Last week, my little area of the blogosphere was all a twitter about an article written by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach about how breastfeeding can lead to marriage difficulties. As it turns out, the article was a few years old (written in 2006), and the good Rabbi wrote a clarification piece in response to the initial backlash, but that’s not the point of my post.
There was one section of the piece that initially p*ssed me off.
I told the mother that in being so devoted to her son, she had committed the cardinal sin of marriage, which is to put someone else before her spouse, even if that someone is your child. Furthermore, I said, her obsession had turned one of her most attractive body parts into a feeding station, an attractive cafeteria rather than a scintillating piece of flesh.
WHAT?! A. SCINTILLATING. PIECE. OF. FLESH???!!! (now, imagine a look of horror, outrage and disgust all in one plastered on my face.) So, not only is Rabbi Shmuley telling me that breastfeeding could hurt my marriage but it also is taking all pleasure away from my husband, after all that’s all a woman is to a man… a scintillating. piece. of. flesh. Oh, yeah, and God-forbid the Man-Child I married be denied pleasure. Steam, Fume, Grumble.
And then I continued reading:
In the end, there are two effects of breast-feeding that we often refuse to acknowledge. One is the de-eroticization of a woman’s body, as her husband witnesses one of the most attractive parts of her body serving a utilitarian rather than romantic purpose. This is not to say that breast-feeding isn’t sexy. Indeed, the maternal dimension is a central part of womanliness. But public breast-feeding is profoundly de-eroticizing, and I believe that wives should cover up, even when they nurse their babies in their husband’s presence.
Wait?! Now Rabbi Crazy is telling me that I am not even supposed to use my breasts for what they are designed for because it’s going to hurt the feelings of the Man-Child I married?!?!?! At this point, I just about hit the roof and my loving husband told me to close the computer and go for a walk before I do something crazy. I let it stew for a bit (after all this hit right around June 7-8) and then I started thinking a little bit more. I re-read the article a few times (it took a few times because I found myself getting all angry and emotional before I got to the end) and I finally got it.
Rabbi Shmuley is making two big points. One is that we have to remember to keep our marriages “spouse-centered” rather than “child-centered.” Many parents make the mistake of making their children trump over their spouse and what happens to the marriage that is not tended to? It withers and dies. I have some friends who make the counter-point of that kids are only little for so long and that marriages are forever, but we have to remember the strength of inerita and Newton’s first law of motion: An object in motion tends to stay in motion, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. If your marriage is not tended to and in a state of rest for 2,3,4 or 5 or more years… while your kids are “little” it will be that much harder to get things moving again, especially if you compound that with how long you were husband and wife before you were mom and dad. For some of us, we were only husband and wife for a few months or few years before God blessed us with children but we always have to keep in mind that it was because we were husband and wife that we became mom and dad.
The second point was a little harder to wrap my mind around, especially since he is basically telling wives to cover up when nursing in their homes, but as we approach summer it’s becoming clearer. We tend to get de-sensitized to things that we see over and over again. If you watch violent movies, television shows you might not bat an eye at the shootings on the news. If you watch programs with overly sexual tones, you don’t see the harm in wearing a tube top to Mass. The Rabbi warns against spouses parading around the bedroom naked because it takes the specialness away from the body and makes it common. Most people do not react when seeing a hand or nose or toe because you see them everywhere, but seeing the curve of a woman or that vee under a man’s belly button, can really set one ablaze. So, in asking wives to cover when nursing can be seen not an act of repression on the part of the husband to the wife but rather an act of love by the wife to the husband by keeping one of the most erotic parts of her body for his eyes only.
Now, you won’t see me covering up while nursing around my house or in public for that matter (but you will find me veiling at Mass,) and no one should make a mother cover when nursing, except the nursing mother in question, but like I said, I can get what he’s saying. After all, whenever I hear people getting all up in arms about seeing a woman nurse in public the thought that goes through my head is “What is wrong with people? It’s just a breast?! It’s function is to feed a baby!” but we do have to remember that breasts are secondary sexual organs as well as primary feeding sources for our young. And who better than to be given the role of multitasking than… Mom.