“But you’re such a good mom.”

The words took my breath away.

I was with a few moms outside my daughter’s dance class. I struggle connecting with “normal” moms in these types of situations. I desperately want to make mom friends, but it’s hard. I tend to want to hide in a corner with my headphones and work on my iPad.

But a few moms were chatting about having more babies, whether they’d breastfeed, and how they’d introduced a pacifier right away. One mom shared she wasn’t sure she’d breastfeed again. She’d had to go off her antidepressant to do so, and it made early postpartum very challenging. So, she was considering formula from the get-go next time.

I’d been mostly just listening, but when she said that I chimed in, “Actually, there are meds that are safe to take while breastfeeding. You should chat with a lactation consultant and maybe even a perinatal psychiatrist about if your meds might be OK.”

Well, I stepped in itthe vulnerabilityand the questions started. I’m an open book when it comes to my mental health struggles and our son’s death, but most of that openness comes online or through people who reach out after learning about my history. It’s not usually dance-mom small talk.

But isn’t this why I share? To normalize and bring awareness?

RELATED: I Have Anxiety and Depression—and I’m a Good Mom

So, I answered all the questions. I talked about my treatment-resistant depression, med cocktail, hospitalizations, and extensive therapy.

They asked about my symptoms and how I manage day-to-day. I told them about how much better I am, that some days it’s hard for me to fully remember just how bad it was. I’ve fought to get to this place.

And that’s when she said it: “But you’re such a good mom.”

She genuinely meant it as a compliment. I really believe that. She was saying, “I would have never known.” Oh, the masks we wear!

But, I can’t help but feel like there was also a tinge of disbelief that someone struggling with mental illness can be a good mom. That’s what we’re told, right? I mean, just a few months ago, a mom went to her doctor to ask for help for intrusive thoughts, and her children were taken by child protective services.

The judgment. The shame. It’s palpable.

I’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to flip her statement to an AND rather than a BUT. AND it’s challenging to break the stigma in my own head.

I have mental illness AND I am a good mom.

I make mistakes AND I am a good mom.

I lose my patience sometimes AND I am a good mom.

I get paralyzed by anxiety AND I am a good mom.

I miss my son who died AND I am a good mom.

I struggle AND I am a good mom.

These things are not mutually exclusive. So many moms walk around afraid to expose their struggles for this very reason.

RELATED: Postpartum Depression Does Not Define You

Today, I stand here proudly and say I have a mental illness. There was a time when it was debilitating. AND I did the hard work over many many years to get to a place of stability and wellness. AND now I’m married and have two amazing children, only one who walks with me here on earth.

AND I am such a good mom.

And you know what? After I shared, other moms shared more of their struggles. Maybe there are connections to be made in the small talk after all. Because I’m not the only one struggling AND still a good mom.

Previously published on the author’s Facebook page

Valerie Meek

Valerie Meek is a writer, mom, artist, and fierce advocate for moms. She is the Operations Director for Pregnancy After Loss Support and also writes at her personal blog, Meek Manor. She lives outside Boston with her husband and daughter, and holds her son, Patrick, in her heart.