merry Maids for us. We are the Proverbs 31 ladies of the Bible, up before dawn, seeing to the ways of our household.
But instead of feeling fulfilled, following 15 years of never "getting it right," I felt frustrated: four shabbily dressed siblings bickered, tract-home paint peeled off finger-printed walls, the ceiling lining in the car drooped and the dichondra lawn resembled a wasteland.
I rebelled. I reincorporated four-letter words into my educated vocabulary. I returned part-time to my profession. I scrimped to purchase a "pre-owned" Volkswagen Rabbit. I hired a cleaning lady, enrolled in ballet classes at the local college and resumed reading fiction.
I had awakened to the impossibility of my own expectations. I did not dump my faith, just switched churches. However, throughout my epiphany and ensuing choices, I had the luxury of not being mentally ill or suffering postpartum depression. I was just very, very angry--at myself for trying to live someone else's definition of Christian mother, at my husband for being a bystander and at our church for not providing praise, offering grace or permitting diversity.
I believe there is a part of Christianity, squeezed out from between lines not written in the Bible, which plants the onus of family welfare on the wife-mother, minus the support system of the extended family available 50 or 100 years ago.
Andrea Yates and I had the silent self-incriminating definitions for "Christian mother" rushing around inside our heads with no one to refute them or to excuse us from unsurmountable tasks daily set before us by our own unattainable standards.
A woman's world can be impossible. We muddle on until we break away from our faith or break up our marriage, or just plain break.