Editor’s note: Jamie Grumet is the California mom of two who appeared on the iconic cover of Time Magazine in 2012, breastfeeding her son. She is the founder of the Fayye Foundation, an organization that addresses the orphan crisis in Ethiopia through family preservation, and is currently working with the Waves for Water Ethiopia Project.
What my family has experienced this year will forever shape our lives and how we view humanity as a whole. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in 2012.
1. People will try to discredit you if they fear what you are saying.
Most people are familiar with the May 2012 Time Magazine cover where I’m breastfeeding my 3-year-old (youngest) son. We were on the cover because we were the subjects for the piece about Dr. Sears and attachment parenting.
The Time cover surprised my family as much as it did the rest of the country.
We didn’t expect such widespread, mainstream publicity. We knew there would be negative attention because the topic of breastfeeding past infancy is so misunderstood in the west. That’s actually why we wanted to pose: We wanted to lend our family to help visually tell the true story of attachment parenting.
Sure, it would have been nice if the cover had received positive press, but we knew that was not realistic. People didn’t like the standing pose, the stern look on my face, or how detached my son looked from me. I didn’t think it was the best shot either, but it doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with it. It served its purpose and started necessary conversations about breastfeeding.
What I didn’t agree with was that the cover made other mothers feel inadequate. I had hoped that Time would choose the photo and tagline that would represent our view of parenting and showcase the respect we have for all parents making the best health choices for their families (which vary for each one).
Positive or negative, the cover wasn’t supposed to be about us. The way the public perceived me and my family was not the truth, so it was easy to not take it personally. For us, the Time cover was about making breastfeeding more acceptable and supporting education and research in all areas of parenting, so that each parent can make informed choices to best manage their individual child’s needs.
2. Have mutual respect for one another
Time received a lot of heat for this cover, but I received it too. The cover story wasn’t about me, but I remember reading follow-up articles in other publications about me and thinking, “Who is this person they’re talking about?”
When someone says something negative about your child, your first instinct is to get really defensive. I didn’t do that; instead, I looked at other women who’ve been criticized for not breastfeeding at all, for example, and realized that they weren’t criticizing me — they were simply defending their choices.
It seems the normal age range for breastfeeding in the U.S. is six months to a year. If you do it for less than that, not at all, or go over, you’re considered not adequate. We need to remember that we have choices (and valid reasons for those choices) — it’s a basic human right and it’s not hurting anyone.
In the U.S., we lack a sense of community because we’re taught to be self-reliant. I believe we need to encourage each other and understand and embrace our difference. The more we learn from one another, the less judgment we have towards each other.
3. Use every opportunity you are given to uplift one another, even if it seems hopeless
Because of the media attention from the Time Magazine cover, we met the editors of Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine and were able to pose on their cover, for which we were given creative control.
We wanted to correct the misconception the Time cover created about attachment parenting and to address the community of mothers who may have felt uneasy about it. After it came out, these mothers suddenly had to explain and defend their parenting choices and we wanted to stand up for them.
We met the photographer of Pathways Magazine, Lori Dorman, on the day of the photo shoot. We told her about our upcoming trip to Ethiopia with the Fayye Foundation, and within two hours, she had decided to join us. Lori’s photos from our trip ended up telling the story of the Awassa Children’s Project and the beauty of the people and the rural areas of Ethiopia.
When we came home, I was invited to do a few more interviews about breastfeeding. I wanted to make sure there was some positive coverage on the topic, so I agreed to do Ricki Lake and Dr. Drew. For the first time, the conversation turned toward understanding and education by the hosts of the shows, which led to an entirely different mood for the community of mothers who know that what they are doing for their children is right for them.
Through these interviews, a producer connected us with another guest on the show, Jon Rose from Waves for Water. Thanks to that connection, I met Jon’s father, Jack, one of my personal heroes. Together, we were able to start a clean water project in Ethiopia.
Early fundraising was so successful that by December 2012, we were able to give clean water access to 8,000 people for the first time in their lives. In March of 2013, we hope to double that number and introduce a fistula prevention project, which will provide training and water filters to women who have received treatment in the fistula hospitals across Ethiopia. Instead of being tasked with carrying heavy containers of water into their community, which causes internal injuries that result in difficult or fatal childbirth, fecal drainage, and often ostracism by their community, these women will be able to get home with dignity and have the opportunity to give their community access to clean water, preventing many women of future generations from developing fistulas in the first place.
This year, my family has been given the gift of a perspective on the world that many will never experience. We would like to thank Time for putting a breastfeeding mother on the cover of their magazine, which led to a chain of events that is ultimately benefiting mothers and families all over the world through open conversation, education, and humanitarian efforts.