What a weird couple of weeks!
We got home from an amazing trip to Ethiopia and I was welcomed back with some serious health issues.
The Pathways fall issue happened to be released with us on the cover right when I returned. We took the photo a couple of weeks after the TIME cover was released as a response to that cover, with an article that shared our story of what had happened. However, the quarterly non-profit publication couldn’t get it out any sooner than September, which has definitely been both positive and negative in timing.
I think I am most surprised by the mainstream media’s interest in a small non-profit holistic magazine cover featuring an attachment parenting family, with a complimenting attachment parenting story (and multiple related articles) inside, geared toward “attachment parenting” families. What is controversial about this, again?
This second go around with a cover was supported by Attachment Parenting International. The people at Pathways genuinely cared about our family as well as spreading a correct message about breastfeeding past infancy. We all had the goal of speaking specifically to the readers of Pathways and the breastfeeding community who may have felt slighted by the TIME cover. We wanted to explain what had happened. Not because we felt we owed an apology to anyone, but because we felt this community that we love deserved to know what happened. Overnight, whether they liked it or not, AP and breastfeeding families became educators and defenders of their parenting style. They needed to know the background story and be thanked for helping to shift the conversation to truth, and away from sensationalism.
More Sensationalism in the Media
Apparently, mainstream media wasn’t done with this topic yet. GMA called and asked if they could come over and get a few statements about what I thought of the Pathways cover. As surprised as we all were about the mainstream media taking notice, Pathways deserves credit. They gave us creative control over the photos and would NOT have printed them if we were not comfortable, which I found out first hand when I was hesitant of the cover photo selected. They immediately put a halt on it until we spoke about their thoughts and I ended up agreeing with them and seeing the beauty in the message they saw in that photo. They legitimately wanted to cover and show the normalcy of toddler breastfeeding. To have the chance to bring awareness to a publication like this on GMA was huge. That aside, we said we would not do it if they did not allow us to speak about the recent trip to Ethiopia with the Awassa Children’s Project. They agreed again and we gave them footage from our trip.
When it finally aired, it was disappointing. I’m sure it could have been much worse, but GMA seemed stuck on the TIME cover and controversy, rather than moving the conversation forward toward greater enlightenment and tolerance for all healthy, educated, parenting choices. The worst part was that their promised coverage of Awassa Children’s Project ended up turning into “Projects dear to her heart in Africa.” First off, they made it only about me, and the vagueness was not very helpful to anyone. Africa? Really? Wow, that narrows it down…to a continent. I know the media doesn’t care, but they were in my home, they knew I was sitting there recovering from malaria, they knew these kids over there were dying from completely preventable diseases and conditions. They knew ACP is preventing this from happening and desperately needs funding to reach more children and families, and they cut it out like it was nothing. Maybe the people that came to my home didn’t have a say, but there was someone who did, and ruined a great opportunity to bring awareness to something that really matters.
ABC also ran with the story and apparently didn’t think it was sensational enough on its own, so they tried to make controversy by claiming the snapshot inside the Pathways article was Samuel being breastfed at five years old. If he really was still breastfeeding, there would be nothing wrong with that, but the truth is that he weaned over a year ago. In the photo he was three years old, the same age he was adopted, moved to another country, and forced to wean from his birth mother. Giving him that sense of comfort his birth/first mother was able to give him, after being stripped from everything he ever had known…I’d do it over again in a heartbeat. This was something from home that we were able to give him. It helped our attachment to each other, which is a slow process, sometimes, in a toddler adoption. However, the article didn’t say anything about that. They just wanted to concentrate on something they felt was controversial. The good news is, after our lawyer sent over a letter, they amended the article to the proper ages.
GMA and ABC both didn’t waste the opportunity to plug something they found important- another Disney owned website, Babble (a website questioned for unethical promotion of formula to breastfeeding moms). They showed an article claiming we were “milking the moment” on GMA and they linked to it on ABC. Hmm…Really? We’re milking the moment? If we were going to do that, wouldn’t we go the lucrative route and sign on to one of the multiple reality shows we were offered? Or the bizarre offers to endorse nursing apparel and products? Or other odd (some borderline creepy) offers to make us rich and famous? We didn’t because we believe true advocacy/activism does not bring monetary gain to the individuals participating. That is why we are scratching our head at the accusation that a non-profit natural parenting magazine is where all the attention and money is at. You’re right. We’re milking it (not the media), nice observation.
Last night, I saw an article that was pretty good, except it was completely ruined because they wrote I “claimed” TIME “manipulated” me. Really? When did I say this? I saw the cover with the rest of the world and I didn’t have a lot of time to gather my thoughts. However, the last thing I wanted to do was try to throw TIME under the bus and play the victim, because our family knew there was a risk involved in posing for a magazine without creative control. It was a thoughtful decision. I feel, in those first few days, I defended the cover more than I should have for this reason. However, as time as passed and I’ve collected my thoughts, I know I should have just pointed out that while TIME had every right to use any shot from the photo shoot, the shot was not one we specifically posed for, and wouldn’t have selected it ourselves.
The more I look at the photo, the more desensitized I am by it. I think it is the headline with the detached look of the cover that is upsetting. The photo itself is just awkward, and in some ways, but only to me, looks exactly like what it is: my child is getting tired and dropped his arms, and they caught my face with less of a smile and a more serious look. It’s not something I’d want people to see, knowing this is their first view of toddler breastfeeding, but it’s not offensive, by any means. The headline, when read in the way of being combative and judgmental, is offensive, and not something a lot of the people working on this specific project/article at TIME wanted. A lot of people are involved in a huge article like this, and it is wrong to suggest they were all trying to get a sensational story. So many good people with integrity work for TIME and the last thing I wanted to do was bash them. I am perfectly fine saying that I did not agree with the article or the cover. It isn’t anything against TIME or the people working there, and I don’t feel wronged by the people I met during the time I spent at TIME. It just is what it is.
I’ll even go further to defend TIME because at least they were transparent with what they were trying to do. All the other “outraged” media outlets weren’t trying to report news, they wanted a piece of the pie. They saw everyone dancing around their piles of money and wanted in. They weren’t doing an ounce of research on “attachment parenting”, “extended breastfeeding”, or even who I was, and were reporting lies as fact. Every blogger jumped on it because they knew it would drive traffic to their blogs. If people were so upset and really didn’t want to engage in the sensationalism, they should have not responded, not reported it, let it die. That is how you make something you don’t like in this country go away, not by giving it more attention and feeding into the hype.
Media Outlets that Got it Right
Best for Babes put the media in their place in this article. I love their positive outlook on how the TIME cover, now that time has passed, has generated a global discussion on this topic. They even see the positive in the shot they chose.
The tide is turning. Anyone is going to try to discredit you if they don’t like what you are saying. By doing this they are attacking the superficial rather than really going into the issue at hand and examining it with eyes wide open. This time around, we were stunned mainstream media picked this up, but we see it as a huge opportunity. Pathways to Family Wellness is a wonderful magazine with people who really care about us, as well as all families, and their best interests. The breastfeeding community has since come out even stronger and united about educating people on breastfeeding past infancy, and we are really starting to see the shift in opinion.
After GMA, I was ready to give up on spreading a message with mainstream outlets because it seemed no matter how many safeguards you put up, they will somehow figure out a way to disappoint and not spread the message that needs to get out there. The biggest goal for us was spreading the importance of funding for ACP. We’d just gotten back from Ethiopia. We were around children in an area with full blown AIDS and viral loads so high that they have no hope of survival without proper ARV treatments. We saw mothers who have nothing to feed or diaper their children, causing contamination of bedding and multiple health issues. We were in areas with the highest rate of malaria in Ethiopia and know it will wipe out a large percentage of the population there. But the worst part was learning about “reintegration”. Organizations such as UNICEF, pick up children (in this case I’m referring to small toddlers) who have absolutely no families, and tries to bring them places like ACP for housing. ACP will say they can squeeze in a maximum of 10, and 50 children who show up at their door. Making due with what they have, knowing it will be cramped and using every last ounce of resources, they will take in 30. That leaves 20 to be dropped off or “reintegrated” into hopeless areas without aid…a death sentence. The children generally starve, or die from illnesses related to being outside in the elements without a family, and sometimes animals find them. This should not be happening ANYWHERE. That has been on my mind since I’ve been home.
This past trip to Ethiopia has helped put everything into perspective. I am happy for the people who have the luxury of spending their time on the internet looking at articles they don’t really care about under usernames like “miss snark”, writing comments about people they don’t know, about topics they don’t understand, for no other reason than to be negative, but there are people in this world spending every waking minute searching for basic necessities so they, or maybe just their children, can survive. For that reason alone, those negative comments are not going to stop me from talking about what is happening in the parts of the world we are spending time in, or even happening in our very own backyard, especially breastfeeding. It is an issue that is clearly such an uncomfortable topic in our culture that it has sparked racist, sexist, ageist, and other horrible comments from people who are completely ignorant regarding the subject. These negative comments have forced some families into hiding their parenting style or weaning before they felt their child was ready. This is more than a public health issue, this is a human rights issue. I’m not going to bend on any of this. If someone wants to say I’m doing this for attention (because this kind of negative attention is so much fun), then go ahead. The truth is, bringing awareness to this issue needs to be done and we are in the odd position of being able to speak about these issues very publicly. I will unashamedly use any undeserved attention I get to shine the spotlight on something that does deserve attention. You caught me there. I hope anyone else in my place would do the same. The hard part, I’ve discovered, is actually allowing these truly deserving topics to make the cut in mainstream media. I was about to give up until Dr. Drew came along.
Finally, a plug for ACP.
Hesitant, but speaking at length with a wonderful producer for Dr. Drew, and knowing Jeanne Ohm from Pathways, as well as my friend Nirvana were scheduled on, I decided to give it a go. My hope this time was to get a breastfeeding photo from our trip to the Sidama region on air with “awassa.org” as the credit. It was a small goal, with little hope. I had no idea Jeanne had spoken to the producer as well about the Children’s Project, and the producer really did seem level-headed in her approach to the topic. Nirvana and I were able to pray together over the phone before it went live. Not only did that turn out to be the best mainstream conversation about toddler breastfeeding on national TV thus far, but ACP was plugged three different times, and put up on the screen! That was huge. I wasn’t expecting it during the interview and was about to start crying when I heard Dr. Drew plug it himself with the words on the screen. My phone immediately started lighting up from people involved with the Center and other breastfeeding advocates knowing how hard we have been trying to get the word out there. It was a huge victory, and one I don’t think I could have done alone. Truly our prayers were answered, and it was thanks to actually finding a credible outlet on TV and in a print publication where everything came together. Pathways, Jeanne especially, was so dedicated to helping our cause that she went out of her way to divert the attention from the Pathways cover on the show, and really push for something that genuinely will help so many people. That is what the magazine is about and I think speaks volumes of their altruism.
Speaking up for breastfeeding mothers is important and deserves attention if there is an outlet like Dr. Drew to really examine it without the sensationalism attached (he even said something on air about how the producers wouldn’t stop putting the TIME cover up; I think that was the last time we saw it during the show!) However, my heart is for working to get more centers built, more children allowed to grow and thrive in their culture, and leaving the centers and leaders to uplift the community. It takes the immediate need away and still provides for the future – working with children and women for a future of self-sufficiency in every area a center is placed…That is worth fighting for.