Co-sleeping. Family bed. The literature is out there, and so are the anecdotes. My second husband was from India and I remember that he slept with his parents until 7th grade. Some of this was due to available space in his parent’s home, but it is also just more widely accepted in India to co-sleep. Fathers give up their space in the bed (very willingly from what I’ve seen) and junior moves in. When junior starts sleeping through the night and is less disruptive, father moves back into the bed and it becomes a family bed.
I was really into the idea of co-sleeping. I researched it and talked about it with my doctor extensively. I weighed the major arguments against it, like inadvertently rolling over and suffocating my child in his/her sleep and destroying all hopes of my child becoming an individual who could function autonomously. I was particularly passionate about fighting the latter. We spend so much energy fostering independence in the United States that we have become disconnected human units – sink or swim – with no understanding of or value for “it takes a village,” which I really appreciate about some other cultures. My second husband also proved the independence argument wrong; he traveled halfway across the world to forge a different life by himself, and became a very successful professional.
What I didn’t anticipate with all the reading, research, and anecdotes, was the input from my own children, even when my son was as young as four months old.
Early on, I purchased a special sleeper for him that allowed him to be elevated at a slight angle and lie next to me in bed (this device was banned by the time I had my daughter, 18 months later). While it kept me from rolling over on top of him, I slept restlessly, always worried about whether he was sliding down the sleeper incline or whether he was covered up enough or too much. At about four months old, he got a cold and seemed uncomfortable on the sleeper. He ended up drowsing through a diaper change one night and looked so comfortable on his diaper changing table (it had a pretty high frame running all the way around it), I left him there. He slept on his changing table for a couple of months and was as happy as a clam. From there, I moved him to a crib alongside my bed. A little after 8 months, he caught wind of the empty bedroom next to mine and literally helped me move his crib next door. This made me question my potential as a sleeping partner. What 8-month old crawls back and forth, hauling crib parts and sitting up, trying to use a screw driver to assemble his own bed? He no longer wanted to co-sleep with me and now he wanted to move out of my room. I saw my family bed dream go down the drain and tried to look at the bright side. We both might get more sleep, it would be easier to incorporate a partner into our lives down the road, etc.
My daughter came along when my son was 18 months old. What I remember most about her early days was how cranky she was and how little sleep I got. I started her off in a bassinet next to my bed. I don’t think I tried sleeping with her, but I did eventually keep her in a pack and play in my room. I think my son was grateful that he had his own room. Maybe he had had a vision back at 8 months that he would not be the only one. For awhile, when my daughter was older, all three of us slept in the same room. Then I imposed my own stories about what is comforting and secure and put them in a room together and I moved into another bedroom. They loved that, but it still wasn’t great for sleeping. My daughter, who had just turned 3, would talk late into the night while my son crashed out about 3 minutes after he lay down. I would lay in my own bed, listening, imagining an old couple in the room next to mine, the wife telling stories of her day while the husband says, “yes dear” in between snores.
These days, I have a king-sized bed and I wish I could live my co-sleeping dreams out on my own terms. They want to sleep with me all the time, and fight about who will have the spot next to momma each night (because momma knows better not to sleep between the two of them). Often they are wiggly and vocal, yelling at the crocodiles in their dreams who threaten to eat their butts (my daughter’s recent dream). I find a lot of peace knowing they are right next to me rather than across the hall. I also believe it saves me some sleep time because when they wake up during the night to complain about something and see me there, they quiet down and go back to sleep. And there is always something nice about waking up to a 4-year old’s face just an inch away from your own, breathily saying, “I love you momma.”