Thursday, February 5, 2009

Life after childbirth: getting back together as husband and wife

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.

48 comments:

Serena said...

Well said, Anna! Somehow, I think God was wise in the rules he gave for after childbirth. Odd, huh? ;)

Seraphim said...

Thats really interesting - I had no idea that these restrictions existed, as I know very little about Jews or their beliefs. (There are few Jews in my country, or at least they are very quiet about it!) It does make sense though, when you look at it properly.

Blessings for yourself and your new child, by the way :)

lady jane said...

The anticipation is actually quite romantic. :o)

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

I thought you were impure for 80 days after giving birth to a girl (and only 40 for a boy, why is that?)

Do you mean you can resume your intimate life more quickly? Just curious.

God Bless,
Mrs. Melody

Thia said...

God really is brilliant!

Cindy said...

I cant understand why some would consider such lovely practices "horrible". I think it's beautiful for you and your husband to follow the commands of God in this. God will surely bless you for your obedience and reverence to Him. I am not Jewish, but I too have a strong faith (Christian), and I know how wonderful it is to be living a life in accordance with your beliefs.
And yes, I am quite certain that this time will be one of romance for you and your dear husband. I can imagine it being like you were courting once again!
Blessings to you.

Anonymous said...

Hey,

I love reading your writings Anna, and learning about all things Jewish...
Just a question,
You mentioned that you cannot pass anything directly to your husband during this time...does that include Shira? Do you have to place Shira down before your husband can pick her up?

Sher

Thuis en onderweg said...

Thanks for sharing, Anna! This makes sense. I have the same question as mrs. Melody, since sometimes people use this as in arguing that the Law of Moses was very female unfriendly in declaring a woman unclean for a longer period after the birth of a girl. However, since I believe God is very wise and seeks our good, I recently started thinking that perhaps this period needs to be seen as a positive thing, enhancing the bonding between mother and daughter. And just another curious question, how about preparing food during this time? I thought it might even relieve the woman of some domestic tasks and propogate the helping of a new mother?

Enjoy your time with your little girl, you will reap the fruits not only now, but later on as well!

Many blessings!

Erna

Mrs. Anna T said...

Just a note: the restrictions of ritual impurity are somewhat different today, when we have no Temple.

I wish I had time to elaborate on this... perhaps in a separate post sometime.

And yes, "passing objects" includes baby, too.

Gothelittle Rose said...

Disclaimer: I am not Jewish by religion. :)
My mother and I discussed the differing timespans for boy or girl and came up with the conjecture that, since a boy will ultimately become a man and a girl will ultimately join the community of women, it is more important to have more bonding time with the girl in infancy.

I do know that my son, starting around age 3, made a deliberate pull away from Mother and towards Father. It's part of a boy's natural development, and it's so important for Father to respond when it happens! My husband has done a wonderful job, setting up specific menfolk-activities and such.

It's funny that people sometimes take serious offense at the term "unclean", which what it basically means for women is a temporary period during which you're not allowed to do housework. :) In the Ancient Israeli laws, it was easy as anything to end up "unclean" at least until the end of the day, whether you were male or female. Note that God doesn't seem to have any problem whatsoever with a lovely new infant being nursed by an 'unclean woman'. :)

The Inept Aspirant said...

I think it is wonderful and wish we had had the same restrictions. I've been married sixteen years, had two children and a very rambunctious husband. I could have used a break from his advances over the years. Sometimes it became burdensome. He gave me very little time to recover after childbirth. Thankfully, he became a Christian over four years ago and has become much more thoughtful toward me! Without God to guide us, the flesh gets out of control.

Dirtdartwife said...

What happens if you accidentally touch in passing?

I find Jewish practices very interesting. Thanks so much for being so open about it. I've learned much from your explanations! :)

Linda T said...

Anna,
Thanks for sharing this. I, too, believe that God's ways are good and wise. The secular world focuses on self-fulfillment in all things, especially marriage, while God's ways are ways of loving sacrifice. I believe that this healing time is a chance for the husband to grow more in his protective love for his family as well as a time of physical healing for mom. When the time of abstinence is over, husband and wife enjoy the blessings of intimacy again with renewed admiration for one another. No one is resentful of being "put upon" when feeling unready or "put off" by a weak and weary spouse.
Blessings to your household.
Mrs. T in USA

Mrs. Anna T said...

"What happens if you accidentally touch in passing?"

We say "excuse me", and try to be more careful. :o)

Jess said...

Thanks for your post. I am continually amazed at the rude comments people make to your posts. God bless your patience.

Because I am Catholic we practice NFP, both to ensure pregnancy and to delay it if ever necessary, so we are quite familiar with periods of abstinence. I find that it actually strengthens the marital relationship when there is a bit of waiting involved.

Mrs. Lindblom said...

I've been reading the book "None of These Diseases" which explains the health benefits of the laws God set in place for his people after they left Egypt. It's amazing how God, in his infinite wisdom, began caring for His people's health before there was 'healthcare'.
I imagine that the period of no touching in Jewish custom would be helpful to take the pressure off the couple, like you said.
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Many of these laws do allow a women her 'own space' - after childbirth, or during her period, without having to reject her husband's advances.

Gothelittlerose - what did you mean by: 'It's funny that people sometimes take serious offense at the term "unclean", which what it basically means for women is a temporary period during which you're not allowed to do housework'. 'Unclean' has nothing to do with housework; unfortunately a woman is not exempt from any housework during those times! 'Unclean' is also perhaps not the best translation of tme'a, which is a very complex issue having little to do with physical or spiritual 'cleanliness'. A woman is 'clean' during those times; she can go to synagogue, for example, or pray, or read from the Bible, or touch anything but her husband.
Tammy

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna! Congrats again. I wanted to tell you that the dilemma of how soon after childbirth to resume your physical relationship with your husband is something you'll face after every baby. I will be welcoming my fifth baby in March, and I'm already looking forward to the time when we can be together again (just the two of us).

I respect very much the Jewish tradition of mo physical contact, I think that regardless of when you finally get the chance to kiss your husband again it will be a powerful moment for you both. 6 years ago, a few weeks after I had my first born, my husband kissed me and it was such an amazing moment that I still remember the way it felt, the sparks that flew for us, even after 3 years of marriage. Look forward to your husbands embrace, I promise you'll be surprised how different it will be.
Linsey

Mau said...

Anna,

I enjoy so much reading your blog. I find your writing regarding the practice and traditions of your faith to be incredibly informative, interesting, and brave. Thank you for giving the blogging world a peek into Orthodox Judaism and into your intimate existence in general.

Mamaclsn said...

Hello Mrs. T~
I am a Christian wife and mother who has great interest in Jewish roots. There are many things that God has set in place which the world finds "horrible" or "legalistic" that have great benefit... God does and has always known what He is doing! My husband is in the military and we have had to be physically separated many times and for long periods, and there is so much good that can come from it. I understand the after childbirth customs as you have explained them as giving glory to God and honoring each other. Thank you very much for posting this.

Bethany Hudson said...

While I personally would not want to go completely without physical contact with my husband (of course, I'm not Jewish, so perhaps I'd feel differently if I were), I think that you made some excellent points here. Many husbands can fall into the selfishness trap of expecting their wives to "please" them in other way, even if they cannot engage in the marital act. Incidentally, this sort of behavior is out of the question for Catholics (which I am), so we have somewhat similar restrictions following birth, I suppose, and I find such boundaries to be very helpful. They encourage a husband to be prepared to be attentive and caring and self-sacrificing and they give the wife permission and space to do what she needs to do as the mother of a newborn without feeling responsible for her husband's sexual needs, as well.
~Bethany

CappuccinoLife said...

I have always thought the rules were a very neat, very wonderful way to let a mom (particularly mom's in patriarchal cultures who wouldn't dream of saying "Sorry husband, no nooky for you for the next two years!!!") have her space for a while in order to rest and heal and adjust to new motherhood. God is good. :)

We don't follow that rule strictly but I see nothing at all wrong with it.

Erin said...

To Mrs. Lindblom-- it's funny you should mention "None of These Diseases". I am a PhD student in the Biosciences, and our professor last night was discussing a very similar issue. It seems that a lot of the traditional cultural and religious wisdom about children and family, actually makes very good sense from an immunological standpoint. :)

Sheri said...

"...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."

That statement is so true my dear friend. And, even though I'm not Jewish and waiting for intimacy after childbirth doesn't apply to me, "waiting" has applied when my husband was in Iraq, for a year and also the times he is away for work assignments. Although it's very hard and we miss each other terrible, it's always incredibly exciting to come together again! God is so good to make the relationship between husbands and wives so wonderful!

MarkyMark said...

Anna,

As I look at it, the restrictions you mention make sense. One, they give your body time to heal. Two, you can focus on caring for the little one. Three, if you and your DH aren't engaging in ANY physical contact, then passions cannot and will not get ignited-not a good thing when you can't SATISFY those passions. Four, they allow for differences in people's bodies; it's not a 'one size fits all' approach, e.g. waiting six weeks. Different people will heal and recover at different rates, so it only stands to reason that some couples will be ready to resume marital relations sooner than other couples do. There's definitely a lot of WISDOM to the aforementioned restrictions. Then again, what would we expect? God, our designer, wrote them, and He knows best... :)

MarkyMark

Anonymous said...

Although I may not understood the full extent of having no contact at all or not eating from the same plate or sleeping in the same bed, I do agree on waiting for any kind of intimacy. Not only does the anticipation build for romance for both of you, giving you both something to look forward and enjoy when it does come, it is actually safer that way too. Sometimes even the small things can cause fluctuations in hormones and make a woman's body react in a way that might hinder her healing or cause bleeding to start back.

Kathy Days said...

Anna,
This is so very interesting. When you explain, everything makes so much sense!!

Anonymous said...

I find it refreshing to hear the restrictions. I believe there is blessings in the laws and practices laid out in the Old Testament, when our motives are right. I find myself wanting to learn more about authentic Jewish women. Not really with a focus on the practices but more on the heart that is behind it. God Bless

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say thank you also. A reflective topic, yet you explain it so well.
Blessing from The Most High,

Theresa

Elizabeth said...

My hubby and I are in our late fifties now...and only in the last decade, gradually, have we begun learning more about a TORAH observant lifestyle. And though we had reasons to believe we are of Jewish bloodlines too, not until this year did I find proof online of one of mine. But the thing that people do not understand who have not tried to live as TORAH instructs, is that those instructions are to give us a better life too. And when things are set up in this way, as you state, it is EASIER when we KNOW what to do...and there is actually freedom and joy in this, but how can one know who has never lived it? We have never been happier as a couple than we are since we began trying to follow TORAH!! We know we will not learn it all in the number of years we have left, but we will try anyway. Thanks for sharing so much here!!

Gothelittle Rose said...

Ah, as I said in my disclaimer, I am not Jewish in culture or religion. :)

I was going by the Old Testament definitions of "unclean", which basically meant that anything you handled or sat on would be unclean until evening. Theoretically, laundry you folded (for instance) would have to be washed again and considered unclean until evening. A kind of counterproductive way of keeping the house tidy... :)

The interpretation of that which I read some years ago was that it in effect excused the new mother from many of the household tasks and allowed her to focus on baby care.

Anonymous said...

*Respectfully and warmly* . I certainly understand the idea of preventing intimacy until a woman has recovered from childbirth but am puzzled by the 'no touching' rule. What happens if a child is miscarried, stillborn or dies shortly after birth? Does this mean that a wife is forbidden from crying on her husband's shoulder or being embraced by him in her grief? I don't understand how such a rule could strengthen the marriage bond. What happens in this situation?

I love reading about Judaism on your blog and am learning a lot. Thank you for being so open.

Blessings to you.

Amber said...

Thank you! You make it sounds so romantic. While my hubsand and do have phisical contact, we do wait until all bleeding has stopped to be together again, and while it was only a couple weeks with the girls, with our last one, it took longer (almost 6 weeks) It was so special to be one again after so long apart. It is very romantic, God knows what he is doing huh? :D

Amber

Judy said...

I can understand prohibitions against marital intimacy - but in reading your post, that NO touching at all is allowed, I don't quite understand that. When I gave birth to my youngest, I hemorrhaged for 6 hours afterwards. The next day, I was exhausted, bruised and battered, and so emotional wrecked... I NEEDED my husband's touch - he gently cradled me in his arms and let me cry, he held my hand, he touched me as we passed our son from one of us to the other.

A new mom is in need of comforting touch, is there provision for that comforting, healing touch? How do you handle passing your daughter from one to the other without touching at all? I'm not talking about pressure into resuming marital relations before mom is ready, but just comfort and task oriented touch.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
This is very interesting, not something I'd ever considered. Another question to add to your future post: At what point did the no-touch rule begin? i.e. your husband was able to kiss you and hug you immediately after Shira's birth, wasn't he?
I do appreciate the value in a no-fault time off - with a baby nursing around the clock, it was a long time before I felt particularly frisky myself, and having someone else (especially God) sort of say "not tonight dear" would have been most helpful.
Gracie

Anonymous said...

Thank you for presenting such a delicate and necessary topic with dignity, openess and grace.

Mitford

Mrs. Anna T said...

"At what point did the no-touch rule begin? i.e. your husband was able to kiss you and hug you immediately after Shira's birth, wasn't he?"

All physical contact, unless needed to save life/health, must be stopped as soon as it is known the wife is actually in labor.

I think no one who reads my blog can doubt I receive a great deal of love, affection and emotional support from my husband. It *is* possible without touching.

Mrs. Wayne Hunter said...

Hi, Mrs. Anna T. -

I enjoy your blog.

About not touching, no intimacy, etc. during certain times...

There is a Spiritual and emotional/mental bonding that occurs during these times of physical separation that can't be called anything less than "supernatural". My husband and I bond in an almost unreal way during our days apart. We wouldn't trade the Spiritual/emotional sharpening and growth of our love for anything. This makes it a great deal easier to refrain from touching. Our minds and souls are becoming one while our physical bodies have a rest. IT'S AWESOME. My husband and I have grown to literally know each others' thoughts many times. These days of abstinence and not touching are integral to the solid-building and maintenance of our marriage.

Anyway, just thought that adding this aspect may be helpful.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful blog post, Anna! Could you hold hands or touch if a towel or something was in-between the actual skin touching? ie, pass Shira by touching her baby blanket?
Thanks, Anna!

Bethany Hudson said...

No touch during labor! I would have been out of luck. My husband rubbed my lower back for about 6 hours straight to help me cope with labor when I gave birth to Sophia :)
~Bethany

Beth said...

Hi Anna,
Thanks for sharing about orthodox Jewish culture. The differences make it fascinating to read about!

Analytical Adam said...

It is interesting topic which should be kept to the best of one's ability I would think although today we are all impure to some degree as it also says wherever a woman sits during these 7 days this becomes impure as well. There are many other type of spiritual impurities as well outside of this area as well regarding nonkosher foods and other types of impurities.

I do have to admit though I don't understand why a woman becomes spiritually impure like she would when she menstrates after a birth of a child. I heard an intersting reason why she becomes spritually impure when she has her period and that is becaue I think you only get that when you are either not pregnent or nursing so you are not using what G-d gave you and by not having children when you could you are bringing some blood into the world(sometimes this ideal can't be achieved) but still therefore there is some spiritual impurity. When women are older these laws don't apply because of the obvious.

The man is impure for similar reasons in that he has an emission of sperm he becomes spiritually impure as he is not using what G-d gave him.

So in general being spiritually impure I think has some negative reason that we are not fitting some ideal which sometimes can't be done but at least this reminds us of the ideal.

So I still don't really understand why a woman would be spiritually impure after childbirth other then maybe it is just a natural let down after you brought life into the world. Some say the reason for a girl it is 2 weeks because she just gave birth to a woman who will also be able to give birth and bring life into the world and that is a responsibility. Obviously I wouldn't know but some of the idea's expressed of why a man and a woman become spiritually impure actually were meant to have some negative reason for it.

Mazel Tov again on the birth of your daughter and I am glad that you are doing well.

Analytical Adam said...

I also just wanted to add that G-d of Israel does expect basic morality from all people and the prophets did talk about other nations as well not just Israel but the reason for example Jews have to keep the laws of Kosher but non-jews don't have to although they can if they want to is because G-d since he took us out of Egypt without which we would not be here without G-d's intervention because of this we owe G-d more then other nations who while G_d may havv helped they were not completely helpless like we were in Egypt and therefore the decendents of those who were in Egypt which are Jews have these additional requirements.

Kyle, Amanda, and Tobias said...

I think the Jewish rule seems very reasonable and has some practical advantages. Besides, most doctors will tell you that resuming intimacy as husband/wife too soon after giving birth is very risky and can lead to infection. Personally, I would have felt fortunate to have been intimate as early as 6 weeks after giving birth.

And as far as the waiting period being good for the marriage, I agree with that as well. As a Catholic, I practice natural family planning, which requires about 14 days total of abstinence for us each month if we are trying to avoid pregnancy at this time. It really does create a respect for each other, a respect for a woman's body, and a certain kind of romantic anticipation that is wonderful in a marriage.

There are so many ways to express love, affection, and support without physically touching someone. Physical intimacy has its place and is important, but there is so much more to a balanced marriage. Besides, a new life has entered this world and deserves both parents' undivided attention to ensure bonding and health. A few short weeks are certainly a small gift to give a new baby who enters this world. And a few short weeks are a small gift a husband can give his wife to help give her body a chance to heal and her mind a chance to get used to her new role as a mother.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Bethany,

I sure understand you about the back-rubbing! I had a wonderful volunteer doula who helped me with that, I was so lucky.

By the way, even though having my husband in the delivery room with me was tremendously helpful, I'm not so sure it was wise after all. A couple of hours after giving birth, I was already on my feet and cheerful, saying "hey, it wasn't so bad, I've had worse pains" - but my husband remains deeply traumatized.

He looked away all the while, as our religious beliefs require, but still... and when I was being stitched up afterwards, he saw the doctor's hand moving back and forth, back and forth with the needle... my poor husband keeps remembering that, and wonders whether I will ever truly heal.

It's not a very popular view today, but traditionally, our rabbis discourage husband being in the delivery room, and while I used to disagree, now we've "been there" I have ambivalent feelings about it as well. Perhaps it would have been kinder to just let him wait outside. :o)

Anonymous said...

Most rabbis (at least the more modern) will allow the husband to enter the delivery room, but insist he not look 'down there' or leave when the final pushing begins. This is so he doesn't lose his sexual attraction to his wife, viewing her privates so stretched apart and bloody.

Perhaps many men have these problems. But I think having a husband in the delivery room is a good thing (he can look at your face, not your ..). First, for support of course. Second, so they see first hand and appreciate the agony many of us go through. I for one was not cheery and up and about a couple of hours later. Many men tend to underestimate the pain a woman undergoes while giving birth (it's nothing, it goes away, a man could deal with it easy-peasy) - I think it helps for them to witness it and thus appreciate their wives more.
Tammy

Joie said...

I love learning about the laws of the Torah and their interpretation but I could not have survived without my husband's touch in the pregnancy, birth, and post-partum periods. He is my partner in all things and he took it upon himself to be the best labor and delivery coach I could have had. He saw everything and tells me it only makes him love me more. There were also times I would collapse in a puddle of despair and without his hugs (no strings attached) of reassurance I don't know what I would have done.

I think it is imperative that there be a cessation of sexual intimacy in the post-partum period to allow for healing, bonding, and total well-being upon resuming marital intimacy. However, there is no one right way about how to make sure that happens. Husbands who have mutual respect for their wives and wives for themselves would not let things go too far.

It was a darn good thing he was my coach because he almost had to deliver the baby. Not kidding.

Rebecca Grider said...

Mrs. T,

Your comments about your husband being in the delivery room reminded me of reading of this sort of situation in (of all things) the book "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" which I read when I was very young. One of the characters had insisted on her husband being present when the baby was coming and he was, like your husband, very traumatized over it. Later, she is told that when you love someone deeply, you want to spare them from any pain at all, even if their pain would lessen yours; you'd rather bear it silently and alone than inflict any upon them. While I've never wanted children, I knew that if I were to change my mind and have any I'd encourage my husband to wait outside and never let on about how bad it might ever be - not because I wouldn't be able to use his support but because I wouldn't want him to remember my pain and anguish in relation to our child. Then again, when I had an appendectomy a few years back I did insist that my mother hold my hand until was wheeled into surgery and she held it once I came out and all through the night so perhaps I would not be able to be that stoic.

I am not married, nor am I Jewish, but I find the parting/coming together concept to be really interesting and romantic. I see my boyfriend on the weekends and sometimes not even then as we live in separate cities and I am constantly amazed at how my thoughts of his attractiveness, appeal and the comfort of being around him do not do justice to actually being with him. And I know he feels the same; he once left me a voicemail simply to remark on how beautiful he thinks I am and how he forgets during the week just how pretty I am and then every weekend he is blown away by me. We still hold hands constantly when we're out, love nothing more than to snuggle together and I sometimes wonder if we'd be so attentive and affectionate if we lived together and were used to being around each other all the time.

I admire your restraint, your commitment to your beliefs and hope, for you, that the 80 days go by quickly!