February 19, 2005

Don't believe everything you read in the New York Times

Sometimes I just want to slap Judith Warner.

I don't disagree with everything she says, but I am bothered by her implication that such things as breastfeeding, family beds, and attachment parenting lead to the drying up of marital romance. She says: "Real intimacy has gone the way of bottle-feeding and playpens." By real intimacy, of course, she must mean sex since I don't see how breastfeeding a baby would prevent a woman from talking to her husband. I don't see how a sleeping child in the bed is going to prevent emotional intimacy. Her implication is that women who welcome a baby into their bed, which for most mothers is really the only sensible way to breastfeed unless they want to get out of bed several times a night (a plan which seems bizarre to me) are automatically limiting their sex lives. Where's the logic here?

Taking care of a baby can be exhausting. Everyone knows that. And getting sleep is the most important things a new mother can do. For herself and her marriage and her career and her sex life. If the baby sleeps with her, she can breastfeed with almost no interruption to her own sleep. Okay, I won't speak for anyone else, but I can breastfeed a baby practically in my sleep. If the baby is in bed with me, that is. If I had to get out of bed, go find the baby in a crib somewhere, sit in a chair to nurse the baby, or worse, heat up some damned bottle in a microwave, and then get the baby back to sleep in the crib - let's just say, that if that had been my method any of my children, I would have been a walking zombie. The interruption to my sleeping cycles would have put me over the edge.

The implication seems to be that a baby in the bed will prevent the parents from having sex. How stupid is that? Sure, maybe the parents won't want to have sex in the bed in which the baby is sleeping .... but uh ... can't they go somewhere else in the house? Sex on the stairs, sex in the shower, sex on the couch, sex on the kitchen table. The possibilities are endless.

Breastfeeding is the best option for a baby. Scientists rarely agree on anything, and yet the scientific data agrees on this issue: breastfeeding is better for both the mother and the child. And yet, somehow, Judith Warner has found a way to make mothers feel guilty about breastfeeding. Because somehow breastfeeding .... leads to less sex in the marriage? Because men are so infantile that they are going to be jealous of their children?

Her reasoning is so ... 1950s. And I think she's wrong. Women who breastfeed have more TIME to have sex because they don't have to play around with bottles and formula and all that crap. Women who breastfeed lose their pregnancy weight faster and feel better about themselves physically. I can't honestly say that I've ever met a man who was turned off by the fact that his wife's breasts were bigger while she was breastfeeding, or that sometimes milk leaked out during orgasms, adding more fluids to an experience in which wetness is usually considered to be a good thing.

And longterm breastfeeding .... nursing a child until he is three or four or whatever .... well, that too can add to a couple's sex life. It's a quick way to get the kid to sleep. Nurse him for ten minutes, he falls asleep, and there you go - half an hour of time for adult frolicking.

Warner says that up to 20 percent of couples have marriages that are virtually sexless. Sure, I know couples like that. But in the marriages I know where sex has become non-existent, usually one or both of the spouses is working through some painful childhood issues. Incest. Abandonment issues. Stuff like that. Perhaps the birth of a child and the transition to parenthood in a marriage brings some of those issues to the surface, but I don't think the lack of sex has anything to do with how they are raising their children. To blame that kind of sexual dysfunction on breastfeeding or the family bed concept or any other element of attachment parenting is absurd.

How come I never read articles about how fathers are so over-involved with their kids' lives that they just aren't giving their wives enough sex?


Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Oh, yeah. There's just so very much to disagree with here. (In Warner, I mean, not in your post!)

Getupgrrrl over at Chez Miscarriage has an excellent post on Warner's book too. What she said.

Anonymous said...

Oh, well said!

I think we need a moratorium on maternal guilt for the next century.

Laura said...

Oh, I couldn't have survived if I hadn't breastfed and slept. Unfortunately, I didn't figure this whole thing out until the second kid.

bitchphd said...

Totally. Especially on the sleeping in bed and breastfeeding thing. Honestly, I don't understand how women do it any other way.

As to the kid in bed preventing sex, b.s. We've had sex with the kid in the bed. Mostly babies sleep. If they wake up, you take care of them until they go back to sleep. It's not a huge deal.

The real impediment to intimacy in marriage w/r/t kids is exhaustion and resentment.