“What do we do now?”
It is 11pm which, to my sleep-deprived husband and me, feels more like 3:00 in the morning. In between us lies a 3-week-old Jake, swaddled in the Snuggle Nest – a co-sleeping aid that provides a walled incline for the baby. Jake has been restless all night, but now he is outright crying.
He just ate. He has a fresh diaper. He had some gripe water, so we’re pretty sure it isn’t gas.
“Let’s try the co-sleeper.”
As soon as we settled Jake into the co-sleeper next to the bed, he settled down and fell into a deep sleep.
It’s been like this for awhile. He’s only liked the co-sleeper when it has all four sides up, i.e, standing alone, NOT when it was actually attached to the bed.
It took us another week or so before we finally admitted that Jake was, in fact, more comfortable having his OWN SPACE.
We were not prepared for this. Being the over-researcher that I am, I had spent the latter part of my pregnancy reading up on a grand spectrum of early childcare books. My husband and I were moved by the concepts behind Attachment Parenting, and I read them all: The Continuum Concept, Jay Gordon, William Sears. We were very taken with the concept of being the baby’s consistent pillars for as long as he might need. Not in that RUNAWAY BUNNY way, where the parent keeps following the kid who just wants to explore. But in a way that would help build a sense of security, allowing him to feel free in the outside world. “We are here. We are in no rush to stop being the ones on whom you depend. You decide when you are ready to explore. We will be here if you need us.”
I breastfed for as long as I could. I wore Jake in a sling for the first year of his life. I gave him infant massages at night before bed.
But that little bugger just did not need us while he slept. Perhaps a different baby would have.
So, in this way, I am really not Pro-Co-Sleeping.
Nor, am I Pro-Crib-Sleeping.
I am, however, PRO-LISTENING.
It was the best and most fundamental lesson I have learned so far as a parent. Two and a half years later, the need to listen and be flexible still comes into play at least once a day. Like when I have decided that Jake and I are going to have a really fun afternoon at the museum, but he really is just in the mood to stay home. Or when I don’t think he has eaten enough, but he tells me “all done.” And like when I try to put him in a nice button-down shirt for our holiday card, but he has other fashion plans.
They all come into this world as different beings with different needs. All we can do is better understand our own interests and philosophies, and then listen really closely for theirs.
We have two cribs in the garage. They are wooden, perfectly set up, gathering dust and webs. One of them was a gift; the other we bought at Babies R’ Us when I was overcome by a feverish nesting urge, unaware at the time that I was four hours away from early labor. We didn’t plan on it, but two babies (still in the bed) and two cribs (still in the garage) later, we are a fully committed, co-sleeping family.
It just felt so natural to have Noah, our first, cuddled between us in our bed. Someone told me it’s best for babies to hear the heartbeats of their parents through the night. Maybe they fall asleep to the rhythm, or maybe it’s like a cheering section saying “Yay! You were born! Keep going! See how great it is to have a heart?!”
We bought one of those “snuggle nests” so he would be safe between us, and read all the articles on how to do it right. Everyone was so worried about rolling over on baby, but that just didn’t seem possible, with the way our sleep lightened (for better or worse) to awake at our baby’s smallest need or movement. And once I discovered the wonder of night nursing –where I could just roll over and we could all stay in a semi-dreamy state of sleep –I didn’t want to move him to a crib where I would have to actually wake up to get him. I felt so overwhelmed at this new person being here with me permanently; to sleep with him helped me tune in to his needs and helped me to feel more confident about reading his cues. It deepened our bond.
Somehow I thought we would still use that shiny crib and get back on the path with most of our friends, but instead it became the best unfolded-laundry-holder ever. And Noah stayed in the bed.
We loved waking up to his smile. We loved being able to give in to the unstoppable early-parenting urge to check his breathing. We got to make a nest for him and it felt right.
Living in a one-bedroom house also supported this. A kids’ room was not an option. But what started out as a space adaptation became a choice. I think we’re like animals – we like to sleep in packs, we like to feel each others’ warmth. Maybe kids don’t really want to be down the hall. All those hours alone in a room, on some level, must register in a negative way. Whereas all those hours with the people you love, hearing their breathing, knowing they are right there, must register in a positive way. It’s especially nice if the parent is away most of the day working; they get their secret sleepy baby hours. My husband surprised me -he ended up loving it as much as me.
Now Noah is four, and his little brother is 22 months old. We put the largest memory foam mattress we could find on the floor. We all pile on it, like a big raft in the middle of the room. My husband and I stay up later than they do for a little grown-up time and when we go to find our place, it’s amazing that two small boys can take over a whole bed. We did have a co-sleeper crib when our second baby was brand-new, mostly to protect him from rollovers from the big brother. But once it seemed like time, we were all back in it together.
This makes traveling much easier. Wherever we go, as long as there is a bed, no routine is broken. We go camping and throw a mattress in one little tent – just like home! So far, they seem to be more adaptable than separate-sleeping kids. And they don’t wake up as early. I feel secret guilty pleasure when people complain of early wake-ups from kids who maybe just want that extra cuddle.
As much as I love it, I do feel a little jealous when friends talk about putting their babies to bed, closing the door, and going to their own rooms. There are probably less kicks in the night, and it probably teaches kids to be independent sooner. But then, I think our culture rushes everything anyway, so slowing things down probably might bring it closer to balance.
If someone had told me when I was buying that crib that I would be like this, I would have laughed. But now I treasure the feeling of safety, the closeness of the family, and the fact that I gave into something that, even though I didn’t plan it, felt completely natural. I know the days of co-sleeping are numbered, like everything in this parenting journey. So for now, I am looking forward to another cuddly night with lots of warm toes in the bed.
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Originally published on The Seattle Lesbian
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