I moved a useless breast pump into three different houses. After two different babies, with two
different lactation consultants, and two different pediatricians, and two separate verdicts, “your
baby has lost too much weight and it is time to supplement with formula,” I still carried that
stupid pump with me into our third home. I packed it up in a cardboard box labeled “baby’s
room” and loaded it into our UHaul as we prepared to welcome our third child; all the while
knowing full well I wouldn’t be using it. “Why, then, did I keep it?” I asked myself that question
with each of our moves, and as I tripped over it in the closet over the years.
Somehow, someway, I had let it become a symbol of all the tiny failures within my motherhood. I
had allowed shame to move with me, from home to home, baby to baby. I kept looking at it,
reminded of how my body had failed at its most basic job; to feed my children. Every time I
wanted to throw it away, I couldn’t. I felt I deserved its punishing gaze. As every formula
container states in bold, breast is best. Without knowing it, I had given a great deal of power
over to a plastic yoke and labored under it, allowing it to burden me for years. Somehow,
someway, I had allowed the poison of perfection to slither its way through my heart and sink its
After my third baby was weaned from the bottle around her first birthday, as the harrowing
formula crisis of 2022 slowly began to resolve, after we struggled to feed our baby at all, I had
had enough. I went to the same closet to gather up all our bottle supplies to be cleaned and
stored and stood face to face with the pump in its black zippered pouch. Standing in front of the
closet door, I pulled it out again but this time I was determined. Deep inside I knew by now there
would never be a perfect time to get rid of the shame in the back of the closet, in the deep
shadowy corners of my heart, but now would be good enough. And it was.
Most good things are like that, though. Not perfect, but good enough. The important things like
marriage, mothering, managing, making… they aren’t ever going to be perfect, but that doesn’t
mean they aren’t good. And it certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t good enough. I am struggling
to remember the day when I first started believing my best wasn’t good enough. I am constantly
amazed by my children’s gumption and gusto. They believe, with all their tiny hearts, that they
are excellent in all they do. Running to the mailbox? Cheetah level unlocked. Climbing up the
slide at the park (no matter how many times I tell them not to?) Gymnastic olympians.
Watercolors? Grab the blue ribbon, folks. They don’t just love what they can do, they are certain
you will too. I know eventually, insecurities will make their mark, and shame will make their
world lose a bit of its softness, but for now, they hold nothing back. They are exceedingly
generous with all their talents. They move through the world with such freedom it makes me
think, “I want to be like that, again.”
And so, on a cold November afternoon, with no fanfare, no Marie Kondo, not even a single
witness, I heaved that stupid hunk of plastic up and into our outside trash can. It landed with a
hollow thud in the bottom of the empty bin, rattling just a bit as it settled into place. I paused to
take it in; I was free. Immediately, I felt lighter. In that moment, I had lost much more than that pound or two of plastic; I had shed some of the shame I had bestowed upon myself. I had
gotten rid of the burden of perfection that no one had asked me to carry. I was finally a little bit
freer; and I didn’t stop there. With the momentum that only comes from freedom, I headed back
to that same closet where other tiny failures were waiting for me.
The cute tops that hadn’t fit since before I got pregnant with our first child. Out. The skinny jeans
from when we got married in 2015. Out. The dresses I’d kept from weddings and events that
now made me feel frumpy and saggy and itchy and just plain old. Out. Out. Out. Free. Free.
Free. It took a while, since apparently I teeter on the edge of borderline hoarder status, but
again, I was determined. I had had enough. I had enough of all of the tiny failures, reminding me
of all the ways I felt myself and my body weren’t good enough. That same body that had
allowed three beautiful, perfect, babies to grow and thrive.
My body that, while not perfect, is certainly good enough.
With the “donate” pile mounded up high, I nearly floated back to the kitchen, where my children
were waiting. I could feel the vice grip that slithering perfection had around my heart loosening.
It’s poison receding. I was lighter, freer, and a little more ready to care for my babies. Babies
that, even after all this time, still need me to feed them – and so I do. I mean, it was boxed mac
and cheese, but it was good enough.
Madeline is a former mental health counselor turned mother turned writer. She lives with her husband and three young children in South Carolina, in their sweet hometown. When she isn’t wrangling kids, she loves writing essays and poetry about motherhood, faith, and raising a child with disabilities. You can follow along on instagram at @madelinekwilkins or on her website MKWpoems.com where she sells prints of her poetry as well as her children’s book about her son with Autism.
Madeline, Freedom from shame, great example. so proud of you.