Jamie Lynne Grumet’s three-year-old son stands on a chair to reach her mother’s breast for a sip of mommy milk. Some find nothing wrong with the photo, but a Today Show unofficial poll of 122,000 viewers revealed that 77% of respondents said “I don’t want to see that.” Perusing some of the comments online, I found that many people thought the boy was much too old to be breastfed, with some people considering it to be akin to molestation. FOX’s Dr. Keith Ablow is outraged by the image, considering it a form of psychological torture of the child:
In a way, while looking at the Time magazine cover, we are all Grumet’s son and may know something of his possible plight: finding her a compelling and dramatic presence, seduced by her combination of sex appeal and motherhood—unable, in fact, to detach from her.
Ablow’s interpretation of this photo is far more disturbing than the photo itself. He states that her extended breastfeeding will emotionally cripple the boy and cause him to have some sort of Oedipal complex that will follow him into future relationships with women. This hearkens back to the Freudian concept of unresolved sexual love for one’s parents that could lead to pedophilia and homosexuality. Ablow asserts that the mother treats her son as no more than an appendage to fulfill her need to be an object of desire. To infer that a boy of three thinks of his mother in a sexual manner is just gross. Dr. Ablow can suck it. His opinion is without merit, especially since he has neither met nor counseled this woman.
Personally, I think the photo is deliberately provocative and does not depict an accurate picture of the nature of breastfeeding. I don’t find it offensive, however. It is just unrealistic. The boy appears older than he really is, standing on a chair that makes him appear even larger. Both the model-thin, gorgeous mom and boy are looking into the camera lens, rather than at each other during the intimate act of breastfeeding. It invites the reader into a moment that is normally reserved for two, which makes the viewer feel like an intruder. “Are You Mom Enough?” TIME asks, and right on the cover suggests that this attachment-parenting mom is extreme. I would counter by saying that this is not so extreme as it is atypical of the American mother.
Though about 75% of American women breastfeed their children, only 44% of them breastfeed past six months. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until at least the age of two. My first child breastfed until about 15 months. I nursed my second child till he was about two years old and my third child was breastfed until after her third birthday. I weaned my first child earlier in part because I was pregnant with my second and it was just too uncomfortable. The other reason was the pressure I felt from some to wean her. I was often asked why I continued to breastfeed her after she turned a year old, which made me feel defensive about my decisions as a mother. I felt uncomfortable feeding her in public because of the disdainful looks and head-shakes.
By the time my third child was born, eight years later, I was immune to the stares and judgments. Although I am not one to bare my breast in public, I felt no qualms about feeding my child whenever and wherever she was hungry. By this time, I was older and more confident in my role as a mother. I defiantly HOPED that someone would dare to question my right to feed her in the public park or in a restaurant. A story had been in the local news about a woman who was kicked out of Denny’s for breastfeeding her baby at the table. Many people sided with the restaurant, saying that she should have taken her into the bathroom or out to her car. People likened it to urinating in public or exposing genitals for all to see. Parents of some young children were outraged that their kids got a glimpse of a baby feeding from its mother’s breast.
This puritan sensibility that a child feeding naturally is somehow obscene baffles me. In our sex-saturated culture, where even young girls are provocatively displayed on Toddlers and Tiaras, why is breastfeeding more taboo than a raunchy commercial during The Super Bowl? As long as an image is overtly sexual, no one seems to take offense, but to show a woman’s breast in the context of fulfilling its evolutionary purpose often results in outrage and consternation.
A few people questioned why I continued to breastfeed my youngest for so long. Even my husband thought it was time to wean her, though maybe he just wanted my boobs back to himself. Guess what. I didn’t give a SHIT. I felt comfortable with it; my baby and I enjoyed time together that no one else could share. I carried her in my Moby wrap until she got too heavy for me. I breastfed until I felt that she no longer needed the comfort. I know without question that she and I benefited from extended breastfeeding. It’s not for everyone, and each mother has to make her own decision.
Mothers have a tough enough time without other people judging her every move. At very least, we moms should support each other and not fall for the so-called “mommy wars” that the media and this TIME cover play into. “Are you MOM enough?” Yes, you are. Though I believe Grumet is outside the norm by continuing to breastfeed her almost four-year-old AND her adopted five-year-old, I don’t doubt her assertion that it is what is best for her and her family.