Tuesday, October 10, 2006

get that rabbi out of my bra

I’m almost bored with myself on the subject (how’s that for an attention-getting first sentence?), but I just could not, could not, let this go.

Naturally, someone sent me a link to this beliefnet article
Sigh. Okay, with a leetle spin, you can see that he’s making a good point: nourish the marriage as well as the baby. Yes, that’s important. But he’s also offering a line to the jealous husband (more on that jealousy in a moment), to say that the marriage trumps the baby’s need to breastfeed.

What irks me is that this wolf is wearing halachik (Judaic law) clothing. It is a common misconception among religious Jewish women that either, a. you cannot use an electric breastpump on the Sabbath/jewish holidays or b. if you do use one, you must ‘pump and dump,’ tossing out the milk that you produce, instead of feeding it to the baby. The reasoning behind a. is that using electricity is forbidden on the Sabbath, but b. it’s okay to use electricity because it’s a matter of the mother’s health to pump, as unemptied breasts become engorged breasts, and there is a risk of mastitis (shudder).

But what about c.? C. is the part where we say that the mother should not only pump on the Sabbath with the electric pump, but feed the milk to the baby, because the baby’s health and well-being depend on it, too. Some rabbis have ruled that, based on ‘pikuach nefesh,’ or the preservation of life, that c. is acceptable. More so, where pikuach nefesh is concerned, c. is actually necessary - it's (wait for it) the law. So ruling c. means making a big statement about the significance of breastmilk, and don’t kid yourself – religion’s stance here says a lot about the social positioning of the rabbi in question. The first guy to really give c. credibility was a major rabbinic figure – anyone lesser ruling c. ran the risk of being called a hippie radical. I know of one major rabbinic figure in NY who is considering the halachik witness protection plan because an infuriated lactation consultant lives (and worships) in his area. He has all but admitted to c., but won’t rule publicly – thus the ire.

Okay, so is the marriage more important than the preservation of life? I refer you now to the question of jealousy. And this delightful response to the rabbinic busybody by Armin Brott, an author whose book I happily bought for the partner when we were expecting the Eldest. The father’s adjustment to the baby is a tough one, make no mistake, especially when the mother is breastfeeding. He was sidelined during the wedding, during the pregnancy he was support staff and local punching bag, and now he’s what, the water boy? Yippee ki yi yay. So yes, this will make a man southernly limp – and give him a sense that he’s being badly done by.

If, of course, he’s unprepared to grow up and be a parent. Because, of course, as the mother has long since discovered pre-baby-arrival, babies are ruthless about extracting their due. Get kicked in the liver enough by your unborn child and you come to realize that it’s not all about you, you are just the chauffeur. For fathers, I suspect that the physical reality of having to dramatically shift priorities and foci comes later, and most harshly when the baby is out and all she wants to do is….sleep?

A brief pause here, while we review the significance of sleep. I refer you to this blatant exhibition of greed, with specific reference to item three. Sleep has trumped food in my house, and I've walked away from mouthwatering meals to...dream about them. Oh, ye gods and little diapers, what I wouldn't do for five consecutive hours. No, for four.

Given the immaturity and selfishness of this hypothetical male attitude (and I do respect a good bit of selfishness, don’t get me wrong, even grumping about said selfishness – it’s when you take it out on others that it irks me), I really, really regret this next part: because, of course, the rabbi is right. Marriages do need to be nourished, and when there’s a new baby is when they are most likely to be starved, as well as most likely to be fragile.

What’s that irritating Johnson and Johnson ad? Babies change everything? Okay, they do. Ruthlessly. Let’s summon the echo of my man here and talk numbers: 50% of marriages end in divorce. With kids, the stakes rise, you have less time to communicate, greater need of support – this is the great flaw in having children right off the bat after you pop a ring on each other, because your support systems aren’t fully developed, you haven’t got strong habits of nurturing and caring for each other, solid communication strategies – all of which is going to be hit by Tsunami Baby, so if it’s not strong, it’s toast. Strong just gives you good foundations on which to rebuilt, anyway.

With a baby with a major chronic medical issue, the numbers are worse: 70% of those marriages end in divorce, post-diagnosis. If the stakes go up with a baby, they are high beyond conception with a baby with medical needs. So, okay, here it is: if the marriage survives, it’s because of the foundations you laid before the baby was born, healthy or complex. Especially not because some whiner imposed his needs between the mother and child – not only is that not a great choice, medically speaking, it’s pure idiocy where the lifespan of the marriage is concerned. Trust me that as grudges go, He Made Me Stop Nursing So He Could Get Laid – it’s a doozy. I’d rather send him down the hall with a box of tissues and a magazine, but when you wrap that whine up in religious excuse, who can argue with you?

Apparently not Reb BusyBody's poor wife. Jeez.

Sex is dead in the American bedroom, they say, and oh no! We must resurrect it, apparently even at the cost of the relationship. Oh, no, wait – it was the relationship that we were trying to protect all along. Oh, no, wait – it was the American family. Phooey.

I can only speak for myself here, but post-baby sex? With the man who supported me, the man who stepped up to parent a fragile, complicated child? Who backed me to the hilt through a second pregnancy and VBAC? (I can feel the MIL cringing, so I’ll be a good girl here.) Oh, it’s good. It’s better than it’s ever been, and ooh yes I'll stay awake for that.

Mneh. Words are cheap, navel-gazing words the cheapest of all. I think I’ll just go off and prove it, instead. Again. Heh.


jgfellow said...



Precision Blogger said...

While reading your rant, I was cringing about what Rabbi Schmudley would say in his Belief Net column. I really did not want to see a lot of erudite Talmudic arguments to support his point of view.

In fact, there's no halacha in his column at all! So there's just one thing about this Rabbi that puzzles me: why doesn't he give advice on nuclear fusion and DNA splicing? He seems equally well-trained in these fields, as well as for giving life-stye advice.
- Precision Blogger

mama o' the matrices said...

True, but how removed from Judaic law can a rabbi be, when he gives this sort of pronouncement? Unfortunately, his position implies religious weight, especially as it not so subtly taps into a variety of Judaic legalisms about sexuality and the woman, the preservation and maintenance of marriage - especially where sex is concerned.

While you are correct, o precise one, it is but a technicality. Given the pervasiveness of halacha in the religious Jewish life - and especially the bedroom - when a rabbi speaks, unless he specifically distances himself from his vocation, he's speaking with a religious voice.

dykewife said...

i'm astounded that anyone whose voice carries religious weight would say that an adult's relationship is more important than the physical nurturance of an infant. that's simply ludicrous.

you're totally right about children being the earthquake that can shake apart marriages. were it not for bran, after boy was born, i don't know where i'd be. he totally took over while i worked on recovering from the nasty depression that took hold (and i didn't recognize except in hindsight) having a partner like that is a gift of great price.

mama o' the matrices said...

DW, I'm with you there. He's worth his price in rubies, eh?