kveller q&a

Meet the Jewish Mom Who Wrote the Book on Breastfeeding

Jennifer Grayson

via Jennifer Grayson

Jennifer Grayson knows a lot about breastfeeding. Being a mom of two who has breastfed both of her daughters at the same time (an infant and a toddler!), she’s been there and done that–and even wrote a book about it called “Unlatched,” which hit shelves this past July.

Besides writing an entire book (NBD) and doing that whole parenting thing, she is also a journalist. I was lucky to be able to speak with Grayson about how she balances it all–motherhood, work, and her relationship with her spouse–while also not going completely crazy. This is what she had to say:

Breastfeeding is a strangely controversial subject, especially on social media. Was there a defining moment from your personal life that inspired you to write “Unlatched?”

As a nursing mom, I personally dealt with those breastfeeding controversies we all observe in the media—especially the question of how long it is “appropriate” to nurse. I wound up breastfeeding far longer than I had ever intended, and I started wondering about the norm in different cultures around the world and throughout history.

But the real lightning-bolt epiphany that set me on my journey to write “Unlatched happened when I was in the hospital after giving birth to my second daughter, Mika. I was still nursing my older daughter, Izzy, who was 28 months old at the time, and my friends and family thought I was crazy. As a result, I was seriously second-guessing the tandem nursing situation I had gotten myself into.

But when I got worked up explaining the situation to the lactation consultant who came to check on me (who, I might add, was also a very wise Orthodox mother), she just looked at me gently and said, “You know, it used to be common to breastfeed not just until age 2, but until age 4. It was only a few generations ago that nearly every person on earth could remember being breastfed.”

Forget, even for a second, about the potential impact to our health of not nurturing our young as our ancestors had. I thought, what did it mean to our human existence that we had come to question one of our most pivotal biological processes—the most fundamental connection between a mother and her child? I couldn’t (and still can’t) get her words out of my head.

How do you balance being a mom and a journalist—among all of the other roles in your life?

Honestly, I’m still figuring it out. My workload was manageable when I had only one baby and I was freelancing from home, writing a weekly column and a few articles a month. That I would be a work-from-home mom was a decision my husband and I made when I was first pregnant, even though we had to live in a one-bedroom apartment and accrue some serious debt to afford that decision.

Not long after I had my second child, I got the book deal to write “Unlatched.” But with the years of limited child care (a few hours of preschool each day) and my husband’s insanely long work hours, let’s just say a lot of laundry didn’t get done and I’m still recovering from the sleep deprivation…

Yet, I’m one of the lucky ones: Since the US is one of just a few countries in the world without paid maternity leave, most American moms perform the same ridiculous balancing act while working away from their babies. Is it any wonder that while 80 percent of new moms now start out breastfeeding, half will give it up entirely or start supplementing with formula after just a few weeks?

We’ve been promoting “breast is best” in the complete absence of support for successful breastfeeding, and it’s time for our government to get with the program.

jennifer grayson

via Jennifer Grayson

Favorite Yiddish word:

Kveller readers, help me out: The word is tchuche, which I adopted from my husband’s family and which we’ve always used, with the meaning “snuggle after waking up in the morning.” It’s my favorite time with my girls.

But I can’t seem to find it anywhere online and now I’m not even sure it’s a real word?

Favorite comfort food:

It must be my Russian peasant heritage: a slow-cooked soup and some crusty sourdough bread with butter are pretty much all I need. And does beer count as food?

If you could be anyone or anything, just for one day, who or what would you be?

An indigenous American, thousands of years before the European settlers arrived. Even when I was a little girl, I would dream about this, and about being magically transported to other earlier times in our human history. The anthropological and historical research I did for “Unlatched” (including an exploration of breastfeeding in Talmudic and biblical times) was by far my favorite part of writing the book.

What was your favorite children’s book or young adult novel growing up?

Keeping with the theme of anachronism and my love of history… Hands down, “The Little House on the Prairie books. I can’t wait to re-read them with my daughters.

What TV show have you binge-watched?

Lost.” My favorite show ever. And my guilty pleasure now is “Once Upon a Time.” I’m starting to see a pattern here…

Who are you, in one sentence?

My mom always described me as a sponge—soaking up endless amounts of life and knowledge!

Biggest pet peeve:

Helicopter parents. It’s interesting that our society views traditional practices like “extended” breastfeeding as extreme and overindulgent, yet we’ve now got parents monitoring their college-aged children via smartphone to make sure they’re going to class.

If you were a Jewish holiday, which one would you be?

Tu Bishvat, of course. Although as a little girl, I did throw up in Hebrew school after indulging in way too many fruits on that holiday. How could a Jewish environmental journalist not love Jewish Earth Day?


Read More:

No One Prepared Me for My Son’s Bris

9 Surprising Women Who Are (Or Were Raised) Orthodox Jewish

I’m in the ‘Divorce Buffer’ Phase And It’s Actually Not That Bad


The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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