Mika Brzezinski(How Failure Can Save Your Life(Image: Glamour))

People often think my biggest failure was being fired from my job as a CBS News anchor in 2006. It’s true, that hurt; being let go was a personal blow, a punch in the stomach. But that was nothing compared with the time, years earlier, that my sleep deprivation caused an accident that I almost never forgave myself for.

It all started as soon as I brought my second daughter, Carlie, home from the hospital. Almost immediately I began thinking about returning to my job as a freelance overnight anchor at CBS News. I was determined to make such a positive impression on my bosses that they would keep me in mind for any permanent opportunities that might open up. I went back to work after only five weeks, long before I was ready. I was bone tired, with a toddler—Emilie was two—and a newborn, and I was working the graveyard shift. Exhausted, I spent months surviving each day on no more than a two- or three-hour power nap. I was so invested in being the perfect working mom that I hid the fact that I was severely sleep-deprived. I was convinced that every other woman I knew was doing a better job of juggling motherhood, marriage and work than I was. Carlie was just 14 weeks old when I raced home from work to relieve the nanny one Friday. I collected Carlie in my arms while the nanny filled me in on the girls’ day. Still zipping around like a wild windup toy, I moved toward the stairs and misjudged the top step. Next thing I knew, I was in midair, flying down the staircase. My back crashed hard against the middle steps, and I tumbled down the rest. Somehow Carlie was pressed beneath me each time I landed. It happened in a split second.

At the bottom of the steps, Carlie did not turn colors or scream. She just made a squeak and curled up in a way I’d never seen her do in her short life. I grabbed my car keys and raced to the car, placing Carlie in her seat as gently as I could. The hospital was just a couple of miles away—I’d be there in the time it took to call 911. I cried as I drove. I prayed. I chanted, “Please make her OK. Please make her OK.”

Instantly Carlie was surrounded by doctors, nurses and technicians. I watched helplessly as doctors pressed a series of needles into Carlie’s little toes and got no response. She was awake and conscious, but she was completely unresponsive. I heard someone whisper, “Spinal cord damage.” Everything got quiet and far away. One doctor called a spinal cord expert at another hospital. “How soon can you get here?” I heard him say.

I watched as they rolled little Carlie into an adjacent imaging room for an MRI. I was supposed to take care of her. How could I have let myself get so run-down, so exhausted at work, that I would fumble over my own feet and fall down a steep flight of stairs with my newborn in my arms? After a moment I could no longer stand. My legs crumpled beneath me, and I slid to the floor. How was I ever going to forgive myself for what I had done?