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An interview with conscious parenting revolutionary Jamie Grumet
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.” [Emphasis added.]
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.
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 with Pathways’ readers 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.