TIME’s Toddler Nursing Mom
May 15th, 2012, posted by Aimee
Ah, yes, the TIME Magazine toddler-nursing mom cover … inquiring minds want to know: What does this Womo think of that ridiculous image that has conservatives up in arm and just about everyone across the country freaking out in some way or another?
Yep, I hadn’t been in the country more than an hour or two before I got the first email from a family member and then two more friends with a link to the cover, asking for my opinion. Fresh off a Mexican, margarita-fueled holiday, the last thing on my mind frankly was the raging controversy over “extended nursing” and “attachment parenting,” and honestly the first thought to spring to mind was just how ridiculously thin and pretty the model mom looked. No way she was for real (she is, actually … grrh.) But upon second glance to the boy of about my son’s age perched on the chair at her breast and a look at the provocative headline, “Are you mom enough?” I did start to form a few opinions about the whole controversy.
My first thought, honestly, was a media person’s begrudging acknowledgment that the cover image was a fairly brilliant move for Time, which like most print mags in the era of social/digital everything, is struggling along to stay relevant and attract readers these days. Bam! This cover absolutely grabbed eyeballs and stirred the pot … something all of us journalists strive for. But beyond that, there was a bit of anger in the after-effect such an exploitative image could have in terms of encouraging a supportive and nurturing attitude toward breastfeeding in general. Too many uptight prudes out there cannot even handle the sight of a woman nursing her baby as nature intended without freaking out, and here comes an image that blatantly seemed to sexualize – or at least trivialize – that concept. That right wing wackos like Rush Limbaugh and others might use this cover to push their crap pissed me off.
Another issue bugging me about the cover photo is that it effectively over-shadowed the headline and the topic of the story it meant to highlight – that of feelings of inadequacy felt by many moms unable to (or uninterested in) following the Dr. Sears method of parenting.
“Are you mom enough?” That is precisely the unspoken and judgmental taunt I felt when trying to keep up with the San Francisco Sears-worshipping moms I hung with in those first few months after Tav was born. I will never forget arriving at my first-ever mommy group meeting with Tav in a stroller and eyeing all the other moms bouncing on yoga balls with their infants in slings, Ergos and some other oddly complex carrying contraptions. “We all rock the slings here, Sweetie,” one of the “crunchy moms” told me. Turns out “wearing your baby” (and co-sleeping and nursing on demand all night, every night, into toddlerhood, and never, ever mentioning the dirty words, “sleep training”) was the only path to acceptance into this sorority. So I tried it out. Helped by the group, I eased my little dude into the sling a friend had loaned me and strode up the hill on an adventure in the City. Fifteen minutes later, I noticed his head face down … ahhh!! I freaked out, rotated Tav around (no brain damage!) and dealt with a crying baby for the next 90 minutes. He never let me carry him again in any contraption, ever. Not the Ergo, not the mobi and not even the damn Baby Bjorn. So much for carrying my baby.
Nursing was easier for me, and for that I am grateful, given the pressure everyone puts on you about this these days. God forbid, you have trouble producing milk like a friend of mine, or you have to supplement with formula a tiny bit once you go back to work and pumping fails to keep the motor running at full capacity. But here again, the feelings of inadequacy around my Sears fanatic friends surfaced. At three months, when I needed to go back to work, there was no way I was going to be able to wake up four times a night every time my little dude wanted a snack. Not only was nursing on demand and co-sleeping going to have to get the ax, but also breast feeding exclusively because formula simply helped fill Tav up better before hitting the hay at night. At this point, we even resorted to (gasp) sleep training – in a modified and much more gentle form than tradition cry-it-out-methods – to get on a track more conducive to working motherhood.
All of this – nursing for 8 months instead of 2 years, supplementing with formula at night, using a stroller, putting Tav in a crib instead of our bed – is pretty much forbidden in the world of Sears’ Baby Book. And most of it made me feel a little bit guilty around some of these other moms. But not all of it. Truth be told, my instincts told me that I was doing the absolute best that I could, and that this whole idea of attachment parenting was simply not feasible for a working mother – at least not this working mother.
So, in a nutshell, that TIME cover touched a nerve in me, too – the anger at being made to feel like you are not a good mom if you can’t or won’t sacrifice your entire life for your child in the Sears style of parenting. That’s my take on the cover … what’s yours?