Saturday, November 08, 2008


The Pleasure Principle

Little ones are created in pleasure. Our bodies are designed to feel physical and emotional pleasure exactly in the act that has procreative potential. Otherwise, why do it over and over? We are biologically programmed to return again and again to the sex act. We might as well revel in the moment and its fruits, namely, our little ones.

There are some parenting schools of thought that have forgotten the pleasure principle in raising the tiny baby who comes into the world a bundle of nerves, more sentient than conscious. The phrase "schools of thought" should be a red flag. The tendency is to succumb to the intellect in the effort to do the best for the child's sake. Instead of our reason, I think the center of parenting practice in those initial months should be the element of pleasure.

Those hot little infant bodies are designed to nestle on a mama's or tata's chest. A woman's breasts are designed to enable her to lie down and feed her little one in the comfort and relaxation of a shared bed. The complex cocktail of a mama’s hormones released at the birth compels her body to protect and celebrate a little body that is her flesh incarnate. (I was a mama ape as I cradled my baby in my arms and buried my nose deep into her crevices. Her hair, fiercely dark and mohawkish, was oily from my touch.) The baby is not a separate entity delivered by fairy tale stork. It is her and her partner's flesh. The mother recognizes that the being of the child is utterly part of her and entirely new. The baby is perfect because it is a perfect expression of pleasure.

It gives me pleasure to sleep with my baby. The first few weeks she slept skin-to-skin on my chest, our bare flesh touching at our hearts. I did this because she was not able to latch and nursing looked like it might be impossible for us. Those were some of the most difficult times I have ever faced and yet now I grateful that her inability to latch gave me permission to hold her so close. This initial bond made it seem natural to sleep with her and to carry her in a sling as much as possible. The idea of her sleeping in a separate room or even riding for extended periods in a baby carriage created cognitive dissonance. It felt wrong. It felt painful for me. Again, the pleasure principle compelled me to be near her both emotionally, which all new parents share, and also physically, which too many parents deny themselves.

And what about the baby? Was I only giving into my own selfish desires to have her near me? Would she have been better off in a crib? There are schools of thought that say just that. I contend the following: NO ONE KNOWS. Especially the experts. And the little ones aren't talking. They are crying. So I have to follow my instincts. My biology compels me to have her near. It compelled me to hear her cries, those newborn cries that were plaintive and wrenching, as just that, cries that directed my actions to go to her and comfort her when she needed it.

Again yesterday another woman "confessed" to me that she still sleeps with her three-year-old daughter. Her pediatrician husband is embarrassed about it. But she isn't. She said that she looks forward to sleeping with her each night. I have heard several moms confess that they have "given in" and taken a nap with their little one. It is as if they are afraid that they will spoil their children by giving into what biology directs them to do.

All too soon they will sleep alone. Then they will be off to college. I say that part of parenting is giving yourself permission to take pleasure in the nurturing act.

Every child is unique. Every parent and every parenting situation is unique. Thus each household will have its own patterns and make choices that fit their philosophies and lifestyles. There is more than one way to raise a child. Yet I wish that more mommas would give up the crib and settle in for an afternoon nap with a baby who will soon be free to explore the limits of their world with the deep physical knowledge that they have a safe and soft--a pleasurable--place to land. Independence at its deepest is dependence.

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