What’s a better wake-up call – your kid hollering from a far off room, or finding her foot in your face? After eight years of waking up with all three of my daughters in bed with me, I still have to think about it for a minute, but I usually come to the same conclusion: foot in the face wins. “Yeah, better than 50/50,” agrees my husband about our co-sleeping situation.
So there you have it, our vote for the family bed we never intended on in the first place. The one the instructor warned about in the hospital birthing class, and which I prepared against by purchasing an expensive rocker-bassinet with super soft bedding that I set up next to ours. I’ll nurse the baby and then put her right back in, I thought.
That plan lasted for exactly eight miserable hours of putting my new daughter in and out, in and out. Mia would squirm, cry, spit up, and then only relax when back in my arms again. In desperation, I pulled back the sheets and brought her in with me. We rebelled from that day forth.
I know that co-sleeping is not for everyone and that it can be potentially dangerous, but I also know there are many moms like me who start with the best buy-the-book intentions and end up making a sharp U-turn along the way. I think that’s okay too. For me, the alternative to co-sleeping was more precarious. My logic was and still is that I’m clumsier and way more accident prone as a half sleep-waking mom lifting my baby out of a crib or sitting up in a rocker than I am lying next to her in the middle of my bed, with the added benefit of being able to press my hand against her chest now and then to make sure she’s still breathing, neurotic as that may sound.
I learned slowly as I made the identity switch to “mom” that it was time to let go of the self judgment I had stored up in my pregnancy, to show myself compassion that not everything works out according to plan, that there isn’t always a clear-cut “right way” of doing things. Like the epidural I had hoped to avoid but couldn’t in the throes of a pretty traumatic labor. Or the breastfeeding I had a hell of a time establishing and then had to part with after four months. Or the postpartum anxiety that made me feel completely out of whack. Or this, co-sleeping.
Looking back, it was perhaps inevitable, maybe even genetically predisposed, that my daughters would become attached to the sleeping arrangement we had originally succumbed to for survival purposes. When I was their age, the best antidote to being scared of the dark— “the coziest spot in our house,” Mia says—was cuddled up next to mom and dad. I remember the ghosts slipping away and the darkness not feeling so oppressive when I was catching Z’s by my parents.
From an adult perspective, I’ve found there are other benefits—unspoken bonding that happens when you’re sleeping side by side with your kids. I’ll never forget one particular morning during those foggy newborn days when I turned over to see Mia’s almost one-month-old eyes transfixed by the light and shadows coming in through our blinds. I took a deep breath as I lay there admiring her. Maybe it was the first deep breath I had taken in months because a feeling of contentedness worked it’s way into me and started unraveling the stress I had been holding since her birth.
All of this said, once our girls were past the infant stage, my husband and I forged ahead in trying to get them into their beds. We wanted them to learn to sleep on their own; we also wanted our nights back. We were almost successful. The girls start out in their rooms, which helps. But inevitably, around midnight, they creep into ours one by one, stealthily slipping under our covers as if they’ve got a silent pact with each other to make the nightly pilgrimage. Half the time we’re down for the count and don’t even notice, but when we do we don’t force them out, we just try to go back to sleep. It usually works.
A few chaotic wake-ups every week are guaranteed, but there are lovely calm mornings too, when I’m up early and want to press snooze on endless repeat at the sight of my girls lined up like peacefully sleeping sardines. Because I know that the days of our family bed are numbered, and that in a flash I’ll open my eyes and they will be gone. Will we miss their sweaty heads then? The rise and fall of their chests? Their feet in our faces? Yes, I think we will.