I am often asked by my close friends and by people I have met through this process exactly how we ended up on the TIME cover. Like I said in the previous post, now that the dust has settled and I am left with the people who are reading this blog to be a part of a community, I feel comfortable opening up and explaining what happened from our perspective.
We initially were contacted through TIME via e-mail. (There is a rumor that TIME did a casting call. I have no idea if this is true or not, but we were not a part of it). I assume they found us through this blog because I wrote frequently about breastfeeding in the hope to do my small part in normalizing it in our culture. They asked us to call them back if we were interested in being a part of a story on attachment parenting. At this point we didn’t know Dr. Sears was involved, but we did know the story was on attachment parenting and they were looking for a photo to include in the article. They said (this was taken directly out of the e-mail): “We are planning to shoot one more picture for the story to try and illustrate the idea of attachment parenting.”
Intrigued, I called them and spoke to one of the photo editors. He explained that the story they were doing was on Dr. Bill Sears because it is the 20th anniversary of his book. Knowing about Dr. Sears and his spirit for encouraging families (rather than condemning) we were excited at the thought of aligning ourselves with him in celebration of his first book’s 20th anniversary. I spoke with an editor from TIME a bit longer, and he explained to me how immersed everyone has been in the topic of attachment parenting since they started researching for the article. I addressed my concerns about a balanced piece and breastfeeding being portrayed correctly, and he went on to answer each one of my questions and let us know that TIME was treating this assignment with respect.
I brought up the idea to Brian and we immediately discussed our concerns with the situation. Obviously, our first concern was for our children and our family. Prior to the cover, we were already very open on our blog about our parenting style and we had at that time received our fair share of bizarre and hateful comments from various groups (anything from white supremacists to anti-adoption communities) and realized the strange world we live in. We knew that there would probably be oddballs hunting us out, even if they used a lovely picture of us in the article and didn’t mention our names.
We listed out some reasons why we should participate:
- TIME Magazine had just been awarded “Magazine of the Year” because of their “achievement of editorial excellence both in print and digital platforms.” This magazine is not a tabloid and is considered by many to have journalistic integrity.
- TIME Magazine also had a specific audience that was not buying the magazine for sensationalism and entertainment purposes. However, we felt that many readers still would be ignorant to the normalcy of breastfeeding past infancy, and the article and photos may help normalize the issue for TIME’s readers.
- We wanted to align ourselves with Dr. Sears. We admire the Sears family so much (even more so after this all happened) and we wanted to help support a man that braved the cultural norm to help spread the message of a back to basics style of parenting with many American mothers.
We discussed reasons why we might be one of the more prepared families (during this time of intolerance for breastfeeding in our culture) to put ourselves out there to raise awareness:
- My mother was a public breastfeeding advocate, and as a second generation attachment parent (before it was called “attachment parenting” it was just my mom doing what she felt was right for me) I felt I had a better understanding of AP because I had experienced it through the eyes of a child and a parent. I am parenting this way not as an experiment with my child, or to make up for a poor childhood I had, but because I had an extremely positive upbringing and wanted to give my children what I had.
- Our family travels to developing areas of the world a few times during the year. In a few years when the boys are a bit older we will be spending a good portion of the year in Ethiopia while working with the Fayye Foundation projects, and spending another large portion of the year continuing to travel and teaching the children about being a part of a global community. We love the US and want our children to be proud to be Americans, but we are also teaching them that there is no one culture that completely has everything figured out about life. We need to learn the best we can about others. So, not only are my children going to be in cultures where breastfeeding and “attachment parenting” have been and continue to be the cultural norm, but they hopefully will be learning to be concerned about bigger issues than what other people think about something as silly as a magazine. We’ll be teaching our children that true concerns are people who don’t have access to clean water, food, or have no homes or families. Basically, our lives and perspective on life are a little different than many others who have voiced concerns about the future of my children.
- Children’s minds absorb and learn material at a rate almost unfathomable to an adult brain. Much of what they learn is from what we teach them and through observation. For us, showing our children to place their concern where concern needs to be is important, but so is teaching them not to empower negativity. Even if our children were living full-time with children in the States and going to a conventional school, I still don’t understand why anyone would shy away from a cause they believe in because they are afraid of bullies. If someone backed down in fear that is empowering the very person spreading the message of intolerance and hate. We do not buckle for people who may say something negative out of ignorance, jealousy, or because they are projecting their own insecurities onto us. There is just no reasoning behind making family and life choices based on how someone may react negatively to it. We are taught to fear bullying and negative comments, but in reality they hold no power to people who understands their insignificance to our life and who we are. This is what we want to teach our children.
Next, our concerns about posing:
- We knew we did not hold creative control. We assessed this as an educated risk, but a risk, no less. TIME had so many diligent people working on the story that we felt that this was one of the safer avenues to use to get our message out.
- We understood that with any publication, even a respected publication like TIME, the goal is still to make money. They are a for-profit business, they aren’t telling these stories out of the goodness of their hearts. They are doing it with the hopes that a large enough portion of the population is interested in the topic and will want to continue on with their subscription and read their magazine. This can lead to some wonderfully captivating stories, and some very poor and sensationalized stories- but we thought we would deal with the former rather than the latter.
- We weren’t there to help TIME make money, and they knew that. We were there to help raise awareness for something that is grossly misunderstood in the West. TIME and my family were mutually using each other for our own benefit, and we both knew that. The only problem is that the publication has the upper-hand with creative control. Not only that, but there are so many people involved that sometimes not everyone even at a magazine is happy with the outcome. There are many people who work on big articles like this and only a few who have the final say in how everything is portrayed.
Brian and I considered others before us who made a bold statement about a controversial issue in the hopes of raising awareness, saving lives, and building tolerance:
- Elizabeth Glaser gave public disclosure of her children’s HIV status to raise awareness about the truth behind the AIDS epidemic. She faced immense ridicule for speaking about such a controversial topic and giving her children’s HIV status to the world. She did this for the future. People still thought that AIDS was a disease of “sinners” and the research for pediatric AIDS was almost nonexistent. Because of her bravery and opening up about her family, she was able to help get the research and medication needed to help save her son, who is still living to this day. She also helped open people’s minds to the idea that individuals with HIV are not bad people, and that HIV/AIDS affects everyone, including innocent children. This, in turn, helped generate more funding and research for pediatric and adult HIV/AIDS treatments.
- Hydeia Broadbent- Remember that little girl on the Magic Johnson Nickelodeon Special? She was seven years old at the time of the special where she makes a tearful confession of the hardships of living with AIDS and how she is ostracized in her community because of complete ignorance. Her adoptive parents were also criticized for allowing her on national TV (many claimed she was being exploited and was not old enough to give consent). Well, thank goodness her adoptive parents didn’t listen to the critics. Their daughter’s cries on national television started a conversation that ultimately led to more tolerance and understanding about socializing with HIV positive people (which evolved as the research progressed). She also lit a fire in Magic Johnson,”That very moment was both sad and inspirational. It made me want to do more to bring awareness to the disease and educate people so that no one would have to feel the way she did that day.” - Magic Johnson Hydeia is now 26 years old and is an HIV/AIDS activist and Humanitarian. “…with all that we know about the virus, it is clear to me that contracting HIV/AIDS today is a choice and we can’t allow anyone the power to make that choice for us!” -Hydeia Broadbent
- Carolyn Twietmeyer (I love this woman!). I first learned about the Twietmeyers from an article I read in People Magazine. Carolyn’s family became outspoken advocates for adoption of children with HIV/AIDS. They were also ridiculed for disclosing their children’s HIV status to the public and to the media. Carolyn’s non-profit, Project Hopeful, started seeing a huge spike in inquires to learn more about adopting a child with HIV/AIDS after Carolyn shared her story. She spoke from her heart and explained how they work as a family, and how living with a family member with HIV is not risky. Side note: One night I was thinking of Carolyn after the TIME cover came out. I had never spoken with her before, but decided to send an email through Project Hopeful. Her team happened to be in Uganda so she happened to personally answer and send the email. She said she wanted to give me a high-five when the cover came out because she knew exactly what we were trying to do. She also said that when the TIME cover came out someone had emailed her to pray for me (we still don’t know who this mystery person is) and she said she had been praying since the cover came out. She is an amazing woman of faith, and knowing there was a community of people praying for me during that time (some I didn’t even know were) makes me realize why I had the strength and courage to make it through a crazy couple of weeks.
- Vito Russo, gay rights and AIDS activist. I remember reading The Celluloid Closet and it explained how the media was portraying gay people in movies throughout cinema history. Belittling and comedic characters were doing some real damage to the perception of homosexuality in society. We were thinking of how AP is portrayed in the movies, and at the time the Trailer for “What to Expect” was out (which was a funny movie and our very special friends are actually in it!). There was a scene where they were showing a woman they was portrayed as sloppy, dumb, and overweight who was promoting breastfeeding by saying she was breastfed until six “and look how great I turned out” to the horror of everyone in the room. That is one of many negative media portrayals of breastfeeding and breastfeeding past infancy. We were attempting to show a normal family who breastfed past infancy (which the cover did not portray, but it was a hope of ours).
…and the list goes on and on.
We decided it was something that was right for our family, and we wanted to help normalize toddler breastfeeding. This was our small part of doing that. TIME ultimately invited us out, but asked us if I was okay only posing with Aram because they didn’t think the nation was ready to see adoptive extended breastfeeding. Samuel had weaned at that point and we were happy they weren’t pressing anything we wouldn’t be comfortable doing. This action also made them look like they were taking the topic seriously so we trusted them more. Samuel stayed at home with the grandparents (we like to do one-on-one time with the kids sometimes and this was a great opportunity for the grandparents to focus on Samuel and for us to have special time with Aram) and we flew out to New York. TIME does not pay subjects for a shoot (and I think it is pretty safe to say from what I know about the others, all four of the families who were selected would have not been comfortable taking money for a cause to which they are trying to bring awareness). TIME did fly us to NY and back, but we had to pay for our hotel room.
I had spoken to Dionna after I heard she was also selected for the shoot. We were playfully discussing our concerns. It seemed we had brought the same concerns up to the editor about how AP would be portrayed. We both seemed reassured the piece would be balanced and they were treating the topic with the utmost respect (which I do believe was happening with a lot of the editors and researchers). I was even more excited knowing I would see Dionna there and we were doing this together.
We arrived in NY and went to the studio for the shoot, which was named Milk Studios (perfect for the topic). The place was beautiful and the atmosphere was calm and soothing. Dionna and family were still taking photos when we arrived. They had a healthy lunch set out for us, and we waited while Dionna’s family finished.
I arrived with little makeup on (assuming they would add more) and the makeup artist apologized and said they were going to take all my makeup off. Not only were they going for light makeup, they were going for Plain Jane. She put on concealer, an almost flesh colored blush, clear lipgloss, and powdered in my eyebrows in pretty dark. The makeup artist was so much fun. She worked for the Pussycat Dolls when they were still together and she could tell I was not feeling what she was doing to me, but we were joking about it because it wasn’t really her preference either. We spoke about our mutual interests in a more fun and flashy style, she even offered to redo my makeup before I left so I could have it the way I liked it the rest of the day.
Next they tried to figure out what clothes I brought that would work. I came in jeans, so they kept me in them and gave me a zip up purple hoodie they had from wardrobe. I asked what shoes I should wear as I pulled out my heels, and they looked a bit horrified. They asked if I had flats. I had some $5 sparkly target flats to walk around the city in and they told me to put those on. They were explaining they were going for an updated Madonna with Child, 2012 version. They wanted me to look All-American.
They pulled over the chair for Aram and I didn’t think anything of it. Aram has breastfed standing up before. Also, I loved the idea of portraying breastfeeding differently than how you would see it with an infant. Infant breastfeeding is completely different than toddler breastfeeding, and I thought that a standing picture showed that well.
We also had heard at this point that they were considering putting one of the AP photos on the cover, but played it down because nothing was confirmed or decided.
It was right at Aram’s nap time and he was totally comfortable in the environment. He jumped up and started nursing. They didn’t like the hoodie and decided to switch to a red American Apparel shirt. They put that on me and immediately stopped again and said “way too sexy.” That is when they pulled out the other tank that was used in the shot ( couple sizes too big for my small 5’3” frame, but it was all they had that worked). They also pulled up my hair to try to make me look a little more like how you would see a mom at the park. An average look, I assumed. The feeling I got was that they did not want it to be overtly sexual.
( Aram’s clothes they just kept him in. Those were the ones he was wearing when he arrived.)
Aram hopped up on the stool and nursed. They had me smile, but they didn’t want me to overly grin. The direction was to have me look confident, content, and happy with my choice. Aram had his arms wrapped around me while he was nursing, and I did for a lot of the photos, but some I was posing like I would in any other photo (hand on hip, to the side, on his back). A couple minutes in Aram started dropping his hands (he was getting tired and starting to doze.) I didn’t even notice. Sometime in that timeframe they took the cover shot, an out-take. When the photographer noticed that Aram had dropped his arms, he asked Aram if he was ready to stop (Aram said no) and then he asked if Aram could put his arms back around mommy, which he happily did. He did this a few times before we all realized he was getting tired. We moved to me sitting on a stool for the rest of the photos where Aram was so cozy he fell asleep at my breast.
One of the editors showed me some of the photos they liked later. I specifically remember seeing the photo from Lightbox (which almost made the cover! It’s too bad it didn’t). It reminded me of my mom in her pictures from when she was a ballet dancer. That is how I felt they tried to style me, stripped down, dark clothing, hair pulled back, and ballet flats- American ballerina.
The photographer caught a moment in time, and TIME used it. They did have every right to do so, but the image alone did not give an accurate portrayal of our experience in that room or what they explained they were searching for.
We spent the rest of the day seeing NYC with Dionna and her family. We joked about how we found out that TIME doesn’t airbrush (we didn’t know until after the shoot) and our thoughts about the shoot. We both didn’t think our photos would be used. We just decided we made the most of a really lovely experience.
We flew home and it was only a couple of days until the magazine would come out. They kept calling me and asking me for information, and I started to suspect one of our photos had been chosen. TIME didn’t want to say anything, because they can decide to switch it last minute, but the night before we got on the cover we had heard we would be on the cover. We also heard they switched from a cradling photo to a standing photo (which confused me because no one seemed to like the standing photos when we were doing the shoot). I figured they must have a good one. I did a quick phone interview with Kate Pickert while I was at a Mexican restaurant in Indio, Ca. Then we were just told to check in the morning (a Thursday) to see the image. We saw it for the first time with the rest of the world.
We woke up early in the morning and went to TIME’s website to see the photo. Brian immediately started laughing as I gasped. My initial thought was how funny and awkward Aram looked in it, then I moved over to my part of the photo and my face looked so harsh. “I look like a man!” I said. Brian laughed. I told Brian, “There is no way this is the best picture they had! I know I’m not very photogenic, but I saw better ones even when I was there. This isn’t even a good one of Aram. He looks half drugged and he’s falling asleep and slouched really funny…” Brian just replied, “Well, they obviously chose it for a reason.” Then we looked over at the tagline. “What the heck is that supposed to mean?” I said. Brian answered, “That isn’t going to go over well.” Then Brian said, “Whoa, this is the modern day mothering Hunger Games! Look at the picture! They made you Katniss, but instead of a bow and arrow they gave you a giant breastfeeding toddler! They are pitting you all against each other to fight about child rearing with that tagline. Way to miss the point TIME.” He had just finished the book so it was an even more funny comparison at the time. I still think that was pretty accurate when I consider all that came next. We knew there was a possibility that TIME could take an image we didn’t like, but we really weren’t expecting the polarizing tagline to go with it.
*We signed up for this and knew there was a risk involved. It was really important to us not to slam TIME in interveiws because we willingly signed up for this type of media uncertainty. With that being said, I feel I didn’t have my thoughts totally together because it all happened so fast, and we overly supported the cover. I should have been able to say I disagreed with the portrayal, while still respecting and appreciating the conversation and publication. – A live and learn moment.
At this point we had to leave to do the Today Show. I had agreed and was excited to do it because Dr. Sears would be there, and I could thank him. I had no idea we would be the focal point of the discussion until we arrived and that bizarre day had unfolded. We missed most of that day because we were flying, and I’m glad.
Brian and I realized when we landed how out of hand and crazy it had gotten. There was no way we could have prepared for or expected the magnitude of the coverage. People started contacting us immediately and wanting us to do certain “projects” for money. We had to decide right then that anything directly related to TIME that we would not have done on our own was not to be considered. This was not about making money or generating coverage for our family. It was about raising awareness and helping other parents feel confident with a parental choice that has been stigmatized by Western culture.
We have learned so many good lessons from this experience. I have almost completely stopped watching TV (except movies and a couple scripted TV shows). I can’t even watch the news, after knowing the truth and seeing how it was reported so inaccurately, I just don’t trust it anymore. I also feel more empathetic towards almost everyone. Each move someone makes that I might not understand, I now immediately realize that I am not living in their shoes and I don’t have a clue what their life is really like. I think that is a wonderful reminder for everyone. We need to stop judging others and what we don’t understand (even if we think we understand, because chances are, we really do not.)
It actually feels good to write about all of this. I didn’t want to post anything when my blog was getting a ridiculous amount of traffic because I knew almost all of it was from voyeurs coming by to see a freak show. I didn’t want to post my point of view regarding what happened because I really didn’t feel I owed any of them an explanation. By not posting for awhile and allowing them to check out previous blog posts, I knew it would be only matter of time before they moved on, I’m just not that controversial, and I was sure I would bore them away (which I did). Now I feel the remaining viewers are truly interested in the topics discussed here. Explaining what has happened to my friends and now to this community has been very therapeutic.
Someone asked me the other day if we would do it again. I don’t really have a hard yes or no answer. Our choice was well thought out and we knew there was a risk. Perhaps the conversation wouldn’t have become global if they chose a photo that represented toddler breastfeeding in a better way. Perhaps even the tagline will have a future benefit, because now the media driven “mommy wars” has been exposed for what it really is, media and culturally generated. It exposed the vulnerability and guilt that mothers feel is placed on them by society, and now that it has been exposed, perhaps the next step is healing. I don’t know… I would never have selected that photo or tagline and I still do not like it, but I also realized that in order for change to happen sometimes we do need to take risks. We did, it didn’t work out, but conversation ultimately started and in the end we have seen so much positive arise from speaking out. TIME gave breastfeeding past infancy a platform it would have never had without interest. While I disagree with the portrayal, I still am thankful that discussion started through TIME using an image of a breastfeeding mother on the cover.