Before boy came along, husband and I were dedicated snugglers. I really wish there'd been an Olympic category for the sport. We would have been the uncontested champs. Every night when we climbed into bed, we'd both maneuver to the middle of the delightfully massive king-size bed and wrap arms around each other to chat until we were both too sleepy to keep talking. It was always a "thing" of mine that I hated to say or hear "good night," because that meant that we were done talking. So we just talked until one of us drifted off, usually with my head nestled against his chest and his arm around me. The sense of peace I got from those few minutes each night was unobtainable in any other area of my life, and it was important to both of us to reconnect every evening through touch and whispered giggles and conversation.
And then boy was born.
My anxiety when the baby arrived was at an all-time high, due to lots of factors (like the fact that the baby was a truly sporadic and high-need sleeper, requiring lots of holding and rocking to fall and stay asleep, not to mention my OWN sleep deprivation and then, of course, the post-partum depression). As a result, I trained myself to sleep lightly, perched quite literally on the edge of the bed. Not only was I acres away from the snuggle zone in the middle of the bed, I was also turned away from it (and my husband) so that I could face the baby monitor, its green glow casting strange flickering lights on my closed eyelids as I tried to snooze and still remain on alert. Anything I said to my husband during those nights had to be tossed over my shoulder at him for him to hear it, and usually repeated once or twice to clarify what sounded like mumbling.
A great deal of time has passed since those early rough days of boy's fragmented sleep, and thankfully, over the last three months, he's turned into a great little sleeper. He goes to sleep more easily, goes BACK to sleep during the night without assistance, and generally gives us no reason to complain. It was a long time coming, and yet it couldn't have come at a better time, now that we're less than seven weeks away from our next baby's scheduled C-section. Now it's my husband who keeps the monitor on his side of the bed, since it's he who arises the one time in the night that boy awakens and needs help falling asleep. Husband sneaks upstairs, scoops our delicious child into his arms, and carries the heavy bundle of him downstairs to finish the night with us. It's wonderful and much easier on me, and now I finally have a brief respite of what should be great nights of sleep to enjoy before the next baby arrives.
You'd think I would have migrated back to the middle of the bed. That I would have learned to sleep once again facing my husband, would have reestablished our snuggle time now that our nights are so much more conducive to it. But no. I still perch on the edge of my side of the bed, facing out into the room and toward the bedroom door.
I actually caught myself doing it the other night, and spent a restless hour or so pondering the reasons why. Why do I still do that? Why am I so closed off to what used to be the most peaceful and contented moments of my day? And truly -- what am I communicating to my husband when I do this?
In an amazing conversation with him, I was able to articulate to him what happens to me in the evenings. After a day of constant stimulation and intimacy with our son, I am simply touched out. I have no space that's my own, with a two-year-old as my shadow. He comes into the bathroom when I'm using it. He wanders around me while I get dressed for the day, clinging to my bare legs and laughing while I try to step into maternity jeans. He watches me blow my nose. He comments on my toothbrushing, my hairbrushing and my choice of underwear. I catch in my hand the food he spits out of his mouth. I change diapers several times a day, along with the wrestling matches that that entails. I snuggle, I kiss, I hug, I carry, I lift, I play, I clean. And it's all the most fulfilling way I could imagine spending my energy, and I wouldn't change a thing about it.
But it's also true that I DO spend that energy. I felt so validated to see the following excerpt in Parenting Magazine this month (the article was about sex drive, but it makes sense in the context I'm using it, too):
Stella Resnick, Ph.D., author of The Pleasure Zone: Why We Resist Good Feelings [notes that g]iving your kids all the cuddling they require (even grade-schoolers need plenty) increases your levels of oxytocin, a bonding hormone. This makes you feel totally close to them -- but it also decreases testosterone, which plays a huge part in revving up your sex drive. Since women tend to spend more time with kids than men do, and have less testosterone in the first place, their levels of this horny hormone tend to drop even more after children come along. The result: By bedtime, the last thing you may feel like is even more physical contact.
When boy goes to bed for the night, I finally have a moment or two to reestablish my boundaries for myself. And unfortunately that translates into some pretty clear line-drawing down the center of the master bed. As I told my husband, I feel like the center of the bed is reserved for the boy, like it's waiting for the time of night he'll need it. And since it's boy's space, I don't want to be in it even when he's not there, because I know once he arrives, he'll be reaching out from that space to lay a hand on his mommy to reassure himself that she's there.
Thank God for understanding husbands. He said that the explanation made total sense to him, and he completely got where I was coming from. For me, though, I can see that in a few short weeks, the demands on my energy are going to increase exponentially, and that I need to (finally) take my family and friends up on their offers of help when possible. If I get some space to myself during the day, maybe there'll be less of a need for me to retreat from other people (like the man I love more than anyone else in the world) in the evening.