When less is more

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.

(emphasis mine)

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.


What do you think? Am I spot on or way off? Let me know your thoughts!



Filed under breastfeeding, Catholic, feminism, marriage, mothering

5 responses to “When less is more

  1. Nope, I do appreciate your attempted redirect, but I read the article and its retraction, and this guy is Just. Plain. Wrong.

    I found it interesting that his solution to a man feeling left out or uncomfortable with a wife’s breast-feeding is for the WOMAN to change what she’s doing, for the CHILD to change what he/she is eating and when and how…not for the MAN to address his own shortcomings and inabilities to appreciate his wife in all her feminine glory and life-giving beauty.

    I personally do not believe any family should need to choose spouse-centeredness OVER child-centeredness–FAMILY-centeredness is a very possible and valid choice, and the idea that there’s no other option is a major flaw in the Rabbi’s reasoning.

    And I don’t think the solution to “habitual desensitizing” is to prevent whatever wonderful thing it is one refers to from being seen more often, it’s to learn to see the beauty and wonder and newness of every vision of the body, of the child at the breast, of the evening light coming in while I wash the dishes, of the endless litany of “God Bless” every night at prayers that my son rattles through…(There’s a book called “The Quotidian Mysteries,” I forget the author, it’s wonderful! Highly recommended for Catholic women, IMO)

    I’m lucky, I guess. I’m married to a man who stood by me as I birthed–twice–and who found the almost three total years of breastfeeding to be a real turn-on, as long as it lasted. We are a fairly comfortable-with-nakedness household, and I still think he’s beautiful; familiarity hasn’t diminished it in the slightest. He’s said many times that he loved my power as I birthed (that “something as utilitarian as a birth canal” bit in the article teed me off–is there ANYTHING on earth holier or more mysterious in/of this world than a woman bringing life into the world in a flood of blood and water?)…the between-the-lines message of these articles is that the Man is who the Man is, and the Woman must change to be what he wants, rather than calling for collective transformation of everyone involved.

    Humph. I still go with your first impulse. 🙂

    (St. Francis de Sales has some wonderful nursing references in his writings–I wish I could find my favorite, but he compares a soul seeking God to a child at the breast many times, and it’s just beautiful. Not that I expect that to be in the good Rabbi’s lexicon, but you might enjoy it…:-)

    • Thanks for commenting, Jenn! I completely agree with you and like I said, I can understand his POV but that doesn’t mean I agree with it. It sounds like your husband is a fantastic husband and father (as is mine) and I am eternally grateful for that. I love the reactions the initial article and retraction has and they are all very similar. I guess it goes with the saying that you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig. (I don’t think the good Rabbi would appreciate the porcine reference but you know…)

      I’ll have to check out St. Francis de Sales for the nursing references… one of the best things about Catholicism that people don’t really see is how we really find beauty in the birthing and nursing phases of life and that they should not be held in secret. Also, I really loved your comment about the baby coming forth in a rush of blood and water… hmmm, kind of like Divine Mercy, no?

      Pax Christi!

  2. Pingback: A Very Long, Overdue (not-so-sunday-ish) Sunday Surf » The Road Less Traveled To Parenthood » Baby Dust Diaries

  3. Hmm… I read his article a couple days ago, and was similarly teed off. I can agree that parents need to work at continuing to focus on each other first, and their children a close second. But beyond that, I was very offended by the stuff he was saying.

    Familiarity does not always breed contempt, or even apathy. I’m a Presbyterian who used to be a Baptist. Now, Baptists tend to take Communion 2-4 times per year. I’ve heard a lot of them say that if they took it more often, it wouldn’t be special. On the other hand, a couple years ago my Presbyterian church moved from taking Communion once a month to taking it every week. I love it. I love taking it every week. It is so important. Something as beautiful as Communion, something as beautiful as the sunrise, something as beautiful as your spouse’s body might get less *exciting* over time, but it will always be beautiful, and the mature person will appreciate it more over time, not less. Isn’t that what marriage is about? You let go of needing that excitement that you got while dating, and embrace the constant, steady love of time and maturity.

    My husband watch me give birth on a kitchen floor without medication. I can assure you that both he and I are duly impressed with my awesomeness, and that seeing that didn’t make him want me any less.

    Also, my most basic, practical problem with his article? It’s my own house. I should be able to feel comfortable in it, and that won’t be the case if I’m trying to use a nursing cover sitting on my own sofa.

    • Thanks for visiting, Jessie! I loved your parallel between the frequent reception of the Eucharist and the argument that the Rabbi was making. As a Catholic, I receive the Body and Blood of Christ weekly and as you said, it doesn’t get old/ familiar at all!

      I also agree that, especially, with a nursing relationship, comfort is key and I know that I have issues with nursing cover ups and I couldn’t imagine using them in my own home!!

      Take care!

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