Stories

You In Our Bed

May 13, 2015 Stories

By Stella Padnos-Shea

Tonight, like last night, husband tempted by the couch’s quiet:
that plush other woman, slightly concave in the middle
like my body once was, since expanded, shrunk, starved and fed–
Nothing between us but you in our bed.

The most pleasure I’ve felt has been the absence of pain.
I’d cheat on my husband again with an epidural.
Your debut: messy, requiring containment. Parts of my body
bagged and discarded.
Nothing between us but you in our bed.

Husband’s afraid of my body’s lower half
and I’m afraid of his fear.
Does a girl have to go back to the hospital to get felt up, pricked?
Nothing between us but you in our bed.

And so, sometimes, it is three in the sack:
Not a kinky college stunt or swapper club
But snoring husband, my wet breast, your mouth, your bobbing head–
Nothing between us but you in our bed.

————————-

I wrote this poem about two months after giving birth to my daughter Mirabel; she is the “you in our bed.” The evolution of the marital bed, from pre- to post-children, could doubtlessly become its own blog post/ series of essays/ manifesto, but here it will have to suffice as a poetic theme.

I was– and am– a poet before becoming a Mother. I’ve always been drawn to plays-on-words and double meanings– what a concise way of playfully expressing some of life’s ambivalences and lies. I love the counterpoint of “nothing between us”– it can both mean ultimate intimacy, in that nothing separates two beings, or its radical opposite: nothing, least of all closeness, existing between the two.

Motherhood is a radical new dimension in a woman’s life. Close to four years ago, I bore my first and only child. What a joy, what a gift, and, still, what a deeply ambivalent change. My relationship to my body has undergone some evolutions/ convolutions in these short (yet very long) years.

Initially, those first six or so months, my body was primarily a host, a conduit. A source of food, energy, heat, and deep well of unconscious for the babe. As one of my half-sisters told me early on– It feels like you’re constantly jet-lagged. That was a true psychic and somatic experience, of feeling lagged, constantly weighted, slowed, knowing something urgent needed to be done to care for the baby, but you’re so damn tired and it sure would be nice to brush your teeth.

Then, somewhere, sleep starts to creep in longer stretches. Our baby was incorporating formula, and then solid food, into her diet. I was no longer primarily an udder with legs and unwashed hair. A successive image of my physical identity involved the question– Do I look like a Mom? Simultaneously, I don’t know exactly what that means, yet we all have some idea (forgiving elastic-waisted jeans, scrunchy as couture hair). A Mother is defined by her relationship to her children; can a woman, the same Mother, just be herself, independently? I still want to look like a “woman”: my version is creative, sexual, yet often a loner. How can I begin to reconcile the selves of female-dom? Well, one straightforward way in which I do is that I still wear weird clothes. If anyone sees me tempted by a Lands End flannel big shirt, please talk me down. The way we are perceived by others does, whether we want it to or not, influence our self-perception. Being a Mom in celestial print pants helps me feel more vital. But, of course, looks aren’t everything. I want to continue to fascinate myself.

Some weeks ago, I uncharacteristically got dolled up. Took a shower, put on contacts and make-up, wore a cute little dress. I saw a woman I know who cares for her grandchildren during the day; we know each other from local playgroups where I bring my daughter. She told me– You don’t look like somebody’s Mom, you look like somebody’s girlfriend. That was… something. A huge compliment, yes. And also a reminder that once we become Mothers, that sexy and playful self is assumed to dissipate. The message seemed to be that we are purely caretakers now. What a shame.

Stella Padnos-Shea


Stella Padnos-Shea completed her Masters Degree in Creative Writing at New York’s City College in 2006. She has participated in the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont, and in an early incarnation, one of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s been published in various print and on-line journals, among them Chest medical journal, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Comstock Review, Lumina, and Lapetitezine.com. She is currently a practicing therapist in Brooklyn, New York, where she is inundated with new material on a daily basis. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Daniel, their many plants, and most of the country’s artists.