The Way We Sleep

I’m coming clean because I’m sick of living in fear that my secret will get out. My three month old son sleeps in my bed. My east coast friends just spit their Venti nonfat caramel macchiatos all over their manicurists. Half of my west coast friends smirked  smugly over the rim of their single origin, triple shot espresso cup, while their babies slept soundly in their cribs. The other half wondered what the big deal was, as their 3 year olds tapped them on the shoulder, ready for their afternoon breastfeed.

I guess I’m admitting to it because I am the one who really has the problem with it.

This was not my plan. I read all about sleep training while I was pregnant. I mean, it was basically the thing I focused on the most.  Co-sleeping? Not even on the radar for me. We had a cradle in our bedroom, that we foolishly expected our baby to take to like a fish to water, and a crib in his or her meticulously appointed bedroom, where we ASS-U-ME-D our baby would transition to effortlessly at, oh, about three months.To me, as a highly uncomfortable pregnant person, not yet used to the brutality of sleep deprivation and longing for it to end when the pregnancy did (ha), getting my baby to be a good sleeper was of paramount importance. As a sidenote, in all of my research I somehow missed the fact that “sleeping through the night” means five hours TOPS, and which would be nearly impossible, and perhaps not even healthy for a newborn. Or I was only reading selectively, as that information would have made my swollen feet explode right off of my body.

And the baby only weighed 8 lbs.

But I digress.

I said all the time, “I’m not attached to one way of doing things because I know that it’s impossible to know what will work with my baby.” But I really didn’t understand what that meant. Not really.

Utterly clueless.

My son is a joy. Such an easy baby, when I hear stories of desperate parents dragging their beaten down selves out to their cars for midnight rides with inconsolable babies on board. But he has had some requests that we have been willing to oblige. You let me sleep with you at night – and in a sling strapped across you for daytime naps – and I’ll be a dream, he promised. So in essence he’s given me what I said I wanted – a baby who sleeps really well. I guess I just wasn’t specific about where I wanted that sleeping to take place. I do not refer to our bed as a family bed. I’m not that kind of girl, I tell myself. I merely sleep in a bed with my entire family.

At three months, my son goes to bed at 8, has a sleepy feed at 11 and four, then wakes up for the day at 7:30. That’s nothing to complain about. The long, hot nights sharing a queen-sized bed with my husband, wiggly son, and sometimes our cat? Those are less than spectacular. THE BABY sleeps through the night, even through diaper changes and feedings. My husband doesn’t do so badly himself, often saying after particularly bad nights, “Man, I was OUT COLD last night!” The cat only wakes up if the baby cries, glaring at me accusingly. Mama? Oh, no, mama doesn’t get so much as a couple of consecutive hours. I am usually a bedraggled mess by morning – hair and bedclothes askew, scratches from tiny nails scattered across my chest, teeny bruises on my thighs from Senor Kicky Pants. But inspite of all of that, I have a hard time imagining letting him fend for himself in a crib all night.

So what happened? How did I go from having such a militant attitude, to a woman willing to give up her basic rights to a benevolent dictator? Everything changes the moment you lock eyes with your progeny. You agonize over every detail of child-rearing, terrified that one bad decision could potentially transform your perfect little angel into a sociopath or a Republican, or whatever is your greatest fear. His cry is unbearable to you. So, basically, this is what happened:

His excellency.

Why don’t YOU tell him he has to sleep all the way at the other end of the hall, in a room devoid of warm-bodied grown ups, that lady who carries his food source in her bra nowhere in sight. Go ahead, look into those baby blues and tell him.

I wasn’t expecting to be such putty in his tiny dimpled hands, but here I am. I have no exit strategy for this sleeping arrangement that I know needs to end at some time. I get two points of view when I break down, delirious from exhaustion, and tell people. Either a horrified, “Oh! You’ve got to put an end to it NOW! Just let him cry it out for a couple of nights and he’ll be fine.” Or the much more comforting though still not very helpful, “Oh, when it needs to end, you’ll find a way.”

I worry constantly that I am creating either a monster, or an overly dependent child. But. He often smiles and laughs in his sleep. He wakes up happy and rested and easily adapts to whatever plan we have for the day. And some nights I actually do sleep alright, at least as well as any other mother of a young baby might. Not to mention all of the little, unbearably precious moments I get to have with him, as he drifts off to sleep, and as he groggily wakes again. The way we lay sometimes, nose to nose, our mutual admiration written on our faces, the feeling of utter awe at the enormity of my love for this child – these are the moments I try to memorize, knowing I may want to call them up again someday.  This will not last forever, I know, whether I try to dictate how the end of it goes down or not. On good days, when I’m not totally exhausted I remember this, and I let myself soften. I know that someday, probably much sooner than I will be ready, I will hear the inevitable, “I do it MY-SELF, mommy,” signalling the beginning of the end of this particular kind of dependence on me. When my son is a boy, and then a man, I will realize how very short a time he was a baby.

So, there it is, out in the open. I guess the REAL truth is that I AM okay with it. I think I know that, in the end, I will have a much harder time ending this arrangement than my son will. The situation is far from perfect. But, for now anyway, this is the way we sleep.

Tiny boy in a big bed.

5 thoughts on “The Way We Sleep

  1. Mary Rekosh

    I LOVED this, and it brought tears to my eyes. I, too, slept with all 3 of my kids as babies (and lied about it to their pediatrician, who clearly disapproved of such nonsense), and mourn that nose-to-nose mutual admiration. You’re wise to recognize that while it is admittedly tiring for mama, infancy is so fleeting and delicious. Beautifully written.

  2. Macy Allatt McGinness

    i love this post jen and can definitely relate! i don’t know about you but for those nights early on in my little georgie’s life, when it was easier just to let him drift off to sleep in my arms while i was catching up on my bachelor episodes, i would sleep stiff as a board afraid to smush the little peanut. you’re smart to cherish these precious moments! enjoy them, they go by so quickly!

  3. heather

    I was there myself with my youngest….he wilk b 14 next month and miss those days more and more with each passing day……you will do what ever you are comfortable with….it dosent make you bad… makes you you….

  4. Courtney Nelson

    Oh I loved this…have been wondering how you’re doing these days! My precious Maya wouldn’t sleep with us if I paid her, so rest easy knowing that what you have is a GIFT. One day very soon he’ll no longer need to sleep in your arms, so enjoy EVERY moment. You can sleep next year. Lots of love and kisses!

  5. Veronica

    Hi Jen,
    I thought I might share with you that my eldest is in my bed and has been since the day I brought him home, and I love every minute of it. We are just now moving him to his own bed, he’s 5, and I am the one who is sad!!! Enjoy every moment, they grow so quickly and the bond is beyong anything I could of ever imagined. I have never been ashamed or embarrassed and neither should you. I would do it all over again!!:) Btw, I saw your mom yesterday, as she was driving down Garden, I have never met her, but I knew she was your mom, you look just like her. We spoke of Ronin and how blessed you are!!! Take care and be well!!


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