Several comments made lately here on the blog, and some emails I received, made me approach the delicate topic of intimacy after childbirth. Obviously, the intimate relationship between husband and wife is something very private, something that cannot be fully comprehended by anyone outside the relationship.
Everything changes for a woman after having a child. Her body, her mindset, her entire outlook - and also her relationship with her husband. All of a sudden, my husband and I are no longer just a couple - we're also parents to our little girl, which adds depth and meaning to our relationship. I feel I'm falling even deeper in love with my husband, in the new aspect of him being the father of my child.
Despite the many demands of new parenthood, it's important to reserve a space and time where it's just the two of us, as a couple. That's how we started out, and that is the core of our family. That is also what will remain once the children grow up and move on to have their own lives. Physical affection is an important part of the closest, most sacred relationship of marriage.
I know that the "conventional" advice is to wait six weeks after childbirth before becoming intimate again. I know it may happen much sooner for some couples. Orthodox Jews, however, wait until any trace of bleeding stops completely, and then another seven days. During that period, not only being together as husband and wife is forbidden, but any touch at all is out of the question, along with a number of other prohibitions such as sleeping in the same bed, eating from the same plate and passing objects from hand to hand.
Last time I mentioned these restrictions, I received a number of comments along the lines of "how horrible" and "I'm so glad I'm not Jewish". That was totally beside the point. I certainly don't advocate our practices for anyone who isn't Jewish. My post was purely informative.
Anyway, while an extended period of abstinence from all physical contact is certainly a challenge, and can even become frustrating, I believe it also has its benefits. Health reasons is perhaps the most obvious one. The restrictions on physical contact until some time after bleeding stops will allow full recovery with a good degree of certainty, and prevent an over-enthusiastic couple from inflicting accidental damage by being intimate again too soon.
There is also the issue of new demands a young mother faces. In the first few weeks after a baby is born, Mom barely has time for anything but caring for her little one. Sleep, food and showers are somehow squeezed in, but I can imagine it would be difficult to find time for romance. A young mother does need some time in which she focuses on bonding with her baby. A period of a few weeks when intimacy is unambiguously delayed goes a long way, I believe, in preventing unrealistic expectations and demands on the new parents. If there's a clear guideline on when to get back together as husband and wife, it saves a couple from confusion and wondering about whether they are "on schedule".
The prohibition of all physical contact may seem "radical", but when the husband and wife know there will be none, it spares the pressure of feeling obligated to try to find "other ways" of being intimate. I think we are all familiar with statements such as, "you know there are also other ways to have fun, right?" - well, it's only my opinion, but it seems to me there's something much more exciting in just waiting, and then getting "back together" with a sense of renewal and no restrictions.