I think something has come between us,” my husband jokes from the other side of our bed.
Something has. That thing is now 2 years old and has recently taken to sleeping horizontally across the top of our bed, little feet carelessly mashing a cheek, frantic curls scrunched into an armpit. Stretched out messily between us, she’s a way-too-obvious symbol of our sex life these days.
That’s supposed to be me there, in that underarm. It should be me inhaling my husband’s pheromones, soaking up his scent and energy so when I wake I want more of it. More of him.
Nice idea. Worth trying. Yet not very practical when there are three in the bed and one of them is still nursing. (You see, my daughter hounds me in her sleep; my breasts have become an all-night diner.)
My husband and I first brought the baby into bed because rushing in to check on a newborn every ten minutes never worked for us. And because sleep, that elusive drug of parenthood, always worked for us. We stuck with it because waking up to the two faces you love most in the world is the best thing ever. And because now, none of us can quite imagine it any other way.
But let’s be honest here. Sleeping in smell-proof flannel, inches away from baby breath, isn’t romantic. Besides fostering the occasional urge to scream “GIVE ME MY FRIGGIN’ SPACE!” the Family Bed is also a perfect scapegoat for an ever-waning sex life. Just ask my mom. I didn’t, but she was happy to share just the same: “It ruined their marriage,” she said of a couple she once knew, in her best faux-neutral tone. “They just stopped having sex.”
The first time we tried having sex after the baby was born, I got one of those horrible, gut-wrenching feelings that come with the possibility that one’s own mother is right. There we were, awkward and stiff, stuffed into the far corner of the bed, afraid to move, afraid to move the baby and have her wake and make the whole thing moot. We built a stack of pillows just tall enough to separate us from her, as if we could just do our business like she wasn’t there.
From then on we tried just about everything to romanticize the Family Bed. At one point we even moved the guest bed into our room, putting two queen-size beds together. The dream was that my husband and I would sleep on one bed, romantically wrapped in each other’s arms, while our daughter peacefully snoozed the night away on the other. The reality was a bed with strangely funky feng shui, and — worse — it didn’t work. I ended up crammed in the corner of a bed like always, my daughter attached like Velcro, while my husband took over the other bed, sprawled and snoring, alone.
So back went the guest bed to the guest room and in came a brand-new king-size bed and a new strategy for romance: giving up.
With all hope of sex gone, we were free to snuggle and sleep our hearts away. Who put those two essential acts, sleeping and sex, together in the first place anyway? Certainly not a parent. And with this new separation, I let bed sharing off the hook for our sex life, or lack thereof. Now I have a new culprit: nighttime.
Pre-kid, the setting of the sun signaled a time for sidling off to bed, full of anticipation, starstruck.
It was a time to prowl each other’s bodies, to light the room with electricity. Now nighttime means stumbling toward the mattress, dumbstruck with exhaustion. Prowling is for our 400-plus cable channels. Electricity? For the remote control and sonic toothbrush.
And sex is for something else altogether. With nighttime out of the picture, sex is for naptimes and guest rooms. It’s for the kitchen floor, the couch. It’s for baby-free zones like showers and hot tubs and, yes, every once in a while, even the bed. The giant, lovely king-size bed on those beautiful mornings when Grandma takes the baby to the zoo, and we can lie stretched out and naked and uncrowded — except in those long-forgotten “Whoops, we just bumped into each other” and “Whoa, what’s that? Wow! My, it’s getting hot in here” kinds of ways.
In our house, nighttime is the right time for sleeping with the ones you love. But naptime, now that is the right time for everything else.
Heidi Raykeil is the author of Confessions of a Naughty Mommy: How I Found My Lost Libido.