Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Intimacy

Spoiler Alert: Men, you probably don't want to read this post. Just sayin'.

In eight days, my sweet baby will -- incredibly, unbelievably -- turn one year old, and I plan to start weaning. There is a big part of me that really likes nursing -- it's way faster and less complicated than bottles, and there is something so warm and intimate about feeding my baby boy. (See also "Confessions of a Nursing Moo Cow.")
Photo credit: Doctor Lizardo

Guys, seriously. You should stop now. That means you, Dad.

Then again, sweet Henry has six little teeth now, which is not always so helpful on the nursing front. (See also "Chompers McGee and the Case of the Tired Straws.") Plus, it's tiring to be metaphorically and literally attached to him or the pump. As diligent as Rayne and I have been about finding time for one another, I haven't ever spent even a single night away from the baby. The idea of pumping enough for a full weekend away is nauseating.

Truthfully, though, there's another reason I'm looking forward to weaning: One of the best-kept secrets among mothers is how much breastfeeding messes with desire.

First, on a hormonal level, nursing keeps estrogen low. As a result, I'm much less, ahem, in the mood than I used to be.

Second, my boobs -- tremendous as they finally are (yippee!) -- are not the sensual organs of lovemaking they once might have been. Nay, they are but the utilitarian apparati of nourishment and the slightly-less-pragmatic pillows of comfort.

MEN. If you are still reading, don't say I didn't warn you.

Finally, for me (and probably a lot of women) sexual enjoyment has as much to do with intimacy as physical pleasure. And my intimacy cup runneth over these days as I bond with, nurse and nurture my little boy.

Most women know that the hormone oxytocin (synthetic version: pitocin) is secreted by the body during labor to promote contractions; it is also important in breastfeeding. But evidence points to oxytocin's role in libido, orgasm and social bonding as well.

If nursing Henry fulfills my intimacy requirements, providing levels of oxytocin that once might only have been produced by cuddling with Rayne, doesn't it also make sense that I'm even less interested in sex than the estrogen deficit, fatigue and general scrambling up the baby learning curve might suggest?

Photo credit: Gnarls Monkey
What's more, to prevent the onset of Irish Twins, I've been on Micronor, a progestin-only contraceptive. Many physicians don't prescribe ordinary birth control pills to nursing mothers because the additional estrogen can decrease milk supply (see point #1 above). But the decrease in libido as a result of taking birth control pills has also been well documented if not well disseminated.

(Rayne's response to this news was, precisely: "Let's get those gone then!!!" Lol.)

In the midst of all this cerebral analysis about why I feel so dead inside, I came across an opinion piece in Sunday's New York Times: "New Love - A Short Shelf Life," by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at UC Riverside. As of this afternoon, it was the most e-mailed article on the entire website.

Lyubomirsky explains that the happiness gained by new love -- that heady mix of passion and obsession -- returns to pre-love levels after about two years as a result of "hedonic adaptation, a measurable and innate capacity to become habituated or inured to most life changes." 

How uplifting.

Let's see, where does that leave us?

  • Low estrogen as a result of breastfeeding? Check.
  • Feel and look like a cow, not a woman? Check.
  • Intimacy requirements being fulfilled by nursing? Check.
  • Taking an oral contraceptive? Check.
  • Married for more than two years? Check. (Three years and five months, to be exact, but we've been living in sin together for nearly six years.)

According to Lyubomirsky, if we can just wait it out a couple of decades, we'll rediscover one another as our little birdies fly the coop.
Photo credit: TheCleopatra

A couple of decades? Thanks, but no thanks.

I'm out of Irish Twins territory at this point, so I'm going to stop taking the pill. And I'm going to wean Henry, as hard and as devastating as it might feel in the moment. According to the Times article, I should probably do some Christmas shopping at Toys in Babeland. Hmmmm. (Dad, I told you to stop reading. Jeesh.)

As scared as I am to break the nursing bond with Henry, I'm also excited to refocus on my relationship with my husband.

Next stop: couples weekend in the Caribbean! (hint, hint)

I had to ditch my terrible commenting system, but I didn't want to lose the comments, so here they are: