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