My wife and I are the proud parents of an eight-month-old boy. While I was prepared for the postpartum lull in the bedroom, I was not at all prepared for the combination of sex and nursing.
My wife has gotten really into attachment parenting and co-sleeping and it took me a while to get comfortable with having sex with the baby in the bed, but, generally, my appreciation for the rare opportunity always ends up outweighing any discomfort. However, the last two times we’ve had sex, he has awakened in the middle of things, and rather than stopping, my wife has just put him to her breast and said to go ahead with things on my end. I’m really not comfortable sharing my wife with my son in this way. And frankly, no matter how much she moans and sighs, I just don’t think she can be that into it when her attention is divided like that!
When I’ve brought up my concerns, she accuses me of not having our son’s best interests at heart and points me to all of the attachment parenting literature about how not responding to his needs will hurt his neurological and emotional development. I don’t want to hurt my son, but I also don’t want to sleep with a vending machine. You’re a mom now am I being a jerk?
Married to the Lunch Lady
My first response to your letter (after the admittedly rude cackling noise I made on reaching the part where she gaily calls out, "Carry on!" as though she hadn’t just grabbed the child and held him out in front of her as a human shield against any further attempted intimacies on your part) was sorrow that it was unprintable. You are not, after all, a sad, snaggy guy being slowly pushed out of the marital bed when the little one said, "Roll over!" You are a (female) online bud of mine who wrote this letter as an exercise following a discussion of what makes for good column fodder, and I bless you for it! It’s a great letter, fictional or not, and hey, lookit, I don’t even have to correct your spelling. So let’s just act as if, shall we?
Your wife has not so much adopted attachment parenting as she has, I wager, been assimilated by the Übermamas, a leaderless cult whose hive mind is headquartered at the MotheringDotCommune Internet forums. It is fashionable in that milieu not only to parent children to within an inch of their lives but to view husbands the way a lady mantis might describe her views on marriage and partnership, if asked: good for one job only, and that easily performed without thought or decision-making privileges or, indeed, a head. Dude, you must reclaim your head and put a stop to this if not for yourself, then for your son! What sort of model of manhood is this for him?
Actually, he’ll be fine. It’s you I worry about. You must know that attachment parenting does not even require that you adopt what is optimistically known as the "family bed" (often, in practice, a "Mommy and baby while Daddy sleeps on the couch" bed), let alone the abomination that is "Oh, carry on, don’t mind him stuck on my tit here." All shock and revulsion at the actual act aside (about which more in a minute), you must realize that "go ahead with things on my end" means that there’s nothing going on on her end. I’m sure there are readers who will spaz out over the child abuse aspect, but I assure you there is none. This isn’t about sexualizing the child; it’s about desexualizing you. You will soon find yourself consigned to, at best, the couch or, at worst, someone else’s couch. If nobody’s ready to have the baby sleep in his own room yet (I am not a huge fan of banishing baby, myself) then get a side sleeper or a dresser drawer or something and let him snooze away peacefully in there while you and your wife snuggle or sleep or do other things starting with s. Speaking of which, this is serious.
Now, as for what your wife may be feeling, I confess to oversimplifying in an earlier column when I denied that suckling could ever feel anything like, well, sucking. Of course it can. Not only are the sensations superficially similar (although I don’t advise partners to do the weird rhythmic press-and-swallow thing while making a fishy-mouth face, not sexy), we have only so many physiological responses available to us. Nursing can feel good, and it releases the same hormones that sex, or rather having had sex, does. I’d even venture to say that the release of good feelings (mostly hormonal-emotional, but to some extent physical as well) is adaptive, evolutionarily speaking. Then I’d say that that’s all very well but we have evolved pretty far and we can keep these things separate and I heartily encourage us to do so. More later.
Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.