Breast, bottle, whatever: How You Feed is a shame-free series on how babies eat.
Anyone who was raising a young child in 2012 will likely have at least a vague memory of Jamie Lynne Grumet: She was the young blond mom who graced the cover of Time magazine that year with her nearly-4-year-old son Aram as he stood on a small chair next to her, breastfeeding, both giving casual "oh, hi" looks to the camera, alongside the blaring red coverline, "Are you mom enough?"
And for those who missed that iconic moment, know that the most telling part came after, in the fallout, through a media circus, at the height of the "Mommy Wars," dictated mostly by pearl-clutching shock and horror, with plenty of sexualization and ridicule tossed in.
Grumet posed breastfeeding her son again shortly thereafter, for the cover of a nonprofit quarterly, and stuck to her guns about attachment parenting — a parenting approach, coined by Dr. William Sears, that entails bed sharing, baby wearing and extended breastfeeding, something she herself remembered doing as a child, up until the age of 5 or 6.
"It was a normal part of life," Grumet — now a 36-year-old mom to teen sons ages 14 and 15 — tells Yahoo Life today about her own vague memories of being breastfed into her school years, which was such a regular occurrence that only one incident stands out. "I remember one time I was nursing and there was an earthquake."
As for her breastfeeding of Aram — not to mention of her adopted son Samuel, scooped up from an orphanage in Ethiopia when he was 4 — the memories are powerfully vivid. It was blogging about the adoption process — in fact, started around the time of her "horrific pregnancy" at the age of 21, plagued by severe morning sickness and preeclampsia and difficult premature birth of Aram at 31 weeks — that got her noticed by someone at Time.
"They put him on oxygen but he had no suckling reflex, and it took two weeks to establish a breastfeeding relationship in the NICU," Grumet recalls of Aram. "My [now] ex-husband knew how important it was for me to breastfeed, so he pounced to get my colostrum going, and everybody was very supportive. I don't know if I would've been able to produce milk otherwise. But, luck of the draw, my mom had an oversupply, and I inherited that from her."
Meanwhile, in her blog, she started sharing thoughts on attachment parenting and breastfeeding. "I didn't realize it was public," she says. "I thought my family would just see it. But I started getting comments from other women, and I didn't realize, because I was brought up with such an open relationship to breastfeeding… that there were these 'mommy wars' or whatever they were. Women were needing encouragement."
Time found her for its attachment parenting story. Grumet agreed to be a part of it and she and Aram and her then-husband headed to New York for the photo shoot, leaving Samuel with his grandparents. "The photographer [Martin Schoeller] was a lovely person … it was ironically at a studio called Milk Studios," she recalls. "They forced [the shoot] to around his naptime, so he would nurse … and the picture wasn't one anyone really wanted. We were not really posing." There was also no promise of her being on the cover. "Even the day before the story, they were like, 'If nothing big happens [news-wise], you’ll be the cover.'"
It must have been a slow news day, because the rest is history.
"We didn't understand how big this story was going to be until some of the PR people called us after, saying Dr. Sears was going to be on the Today show, do you want to be on it? To this day he's like family… so I said I'd love to… and we all flew back in to New York. That’s when the media circus started, and the photos were released." Other television appearances quickly followed.
At one point, she recalls, the family was taking a media break by having lunch in the Time cafeteria, as her husband looked at all the articles and social media posts. That's when he found a mocking image created by Rush Limbaugh, in which Grumet had been replaced the Statue of Liberty. "Aram sees himself nursing on it," she recalls of the moment, "and declares to his brother, 'Oh my gosh, Samuel, I'm nursing the Eiffel Tower!'"
— SpeakingBold (@SpeakingBold) May 11, 2012
But the intense media scrutiny freaked her out, Grumet remembers. "I was really scared. I remember being scared with fear of the unknown. I didn't know how to respond. I didn’t like the photo, but I wasn’t mad about it, I wasn't wronged by Time or a victim, but I also didn't feel good. It was really confusing to process all of those feelings."
She didn't process them well, by her own account. "I didn't have a breakdown or anything, but [I felt] overwhelmed, and I could've been more present with my kids," she says, "but instead I threw myself into nonprofit work, working in sub-Saharan Africa and with war refugees in Europe."
Today, Aram has the Time cover, framed, hanging in his bedroom in Oakland, Calif. "He always has loved it and still does," Grumet says. "It makes me tear up thinking about how bold he has been about it when I wanted to cower for his benefit."
But while she did, at times, want to hide, she adds, "I've never, ever felt bad about nursing him."
Same goes for Samuel, who she noticed, shortly after his adoption, "was really curious about Aram breastfeeding." In speaking with their doctor, and "amazing adoption specialist," they were told to treat Samuel in any way they would treat a biological child. "I offered my breast, tandem, and he latched on properly," signaling that he'd been nursing recently, as children lose their ability to latch on after a while, she says. The doctor said he'd probably wean as soon as he learned how to speak English, which is what happened after just a few months.
Nursing him for that short time, Grumet recalls, "helped Aram see he was his equal, and it helped me attach, because I kept feeling like I was babysitting someone else’s child." She adds, "It really helped me and helped the whole family. It was something comforting and something from home I was able to give him."
She eventually wrote a book, in 2019, Modern Attachment Parenting, featuring a foreword by adherent Alanis Morissette and introduction by Sears. "[Wife and fellow expert] Martha Sears sat down and edited every bit of it," Grumet says. "It was such a full-circle moment, trying to bring Dr. Sears into modern times." She adds that she has noticed a shift towards normalizing breastfeeding, both extensively and in public, thanks both to visible celebrities and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which updated its breastfeeding recommendation from one year to two, putting it in step "with every other health organization in the entire world."
Still, Grumet stresses, she does not argue with the currently popular belief that "fed is best."
"If you don't want to breastfeed, that's fine, but more than 80% want to, and at some point that's thwarted — whether due to no paid leave, stress, low milk supply … I think it's a social issue that's valid, and we need to support all mothers," she says.
And Grumet is not about to step back from these issues anytime soon: Remarried just a year ago, she and her new husband are going for a third child.
"I'm trying to have another baby right now," she says. "I have secondary infertility, and we've been doing IUIs that keep failing." But they are determined — including when it comes to nursing this time around. "If I couldn’t breastfeed in the future,” she says, “I would try donor milk first, and then go from there."
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