Sleeping Around by Elrena Evans

They will tell you you can't sleep alone in a strange place
Then they'll tell you you can't sleep with somebody else
Oh but sooner or later you sleep in your own space
Either way it's okay, you wake up with yourself
~ Billy Joel
Back when my husband and I were dating we spent many weekends commuting to visit each other, to the endless consternation of family and friends. A conservative Christian, I had more than internalized the "no sex until marriage" rule as I was growing up, but once I found myself in a serious relationship I soon found out there was another whole set of rules waiting for me. "Don't ever sleep over at his place," I was admonished. "Don't even fall asleep in the same bed. Don't sleep in the same room, the same house, the same city if you can help it." Just don't sleep, period.
This new rule struck me as strange. Why did it matter where I was, or who was within arms' reach of me, when I was unconscious? I queried family and friends, seeking a rationale behind the rule. "Well," they responded pointedly, "if you fall asleep..." Significant pause. " You know."
No, I didn't. I assumed they meant if I fell asleep next to my boyfriend, I would wake up spontaneously having sex. "But I don't even know how to have sex," I protested. "Don't you think one of us would need to be conscious, at least for the first go?" The answer, apparently, was no.
On our wedding night as my husband and I were driven through a darkened city to our hotel, one of the myriad random thoughts that flickered through my mind was: At last. No one is ever going to tell me with whom I can sleep "just sleep!" ever again.
A year and a half later, I had my daughter. Suddenly, my nightly bedfellows were again the concern of anyone and everyone. "Don't you let that baby sleep with you," I heard again and again. "You let her into your bed once, and the next thing you know she'll be a teenager. You'll never get her out." At least this time around, the threat had a tangible outcome.
Having no desire to share our bed with a teenager, my husband and I decided to follow the AAP's sleeping recommendations to the letter. Freshly home from the hospital, I nursed and tightly swaddled the baby, then placed her on her back, alone, in a cradle next to our bed. She slept for about five minutes. I nursed her again, my husband reswaddled her, and we laid her back in the cradle. She slept for another five minutes. After several go-rounds, we were all tired, and rapidly approaching cranky.
"What if I try letting her sleep next to me?" I asked my husband. "Just to see what happens. You know, an experiment." His biologist's mind, grilled in the Scientific Method, accepted this proposal without question, so I nursed the baby and snuggled her down beside me.
I woke almost five hours later in a sweat-and-milk-stained panic: my baby! Where's my baby? Why isn't she crying? On the verge of screaming for my husband, I glanced down at my side. There she was, sound asleep, and perfectly content. Results of our experiment? Baby sleeps for about five minutes on her back in the cradle, five hours snuggled in with us. It was an absolute no-brainer.
But judgments from those not parenting newborns came thick and fast. "She'll be in your bed forever!" "You'll roll over and smush her!" "But what about your sex life?" (This last comment, interestingly enough, somehow died a rapid death as soon as I got pregnant again.) Even Dr. Sears, notable guru of Attachment Parenting, warned against our sleeping style. A fierce proponent of sleep-sharing, he nevertheless cautions against using the term "family bed" as he claims it calls up visions of "a pile of kids squeezed into a small bed with dad and the family dog perched precariously on the mattress edge." And that's exactly how we liked to sleep. Mama, daddy, little baby, two cats, sundry pillows, blankets, and whatnot, all piled into a nice big heap. Dim the lights, or don't, we don't care; and we all sleep together like logs.
Though I trusted my parenting enough to ignore the naysayers, (or perhaps, more truthfully, I just like sleeping too much to listen) the teenager-in-the-bed scenario still gave me the willies. So one day, I plunked my daughter in her crib to see what would happen. She slept just fine. Apparently, when she's a teenager, she'll be graying our hair over something other than sleeping in our bed each night.
But the fact that my daughter sleeps just fine in her crib (where she's blissfully snoozing right now as I write) isn't the point. The point is that if I'm to be judged, (and apparently, by virtue of the fact that I am a mother, I am) why not judge me on what I do when I'm awake? Do I live out the Creed I purport to profess? Do I give a fig about the rest of humanity? How do I spend my free time, how do I spend my money? Shouldn't these be the things on which my merit is judged, not what I do in my sleep?
Or perhaps there is no better way to judge me. If "character is what we do when we think no one is looking," as Life's Little Instruction Book claims, how much more so what I do when completely unconscious? I can pet a cat, stop my husband's snoring, comfort and feed a child, all without even opening my eyes. Reduced to my most elemental state, I am intuitive and nurturing, exactly the kind of woman I aspire to be when I am awake.
So go ahead, peek into my slumbering habits and feel free to judge me. If you don't like what you see, feel free to look away. I do like what I see when I open my eyes in the morning, and so at night, I will go right on sleeping with whomever I please.
Elrena Evans has an MFA in Creative Writing and lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two-year-old daughter, and three-month-old son. Both of her children sleep wonderfully, anywhere and everywhere.