Sometimes, the only way to reduce a stigma is to bulldoze over it, flattening it with personal experience and truth, encouraging others to come out and share their truths.
And so, I’m coming out of my personal bedroom tonight. My “personal bedroom” because it is mine and mine alone. Not mine and Kevin’s. And DEFINITELY not mine and Sophia’s. Just mine, all mine.
I wasn’t always comfortable with the fact that Kevin and I slept in separate spaces. In the beginning, when love was raw and young, I thought couples in love were SUPPOSED to sleep together. Wasn’t it an indicator of their level of intimacy? Of their willingness to share the most private parts of themselves? Of a desire to never be apart, even in sleep?
So when Kevin told me that he really had a hard time sleeping with me, that it made his poor sleep even worse, I took it very personally. I felt rejected and unloved. Why doesn’t he want to sleep with me? I wondered. But it wasn’t me. It was any living being who snored, changed positions or simply inhaled and exhaled, including our cat. So, when we first decided to cohabitate, we sought an apartment that had two bedrooms—one for Kevin and one for me.
In our first apartment together (the second floor of an aging, subdivided mansion that was once owned by one of the Johnsons of Johnson and Johnson), my room was grand and capacious with a windowed turret and a marble fireplace. The cat and I lived in fairytale splendor. Kevin slept in the adjacent room, an elongated closet, its windows packet tightly with egg crates and tapestries to block out every last photon. This was an arrangement I could live with, and did, for three years.
It got so, eventually, I couldn’t sleep with Kevin. When forced into a co-sleeping arrangement on a vacation or family visit, both of us would toss and turn with one of us inevitably winding up on the floor or in the bathtub or simply awake all night. Sleeping alone worked for us. And after awhile I came to realize that I actually preferred sleeping alone. I liked the silence. I liked the freedom of being able to keep the light on as long as I liked. I liked not sharing the covers. I liked not being woken by his alarm or when he got out of bed. Our time together is precious. And so is our time apart.
When Sophia was born, having two separate rooms served us well. I kept the baby with me, waking every two hours to feed her, and Kevin slept undisturbed in the room on the other side of our high-rise apartment. It allowed him to go to work each day and function. I had the luxury of staying at home and catching sleep when I could, he did not. But eventually, Sophia and I no longer made good bedfellows. It was time for both of us to have rooms of our own.
So, we went looking for a new domicile, one that had at least three bedrooms—one for each member of our family. We found an ideal situation that had a separate mother-in-law suite on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second. Kevin transformed the first-floor room into a light-proof, sound-proof cave. I claimed the master bedroom (along with the king-size bed and BOTH of the his and her closets), and Sophia landed in a sunny corner room that shares a wall with mine.
It wasn’t until I started showing people around the place that I realized there were those I could tell about our sleeping arrangements and those I actually felt ashamed to tell. Of course, most of my friends and family have known about it for years. But when it came to the babysitters, our new neighbors, gosh even the cable guy, I found myself leading them past “the computer room” or “the guest room,” but never “my husband’s room.”
Which got me thinking: What Sophia is going to tell her friends? Will our sleeping apart make her feel weird and different? Will she accept it as normal and be surprised to learn that her friends’ parents sleep together? Will she worry about the state of our marriage based on the status of our living arrangements? Will she campaign to “bring us back together?”
Will she lie, like I do?
Then I read “Do You Sleep with Your Spouse?” on The Motherlode, Lisa Belkin’s blog on the New York Times website in which she reflects upon the intersection between research and real-parenting. She wrote about the fact that more and more couples are sleeping apart…23% of all couples in 2005, up from 12% in 2001. Okay, not the majority, but a sizeable chunk of the population. She then cited studies on couples who sleep apart v. those who sleep together which yielded an unsurprising finding: those who sleep apart, sleep more soundly. What was most remarkable about the blog was not the facts and figures, but the response to it…parent after parent wishing he/she (mostly she) had a room of his/her own.
So, if I’m gossiped about or considered to be weird by Sophia’s friends’ mothers (which, I have to admit, is one of my fears) maybe, just maybe, those (imaginary) gossiping moms are envious.
And at the end of the day, what’s going to affect Sophia is not whether Kevin and I sleep apart, but how comfortable I am with the arrangement, how I communicate the reasons why we do it, and that I’m a refreshed, well-rested mom instead of a cranky, sleep-deprived one.