Falling in and out of Love Again (With Co-Sleeping)

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Falling in and out of Love Again (With Co-Sleeping)

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Tim and I have always tried to follow the boys’ cues when it comes to when and where they sleep.

In addition to that, we’ve always tried to ensure that their sleep patterns and schedules and needs fit within the patterns and schedules and needs of our entire family unit.

It’s all a part of that balancing act that is parenting: addressing individual needs, weighing them against the needs of the others, considering the needs of the group as a whole, worrying about developing autonomy and a respect for others’ autonomy, stumbling through the day with a coffee permanently in hand because, you know, meeting and balancing and juggling (and sometimes dropping) needs is exhausting.

Sleep seems to be one of those things that requires an especially trying balancing act: particularly infant sleep.  Because, in case you didn’t know, infants aren’t always known for their glorious sleep habits.  And yes, I know, this is completely normal.  No one should expect babies to pop out ready to sleep ten hours straight every night because they don’t.  And they shouldn’t, at least in those early weeks.

Nonetheless, there’s a reason why Tina Fey once said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that having a baby is like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer every day for an entire year.  Yes, yes, it’s marvelous and extraordinary and full of an unparalleled joy.  But it’s also physically and emotionally exhausting in a way that is extraordinary and unparalleled too.

So to wind my way back to the beginning of the tangent I just galloped away on: infant sleep patterns and habits and arrangements have been on my sleep-deprived brain lately.

If you’re now wondering, “Oh my god, is she gonna start talking about how her baby won’t sleep again,” I want you to know: yes, yes you are right.  Click that little “x” at the top of your Internet browser if you don’t want to read any more about it.  I can assure you that completing that task is much easier than wandering through life for three whole months without more than three hours of uninterrupted sleep and/or more than a half-hour during the day without a baby in your arms or on the floor, crawling around the house at a pace just shy of a cheetah’s.

But in addition to the sleep (and lack thereof) in my household, I’m also going to talk about co-sleeping: specifically, my love/hate relationship with it.

THAT’S RIGHT.  THIS HOME-BIRTHING, BREASTFEEDING, PART-TIME CLOTH-DIAPERING, ORGANIC GARDENING MAMA HAS A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH CO-SLEEPING!

Here’s the thing: when the boys were all tiny (think under six or eight weeks) I didn’t want them anywhere but right next to my bed.  (And no, not in my bed at that point because I was uncomfortable with how soundly and deeply I slept right after giving birth.  That sort of fatigue made me feel unsafe sharing a bed with my babies.   And if you’re wondering more about what constitutes “safe bed-sharing,” I urge you to visit Dr. James McKenna’s site from the University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab.)

Where was I?  Oh yes.  Where our wee babies slept.

After those first few weeks, the older boys (our first two babies) either moved into the bed with us or stayed in some sort of crib or bassinet or what-have-you right next to the bed, whether that bed was in a room or on our living room floor.  (Note: this is still technically a form of co-sleeping.)  Oftentimes, they’d end up in our bed for at least a portion of the night, even after they had transitioned to their own crib in their own room sometime between six months and a year.  But they rarely spent the entire night in our beds.

It was just what worked for all of us: for them as individuals and for us as a family unit.

But Eric has been different.  Different from the very beginning.

During his first few weeks, he slept almost every single night alternating between Tim’s arms and my arms.  Sometimes he’d lie down in a little co-sleeper that we had.  But if we wanted him to get more than an hour of sleep–and we did, and this was truly not too much to expect from a newborn–in our arms (or during the day, a sling or carrier) is where he needed to be.  And he never seemed to sleep all that soundly or peacefully there either.

Then one day, when Eric was about two months old, I experimented with a sleeping arrangement THAT I AM IN NO WAY ENDORSING, JUST TO MAKE CLEAR.  I lay him down on his belly (NOTE: I AM NOT ENDORSING OR RECOMMENDING THIS OR CHALLENGING THE BACK TO SLEEP/SAFE TO SLEEP CAMPAIGNS) in a crib  that was about five feet away from our bed.

Not right next to our bed: removed slightly from our bed.

And that’s when he began sleeping those glorious two hours naps every day and those splendid six to ten hour stretches every night.

It helped that I was breastfeeding and that no one in our house smoked–I hoped that those factors, which are shown to be correlated with a decreased risk of SIDS, helped to offset the slightly increased risk of SIDS associated with babies sleeping on their bellies.  It also helped that I noticed a tremendous difference in Eric’s demeanor, and even his digestion and tummy upsets, after we began these sleeping arrangements.

It was what worked for us.  It wasn’t the sort of co-sleeping arrangement that I expected would work, but it was what did work.

Ta-da.  Now you know the deep, dark secret of how we got Eric to sleep like a mother-effing sleep champion.

But then, as you might well know by now, this all went skyrocketing into oblivion at the start of August, when Eric was a little over six months old.

The long, boring timeline?  He went from sleeping in a crib-in-our room but waking every three hours, to waking every two hours, to not going down in a crib or co-sleeper of any variety at all, to where we are now: starting off every night in Tim’s arms downstairs and then moving up to bed next to me (after I’ve slept for a couple hours) where he nurses every half-hour to two hours.

We are sharing a bed for the vast majority of the night, and I both love and hate it intensely.

Let me start off with what I don’t like, because I want to end on a positive note.

I really don’t like having to curve my body around him like a hawk protecting her prey.  (Okay, okay, I know that hawks don’t exactly “protect” their prey.  But you get the picture.)  It gets uncomfortable.  My arm and hand often fall asleep.  I sometimes wake up with a terrible crick in my neck.

I don’t like being unable to curl up with the covers pulled just under my chin.

I don’t like not being able to face Tim and snuggle into his chest.

I don’t like finding myself squished sardine-style between Tim and Eric most nights, especially since Eric is a pretty monstrous bed-hog, ending up with at least half of our king-size bed most nights.

I don’t like that I can’t simply “nurse Eric down” on the bed so that he will start off the night there.  (Little dude just ain’t havin’ it.)

I don’t like never having a moment in the day where it’s just Tim and I together.  I don’t like that we used to have this every evening, back when Eric went down to sleep around 9 p.m., and that now we don’t have it, not ever, yet I can still remember what it felt like to have an hour or two with just my husband each night.

I don’t like those rough nights where any time I move a single inch, Eric wakes up screaming.

I don’t like that I feel like I’m starting to lose my mind a bit because someone else is touching me almost every single second of the day.

But…but there is so, so much to love about the way we sleep now too.

I love the way that, as Eric has grown bigger, he has become more of a snuggler in bed.

I love how easy it is to just roll over and “plop him on a boob” when he wants to nurse at night.

I love how I can sometimes sleep through those nursing sessions–especially on the nights that aren’t so rough.

I love when Eric wakes up in the morning and he is just SO DAMN HAPPY to see me, and then I’m SO DAMN HAPPY to see his smiling face.

I love when the older boys sleep in a bit, and then Tim and I get a few moments in bed where it’s just the two of us and our littlest baby.

I love knowing that Eric can take comfort in the simple fact that his hand is resting on his mother’s arm.

And I love most of all knowing that this is what I see whenever I wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning.

It’s enough to make the love mostly beat out the hate in my love/hate relationship with co-sleeping.



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19 Comments

  1. Tadeja
    Tadeja11-12-2012

    Oh wow, it’s like I’m reading my own story. And yes – it is SO DAMN AWESOME to wake up to a baby that is SO DAMN HAPPY to see you first thing in the morning. Except maybe not on the mornings when I’m so utterly tired that there isn’t a chance in hell that I can even see clearly. :)

  2. Nikki
    Nikki11-12-2012

    I feel the exact same way about co-sleeping! My “baby” is almost 23 months (wow) and we still part-time co-sleep. Our story is a lot like yours: we started out with her in a bassinet next to the bed (until she was 5 months – probably way too long but I was scared to move her out), though she ended up actually sleeping in the bed with us quite a bit. At 5 months she moved to the crib in her room, but at whatever point during the night she was ready to nurse my husband would bring her to be in bed, where she’d stay the rest of the night. These days, she mostly sleeps through the night in her crib, but we still occasionally co-sleep. Even if she does sleep in her crib all night, she’ll still wake up for milk sometime between 5 and 7am, and my husband brings her to me and we’ll sleep together until I have to get up. I put her between us though. I’m too scared she’ll fall off the bed if she’s on the outside. SHe likes to get her milk then roll away from me! ( :

  3. Rachael
    Rachael11-12-2012

    Can you do a post sometime (soonish? Please?) about how you ended up moving your other kids to the bed? We’ve been cosleeping in various forms with our 9mo old but she’s starting to act like she wants more space. I have NO CLUE how to go about moving her to the crib since she still nurses quite a bit through the night and that’s pretty much the only way she’ll fall asleep, besides in the car!

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas11-13-2012

      If I can remember how we did it (HA!), I will get right on it. :)

  4. Ren
    Ren11-12-2012

    Co-sleeping can be great and I do love waking up to Ezra’s smile, but . . . I liked it better when he spent the night in his crib for those few precious weeks and then I would just go bring him into our bed in the early morning. I still got the snuggles but I also got sleep. Ever since that brief period of bliss ended, I have just felt so exhausted – and Ezra is sleeping better than how you describe your situation with sweet Eric! So all I can say is props to you, because I am 100% certain that under the circumstances you have described I would have had a mental breakdown and be in some kind of facility. I just can’t function without sleep. The fact you have been doing anything at all (besides drinking) is a testament to your stamina and grace as a mother.

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas11-13-2012

      Absolutely–I much preferred when the bed-sharing part of co-sleeping was something that we did at the END of the night…not for those long, brutal stretches. And I’m so sorry to hear that Ezra is taking a chapter out of Eric’s book!

  5. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth11-12-2012

    Oh, Kristin, I am right there with you. My Oliver is six months old and I both love and curse our co-sleeping relationship. I am fortunate that he will nap in his crib, and starts off the night there, too. But he wakes up every 90 minutes or so at night and can’t fall back asleep on his own. So I’m either bouncing him back to sleep in his room (um, no thank you at 3am) or he’s in bed with us and I nurse him back to sleep. But being woken up every 90 minutes all. night. long. is exhausting! I keep hoping that eventually (soon?) he’ll sleep for a longer stretch of time, so that *I* can sleep for a longer stretch of time.

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas11-13-2012

      Yes, isn’t that one of the ultimate frustrating parts about co-sleeping?! You COULD get them back to their own bed where they MIGHT sleep for a longer stretch, but that would require you getting OUT of your OWN bed.

      Sometimes it’s just easier to roll over and plop out the boob. At least for me. :)

  6. Juliette
    Juliette11-12-2012

    I bed-shared full-time with both my kids. And both went through phases of waking every 1-2 hours to nurse. It was brutal.

    This too shall pass. It passed with my daughter, and it passed with my son (my little guy is 2.5) – now I creep in to his bed when he wakes at night, and finish the night there. Every few weeks I realize he’s waiting longer and longer to call for me.

    It’s brutal when you’re in the middle of it. BRUTAL. But it will pass. I figured the trade-off was worth it that I didn’t have to get vertical in the middle of the night.

    (The one thing I’ll suggest to those bed-sharing is that you’ll sleep easier if you have a bed rail on the outside of the bed – you can buy them at Toys R Us and other places, and they work really well – I found it was easier to have baby on the outside next to the rail, then me, then my husband. I did end up only nursing on the right side at night, but I didn’t have to keep semi-alert to rolls away from me :) )

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas11-13-2012

      It is so nice to hear from someone else that “this to shall pass”…while STILL recognizing how brutal (yes!) the interrupted sleep can be.

      And I love how you point out that you still creep into your son’s bed at night when he wakes up. I still snuggle with my older sons every night before they go to bed, and it is definitely time that I treasure.

  7. Laura
    Laura11-12-2012

    Perfectly said…I am reading this while nursing baby number 2 to sleep in bed…I was happy to have snuggled my very sleep challenged son every night until a few months before my daughter was born (he didn’t sleep through the night till just before 2) but it was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done! Holy crap it just about killed me some days but I wouldn’t have traded it for a thing…my daughter was looking to be a better sleeper but we have had 3 very awful nights in a row and I am well reminded of why I “hate” co sleeping…good luck sister! And dont feel bad talking about it all the time…when you don’t sleep it’s almost impossible not to talk about it ALL the time!

  8. Therese Kuhl
    Therese Kuhl11-12-2012

    Ok you’ve made me feel so much better about my co sleeping twins. We had them trained twice to sleep in bassinets or cribs in our bedroom(ok sometimes the living room so one of us could sleep lol) only catch isnow both want nighttime nursing…ugh you can only imagine the positions. I love waking to their smiles and giggles but I really don’t think being a contortionist is nice. We keep joking that “some day” they will sleep in their own bed but right now the constant nursing and touch off 2 sometimes wears on me. Feeling less like a bad mama for sometimes wAnting my body and bed back, thanks for sharing.

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas11-13-2012

      I can only imagine how much more complicated co-sleeping gets with twins!! And I don’t think that ANYONE is a bad mama for sometimes wanting their bodies back! You can love parenting and LOVE your children and still pine for a few moments with your body all to yourself again–not one cancels out the other.

  9. Erin
    Erin11-13-2012

    Just chiming in to say that I, too, am a rule breaker! We put our little guy down on his tummy too, and we have since he was about 3 weeks old. He likes it, he sleeps better, he’s watched constantly, and we have no other risk factors. Lately, he’s been taking a 3-4 hour tummy nap in the afternoon at the same time as his two year old brother! IT.IS.BLISS! At night, the baby sleeps in the co-sleeper next to our bed for the first 6-10 hour stretch, and then when he needs to eat, we all fall back to sleep in bed. We had the same arrangment with our first son, but at about 3-4 months, we put him in his own room, because we thought that we were actually waking him up! My husband and I both are quite active and talkative sleepers! Sure enough, it wasn’t much longer that he was sleeping 12 straight hours in his own bed. At two, he hasn’t looked back. We’ll probably be moving the little guy out soon – but I think I’m hanging on a little longer to my baby!

  10. Nan Jorgensen
    Nan Jorgensen11-20-2012

    Oh wow!! Eric in his present metamorphosis sounds so much like Isabelle my first born. She was intensely sensitive and I had to creep out of bed so very gently …gently gently to even hit the bathroom. She absolutely would not easily settle down unless held for hours, nursing was fairly constant sometimes… Nic on the other hand who came later was utterly different and a solid sleeper. The good thing now about Isabelle is that I am sure she would hear a smoke alarm and wake up and get up out of a fire, but with Nic I am seriously thinking of getting a firehouse alarm or something. Luckily he has Beowulf the Rhodes Scholar German Shepherd to make sure he is dragged out if I don’t alert him!! This is a lovely piece and will be a great source of happiness to read forever!! XO

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas11-20-2012

      I like your perspective, Nan: Eric will surely hear a smoke alarm and wake up to get out of the house in case of a fire some day (if he is so ill-fated to be in a house fire…and the thought of that is something my mama-brain can hardly handle).

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