Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

by Viki Reed

The slow death of my sex life is just a part of becoming a mother -- not the defining aspect, mind you -- but I have been forever changed by my lack of parental preparation. 

Kicking the virtual slut out of my bed (me in the right mood) became necessary when Polly, our kid, became a partner in our marital-bed. Always uncomfortable with parents who spout every psychological, parenting and commercial term related to modern childrearing, I refuse to say "family bed." Once Polly moved from newborn to real big baby stage, I declared I wasn't married to the idea. In fact, by the time the kid was seven-months-old, I barely felt married at all.

I thought marriage meant two people living together in holy union decide to have babies... or not... maybe a pet... definitely sex. Now I know it's more like consider yourself two people who understand each other's sense of humor innately but rarely have a carefree moment... certainly not unclothed. 

We weren't prepared.

My husband and I disregarded our midwife who once said, "Sex? You will never have spontaneous sex again." This had to be misleading. It sure was. The truth is you will never have any sex again. Not everybody, just us. We thought she was addressing the entire prenatal class. We knew that all the others in class probably got amorous in labor and couldn't wait for the episiotomy stitches to heal.

Experiencing this sleeping arrangement is arriving at an intimate knowledge of every muscle in your body. For example, I'm painfully aware of the entire left side of my body -- my lower back and neck are permanently wrenched with spiritual unity, direct parental love, and tendonitis. It's physically impossible to enjoy spooning when an infant is attached to your breast, and the simple act of rolling over becomes a life or death struggle with an invisible attacker. Think of it as playing Twister with yourself, while maintaining a steady groan. When did I become fifty-five years old? Months and months ago -- after having natural childbirth, that's when.

At our house, we must sleep in precise interlocking shapes, like Lego blocks or a 3-D Puzzle.  Turning can only be successful if a maneuver is made in one swift effort, without disrupting blanket arrangements, or stuffed bunnies. Must not land on squeaky rubber toy or crack-elbow on the sharpest part of the night-table. Our queen-sized bed allows my husband and I only enough room to lay our shoulders flat and glue our arms to our sides. It's just enough vice-like tension to squeeze milk out of my engorged breasts. My daughter, on the other hand, sleeps in the shape of Christ on the Cross.

Expect your child to develop such an intense physical bond with you, that they'll be as accurate as a motion-sensitive flood-light. Just as your pulse slows, your eye movements become uncontrollable and you feel your brain soaking up the salty waters of REM sleep... that's when the baby will start to wiggle itself into a loud wail. Expect to then bond with a migraine headache. 

Women are sexually complex. Men, all they need is a hand -- yours, theirs... doesn't take much to keep them happy. Only a brave husband will attempt to woo a woman who feels aged, altered, damp, cramped and sore from passing a human being. 

Not that you'll never have sex. It just feels like it. There does come a point when you need to technically accomplish sex. Just to keep your license valid at the very least. Not enjoying it, that's getting ahead of yourself. You know you've got to make a decision when you're willing to have intercourse while a baby nibbles away your nipple. Did I lift my legs and give it up anyway? Yes, I did it for King and Country.

Other rules of sharing a bed include a range of issues. No farting that can't be blamed on the child. Nine-plus months of ladylike splatter flatulence already destroyed any illusions your husband had about your femininity. Continuing to let it go is like spitting on your illusion's grave. My husband feared the baby would suffocate herself in one particularly toxic gastric riposte.

Between semen, breast milk and incontin- ence (yours and baby's) expect frequent sheet changes. You'll have more laundry than sex. Forget late night television. This will transfix your infant into a hypnotic waking state that will take hours to peter-out. You must lay in the dark, arms at side, except when yanking all important muscles to turn sideways and nurse. The insanity of this type of silence is for the lambs.

When Polly was two-months-old, somewhere around four a.m., after she yanked me away from Mr. Sandman about five times, I bolted into an seated upright position. Somehow I had grabbed her, held her at arm's length, and begged my husband to "Take her before I throw her against the wall."  It just came out. I didn't visualize doing it, of course, I wouldn't do that. Good mothers never say things like that do they? I was becoming animalistic. The bed was becoming a sensory deprivation tank that was rapidly altering our states.

And what would a resting family be without two, filthy, dirty, smelly cats licking their butts out loud in the dark to top it off? The cats also provide kitty-CPR demonstrations on your infant's chest during the predawn dining hours that they prefer. Polly said her first word while having her chest pumped by our tabby: "Eeahhhaggghh."

By the time she was one-year-old, Polly was so large that a new decision had to be made: "Honey, do you wanna sleep on the floor or the couch?" For a few weeks, my durable spouse took the floor, so he could at least be in the same room with us. Then one night, the baby wiggled, turned over and rolled right off the bed on top of my husband. Her chubby foot was slightly caught in the bed frame and we both awoke like fireman sliding down the pole. I blamed my husband, being sleep deprived and crippled with my eighty-third stiff neck of the year. 

"This cannot go on! We cannot wait to get a king-sized bed! This is not about money anymore!" You would've thought Child Protective Services had burst into the house, stuck a flashlight in his eyes and punished him. By the time his heart stopped palpitating he felt properly guilty and we were in the living room on the floor.

This is where we slept for another six weeks or so. Then our neighbor was caught trying to throw away his queen sized futon mattress. Tsk-tsk. We can use it. So what if it's got the lifetime of another human's essence on it. So what if it has no handles to carry or grab it with. So what if the slip cover is as thin as sausage skin and tears an average of six inches a day. So what if it's navy blue and grandly displays every white cat hair and baby-spill.

Polly and I laid on that futon every night for two months.  Then we got the bright idea to cut away the cushioning that backed and seated our second hand couch. During the day, I'd wrestle my new opponent: the futon. A qualified win was getting the futon on the now eviscerated couch frame with even spacing and positioning... within fifteen minutes. After another month of this ridiculous ritual, the slip cover on the futon was almost entirely gone, now nothing more than an enlarged fringe. A goiter fringe. We did not leave the futon in the dumpster without learning something. Futon couches are cheaper than beds. We get rid of the couch, we get a futon-bed-couch.

So we did. The arm-rests double as little wooden compartments. These spaces have become a receptacle for action-figures, crushed potato-chips, bits of meat and pens: Polly's Mission Control.

Things seem more calm and comfortable for everyone now that my husband sleeps alone in the bedroom while the kid and I practice insomnia on our air-spring-futon-mattress- couch-bed. I adore the little gushes, sighs, and whimperings that slip from Polly's kissable lips as she sleeps. I recall the good old days when I used to snuggle up to my hubby, and try to medicate the sadness with the miraculous little being that is my kid. 

Now intimacy is an like act of espionage -- tricking the enemy into going to sleep so I can skulk-off the futon without tripping the enemy's motion-sensors, sneak into the bedroom without kicking large plastic toys into noisy piles of clutter, tap my double agent on the shoulder and say, "Do you wanna do it?"

So it turns out that "yeah" is the most romantic word in the language of Co-Sleeping Land. Say it with feeling, but not too loudly... you don't wanna wake up that baby.
Viki Reed lives and writes in LA.