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Four years ago, I was on the cover of Time magazine. My life hasn't been the same since.
I had been photographed for a story not about me, but about Dr. Sears and attachment parenting. So I was as surprised as anyone to see an image of me, standing there with my hand on my hip, my then 3-year-old son on a stool and nursing at my breast.
The headline asked, "Are You Mom Enough?"
Yeah, remember that woman? She was me.
This image—was it my age (I was 26), my hair (I'm a blonde), the age of my son (well beyond the point when most American women stop nursing their kids), my skinny jeans (which one prominent feminist journalist, Slate's Hanna Rosin, kind of fixated on)—sparked a kind of outrage and judgment I still haven't managed to wrap my mind around.
At the time, I was 26, the mother of two sons. A team from Time found me through my blog (I'm Not the Babysitter), where I wrote, among other things, about breastfeeding. I wasn't even the subject of the story my image was promoting. Pickert's story, "The Man Who Remade Motherhood," was about Dr. Sears, an advocate for attachment parenting, which is how my parents raised me and how I wanted to raise my own kids. I was just a mom who could comment on what life as an attachment parent was like.
I had never hid my parenting style. I wrote about how I mothered my sons openly on my blog. Still, I never, ever expected the reaction, the anger, the sarcasm and distortion from perfect strangers, including professional journalists, after that issue of Time came out.
I grew up with friends in the entertainment industry, so I wasn't immune to how news outlets skew stories or even completely fabricate quotes or scenarios to fit into their stories' agenda. But, once I experienced my own controversial, negative story, it was worse than I could have even fathomed.
Photograph by: Lori Dorman
The most poignant moment for me was when I read Rosin's piece in on Slate's XX blog. If you don't know Rosin, she is a feminist author who turned her Atlantic magazine article, "The End of Men," into a book. I was a fan of hers and thought she brilliantly explained how women have used stereotypical traits to soar in the workplace. She also wrote a piece for the Atlantic called "The Case Against Breastfeeding," where she argued that plenty of studies show the benefits of breastfeeding are overstated. In that piece, she confessed she nursed all three of her kids, so I wonder whether there was some conflict she felt was the reason to come after me with such anger and unreason. Whatever it was, Rosin was responsible for one of the worst pieces about the Time cover that I have ever read. Aside from sexualizing breasts and perpetuating multiple stereotypes about breastfeeding in general, she decided to (in her words) to "cherry pick" lines from a subsequent Q&A that Time did with me to suit her needs for the article. (Hey, at least she was honest about that.
What she wrote made my life, my parenting and my family sound like a freakshow. For example, 28 or 29 weeks into my pregnancy, I developed signs of preeclampsia. In just a couple weeks, it turned into full-blown HELLP Syndrome, which required an emergency C-section. My baby was swept away to the NICU. I didn't get to see him for three days, because I was in a magnesium sulfate-induced sedation and had almost been overdosed on the supposed protective drug. Those moments that I would periodically "come to," I could see I was surrounded by a medical team, doing whatever they could to:
Bring down my blood pressure, which was not responding to medication and was high enough for me to seize or stroke;
Reverse brain swelling, which was making my legs and arms spontaneously jerk;
Minimize spontaneous bleeding, which was happening in my eyes and nose and from every fissure, because my platelets were so low that my blood couldn't clot well.
I had planned to breastfeed my baby, but in the middle of a coma, I didn't give a rat's ass about breastfeeding. My husband hadn't been aware of the benefits of breastmilk, particularly for preemies, and, since I had to focus all my energy on staying alive, it was up to him to focus on the baby.
My real advocacy is supporting parents who want to raise healthy families.
About 12 hours after my son was born, the doctor's debated whether to give soy or cow's milk formula to my baby. Many preemies have lactose intolerance and also sometimes soy allergies. A NICU nurse took my husband aside and said, "If you can get your son breastmilk, it would alleviate all of these potential issues and be extremely beneficial to him overall."
That was all she needed to say. He wheeled the industrial-grade pump over to my wing of the hospital and, in my groggy state, made sure I was awake to ask me if it was OK to pump for me. He took it from there and told me to just rest and get better; he was going to do it all.
My milk came in, and because of this nurse, I was able to successfully get my baby breastmilk in the hospital and, eventually, breastfeed him at home.
Compare that to how Hanna Rosin interpreted the story of breastfeeding my son. She references "urban attachment freaks," found the name of my blog "obnoxious" and she pulled out a quote from the Q&A that, without any context, makes it seem like our efforts to get breastmilk to our son were ridiculous and kind of creepy.
Getting started in that first 24 hours not only helped our son in the NICU, but it's the reason breastfeeding wound up being such a positive part of my son's first four years of life. So, when someone like Hanna Rosin, who publicly claims to be in support and empowerment of women, decides to pervert a story about the health and well-being of a person in one of the most vulnerable scenarios unique to a woman—seemingly without any sort of moral dilemma in doing so—it made me realize that my larger message would probably be corrupted by the media, because it seemed as if no one was safe.
That's when I decided to take control of the message.
The truth is, my passion and advocacy had very little to do with breastfeeding—or even the media messaging around attachment parenting.
My real advocacy is supporting parents who want to raise healthy families. In the three years that have passed since such a big life event happened to me and my family, I grew my non-profit, Raise It Up, and collaborated with a number of NGOs, thanks to the Time cover. Most recently, I'm working with the VCA International's refugee breastfeeding project, Nurture Tomorrow. Through my non-profit and the work and the travel involved, I've watch firsthand the Syrian refugee crisis unfold in Europe. Naturally, I've lent my voice, support and advocacy in helping those families, too.
Photograph by: Jamie Grumet
I just returned from Lesvos, Greece, for the first phase of refugee project. We are now in the early stages of planning Phase 2, which will include a North American war refugee immersion/integration education project and a European children's education and nutrition bundle for the journey to their new permanent residence.
I love what I'm doing. I'm happy how life is evolving and the work I get to do to help in some small way. Being on the cover of Time was a strange, sometimes heartbreaking, experience. But I made the most of it.
Four years later, I'll answer the question that incensed so many. "Are you mom enough?" I am. I am mom enough. And I bet you are, too.