The Cover Shot Heard ’Round the World, An Interview with Conscious Parenting Revolutionary, Jamie Grumet

AUTHORS:

Listen to the original interview with Jamie Grumet on her experience as the Time cover advocate for full-term breastfeeding in May 2012.  Lisa Reagan asks Jamie about her family, her international nonprofit work and what she will take away from this experience when she is eighty.

Rock singer Alanis Morissette nailed it when she wrote during the media frenzy surrounding the Time magazine cover featuring Jamie Grumet nursing her 3-year-old son: “Gotta love it when something meant to instigate, instigates.”

Ignoring Morissette’s caution, as well as worldwide norms for nursing well into toddlerhood and the science of attachment parenting (AP), the mainstream media took Kate Pickert’s Time cover story and its slap-in-theface tagline to mothers everywhere—“Are You Mom Enough?”—and did what it does best: distort, cartoonize and reinforce cultural ignorance with threats of public humiliation.

So what if the Save the Children’s 2012 State of the World’s Mothers report places the United States dead last among 36 industrialized countries for breastfeeding? The report states, “Most mothers want to breastfeed. Breastfeeding initiation rates are high, but breastfeeding drops off rapidly in the early weeks after birth. This happens not because mothers don’t want to breastfeed anymore, but because they haven’t received the support they need to continue. Breastfeeding is natural, but it is also something that requires community support.”

The venerable and comprehensive report also shows just how dangerous it is to be a new mother or infant in the zero-social-support-for-familywellness culture of the U.S.:

In the United States, mothers face a 1 in 2,100 risk of maternal death—the highest of any industrialized nation. …A woman in the U.S. is more than 7 times as likely as a woman in Ireland or Italy to die from a pregnancy- related cause and her risk of maternal death is 15 times that of a woman in Greece.

The U.S. under-5 mortality rate is 8 per 1,000 births. …Forty countries performed better than the U.S. on this indicator. This means that a child in the U.S. is four times as likely as a child in Iceland to die before his or her 5th birthday.

Whether you believe it was a welcome chance or a missed opportunity for a long-overdue national dialogue about our shameful record on breastfeeding and infant wellness, Time’s May 21, 2012, cover made history. Featuring a homeschooling California mom nursing her 3-year-old, the cover instantly went viral and now holds a spot in the New York Daily News’ list of “most controversial covers,” alongside Rolling Stone’s portrait of Yoko Ono and a naked John Lennon, and Vanity Fair’s image of a nude, pregnant Demi Moore. Time, which won the 2012 Magazine of the Year award, serves 3.2 million subscribers and has brought breaking news to the world for nearly 80 years.

How did the mainstream media handle this opportunity for a national dialogue? Well, never mind that the practices of attachment parenting, including breastfeeding, are scientifically shown to support infant and child wellness for life. When the media had an opportunity to raise awareness and improve the lives of American families, they instead chose to milk the cash cow of their own invented mommy wars and ran with their advertisers’ dictates that parents are incapable of deciding for themselves what is right for their families.


The Fallout

In the days following the cover release, Jamie Grumet found herself running a gauntlet of national talk shows with chiding hosts intent on defending the U.S. status quo and labeling her willful act of consciousness-raising at best as “extreme parenting” and at worst freakish and pornographic. Jamie also found herself surrounded by celebrity mothers cheering her and the cause of attachment parenting on, including Alanis Morrisette, who penned an editorial to the Huffington Post; Pink, who tweeted an Instagram of herself nursing; and Mayim Bialik, Ph.D., actress and neuroscientist, who took such a beating over her AP advocacy that she quit Facebook.

Bialik, author of Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, made the talk show rounds with her book’s release in March. But after the Time cover backlash, she bowed out. “The lack of ‘normal’ dialogue in social media has been disturbing me for some time now…. Even the least sensitive person would probably start to crack under this kind of week.… I think it is really sad that social media has beaten me down, and I wish I was more resilient. Maybe someday I will be,” wrote Bialik in her blog on Kveller.com.

In a revelatory moment on the popular daytime talk show, The View, pediatrician Dr. William Sears, author of 1992’s The Baby Book, struggled to present the eight tenets of attachment parenting while host Sherri Shepherd quipped, “The guilt is raining down on me!”

Guilt. Is that what the initial brouhaha and ongoing backlash is all about? Americans feel guilty for not having the social and cultural support they need to provide the best wellness practices for mothers and babies? Was twisting that guilt knife into the psyches of socially abandoned parents Time’s angle for selling magazines? Explaining their choice for the cover, Time managing editor Rick Stengel told Forbes, “To me, the whole point of a magazine cover is to get your attention.” Done! Cha-ching!!! [Pathways asked Time for its sales numbers for the AP issue; by press time the magazine had not responded.]

The editors of Time may have banked on parent guilt and cultural taboos to sell magazines, but the mainstream media’s message following the cover’s release was clear: If American mothers thought they were indeed mom enough to defy the country’s socially reinforced stigma on breastfeeding at any age, they should think again.


Who Does She Think She Is?

This is the national stage Jamie Grumet stepped onto when she stood with her strappy tank pulled down for her son to nurse on the cover of the country’s most popular weekly news magazine. What inspired this young mom to take on the aggressively defensive American culture? Did she know what she was getting into when Time called her after finding her blog online and asked her to join a group of parents to “celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Baby Book” by Dr. Sears?

In this interview, Jamie shares  her reflections on the past few months and how she and her family are faring. “We’re doing wonderfully,” she says. “The attachment parenting community, and just mothers in general, have been so supportive. We have a great extended family system and lots of friends, so we’ve been holding up really well. People were worried for us, but there is no problem whatsoever now.”

What was your reaction to the cover?

“When I first saw the photo they chose for the cover, I was a little worried because the last thing I wanted to do was to hurt what we were trying to do by relieving this stigma of child-led weaning. I asked Dr. Sears about my concerns and he said, ‘Long term, this is going to be great. Don’t worry.’ There were a number of parents who said, ‘Thank you for encouraging me and for letting me know what I’m already doing is attachment parenting.’ There were people who discovered what attachment parenting was and said they would not have known without the cover. That’s exactly what we wanted, and I can’t ask for more than that. There is definitely good coming from it.”

Jamie’s convictions and commitment to child-led nursing organically extend from being a second generation attachment-parented child herself. Her mother— who was not a hippie, says Jamie—nursed her until she was 6 because her father, a University of California nutrition scientist, knew the lifelong benefits of breastfeeding. Currently, Jamie is the homeschooling mom of two boys and the founder and CEO of the Fayye Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the orphan crisis in the Sidama region of Ethiopia.

“Working with the foundation started with phone calls and most of the time at home, but now that everything is picking up I do have to spend a lot of my time at meetings or in-country [Ethiopia],” says Jamie. “We are very fortunate that my husband’s job provides us with the flexibility that he can take over homeschooling during the day (or we can all pick up and travel) without any sort of strain or discomfort in our daily lives.” Jamie is returning to Ethiopia this year with pediatrician and author Jay Gordon, M.D.

The Whole Story of the Grumet Family 

If you want to get to know Jamie personally, you can visit her blog or her YouTube channel that has featured intimate scenes from her family’s life long before the notoriety of the Time cover. In one touching video she and her husband created to tell the story of their family’s becoming to their children, they share how they conceived their adopted child in their hearts years before they met him and then show the moment of her husband embracing their new son, Samuel, for the first time in Ethiopia. While Jamie was told by doctors she could not become pregnant, as the adoption paperwork was approved, she conceived and gave birth to their biological son, Aram.

It was Jamie’s first days as a mother that ignited her passion for attachment parenting. “I ended up developing HELLP syndrome and having an emergency C-section with Aram, who was two months early,” she says. “My son being in the NICU put the fire in me for attachment parenting, seeing what booby traps women and babies face at the beginning of life…. I was bleeding from my eyes at one point and scared for my life. After Aram was born, I was unconscious and I remember waking up and seeing my husband was pumping my breasts for me and the baby. That’s when I said, ‘That is a real man right there!’ He is an attachment parent too, just as much as I am.

“Once Aram was a year old, we brought our son, Samuel, home from Ethiopia. Samuel was nursed up until his day of relinquishment. I was able to breastfeed Samuel, as he wanted, and that gave him the secure emotional attachment that he needed with so much trauma that had just happened in his life. So, that is how our family came to be!”

 

The Grumet family welcoming Samuel home at the airport.

How did your childhood and international work shape your view of breastfeeding?

“My background is anthropology and theology. I have spent time in Western Africa doing women’s research. When I was growing up, my mother nursed me until I was 6 and we thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until I was in Ghana, where the children are nursed to a minimum of 3 years old, and I saw the difference between those children and the children in Sierra Leone, where there is an even bigger stigma attached to breastfeeding than in the U.S., and they had the highest infant mortality rate in the world.

“That is what made me realize why it was so important to my mother to breastfeed me and to be outspoken about it. They said the same thing to her that they have said to me since the Time magazine cover: ‘Oh, she is going to get picked on.’ But my mother did not listen to any naysayers who didn’t understand. I am so proud of her. I don’t know if I would have parented the same way if my mother was ashamed of nursing.”

 

Samuel and Brian at the orphanage in Ethiopia, where they immediately bonded.

What did you think of the “Are You Mom Enough?” tagline?  

“I think it does not coincide with what I was saying in my own interview,” says Jamie. “The reporter kept it word for word, and I did say this is not about mommy wars, we need to encourage each other. I really believe wholeheartedly that everyone is trying to do their best for their children. I think the hate that comes from some mothers is from defensiveness and that they believe what we are saying is that what they do is less or they are hurting their child, which is totally untrue. There are so many ways to parent.”

Do you think the Time article was fair?

“No, because I know Dr. Sears, and I don’t believe that it represented him well at all. It made me sad, because I spoke with Kate [Prickert, the story’s author], and I know she stayed with the Sears family, and I know she is a working mother. My heart goes out to her because I feel like there was some defensiveness in the way that she wrote that, as a mother who did not practice AP. So, I don’t feel like it was a balanced piece, but I don’t know if she meant to come across the way she did.”

What was the cover shoot like and why were you standing up?

“It’s funny, but we went to Milk Studios, which we thought was great. They were great at saying if we felt uncomfortable at any time we could stop. They put us on a stool to illustrate how toddler breastfeeding is different than infant breastfeeding. We were hugging each other, but he dropped his arms because he was tired and it was his naptime. We were moving around and trying different things, but they just happened to catch that shot, and it really wasn’t the direction that the shoot was going in.

“A minute or so after they took the shot they used for the cover, they moved my son onto my lap and he did fall asleep. They have that image in their LightBox [a photo viewing feature on the Time website]. That one I heard was almost the cover shot; I wish it had been, because it is absolutely beautiful. It’s the one I want to get framed for our house. It represents what I feel like really happens in our house.”

What was your reaction to the cover?

“I didn’t see the cover until they released it online. I had heard that they were going to use the cradling shot and then at the last minute switched it out for the one they used, probably because they knew exactly what they were doing when they selected it. They knew they would hit a nerve with that photo. The first time I saw it, I just thought, ugh.

Unfortunately, they did choose one of the worst pictures they could. What I really didn’t want to do was to hurt the attachment parents we were trying to advocate for.”

What are you going to remember most about this experience when you are 80?

“Well, I had great friends cocooning me from the negativity of my blog comments, so I didn’t have to read those. I know Sherri Shepherd talked about my son on Leno, and then she talked about having a breast reduction and not being able to nurse, and how guilty she felt. The first instinct you have when someone says something negative about your child is to get angry. But I feel like I have become more empathetic because I feel like we are in the same boat, with the guilt that society has placed on her for not being able to breastfeed at all, and they say I am doing it too long.

“So, I think this experience has made me more empathetic,” says Jamie. “When I am 80 I will remember all of the good things, including the thanks from parents who are adopting children from other countries and have been encouraged to nurse their adopted children.”

 

A Crack in the Cosmic Egg?

As you can see from the Pathways to Family Wellness cover, shot by Los Angeles photographer and former doula Lori Dorman, Jamie and her family are doing fine. In fact, the bonds they established with one another through their daily attachment parenting practices have kept them nourished and supported through the aftermath of what could be described, from a holistic worldview, a profound shift in cultural awareness or, a “crack in the cosmic egg.”

In his seminal work by that name, Joseph Chilton Pearce describes great shifts in human consciousness as instigated by individuals who act from love and selflessness to move humanity to a greater awareness, despite narrow, culturally defended beliefs. Spanning more than forty years, Pearce’s lifelong work advocates for human attachment and bonding, including full term breastfeeding, as the only chance for survival of our species and a planet that is currently suffering from the disconnected industrial worldview that governs the status quo defenders of mainstream media.

With this thought in mind, I asked Michael Mendizza, Pearce’s biographer: Does the Time cover count as a crack in the cosmic egg? Yes, he says, but offers this warning: “Only those with ears to hear will hear.… Culture doesn’t want to lose its perceived power. Sometimes it scars over the crack, ignores it and punishes the messengers, delaying the birth of a new reality.”

Holistic, conscious parenting advocates know that in May 2012, mainstream culture  looked into the mirror of its own consciousness in the form of a second-generation attachment-parented young mother and international children’s activist nursing her 3-year-old son on the cover of the world’s most influential magazine. What was reflected back in the ensuing media madness told us everything we need to know about improving the lives of children in America: It is time to ditch the guilt and forgive ourselves. It is not our fault as American parents that we do not have the social support we need to nurture our children in the ways we would like. But it can be our conscious choice to do better.

 

Pathways Issue 35 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #35.

View Article References

 

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Kindred Contributors Respond to the Time and Pathways Covers

Does Time Magazine Have, er… “Attachment Issues?” By Robin Grille

Mother, Interrupted By Tracy Wilson Peters and Laurel Wilson

Pleasure is Bad!  Get Over It! By Michael Mendizza

Are You Mom Enough? (Did They Get You?) By Chris Webb, MS

The Woman on the Cover is Both Madonna and Whore By Jessica Kramer

API Responds:

Why the TIME Magazine cover/article shows that Attachment Parenting is Going Mainstream and Not Extreme

Follow Jamie Grumet on I Am Not The Babysitter

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