The Beauty In Bedsharing

 

bedsharing

 

This morning, I slipped under my nearly 3-year old daughter’s covers to wake her up with a kiss and a cuddle, but was met with resistance.

Her: Noooooo mommy, I didn’t ask you.  It’s wake-up time, we can’t cuggle. 

Me: Just a little cuggle? {I try to assume our usual position, by slipping my arm under her neck}

Her: No, your arm hurts my head. 

Me: Oh… that hurts my heart.  I wanted to cuggle you.

Her: It’s okay mommy, I still love you.

My heart shattered into a thousand pieces.  Where was my little baby girl?  Where had she gone?  She allowed me the small concession of carrying her out of her bed… but it’s only a matter of time before she’s too big to even do that with.

I tried.

I tried to capture her smallness.  I tried to hold on to the last breaths of her babyhood. But try as I might, it has slipped right out of my grasp.  Despite my efforts to slow down and enjoy every moment since everyone told me it goes so fast… all I have left are memories and photographs.  But it doesn’t mean that I can re-live it.  Not really. 

Some of my favorite memories of her as an infant will always be of bedsharing.  She always started the night in her own bed, but after her first wake-up of the night, I’d scoop her out of her room and bring her into our cozy nest to feed her and quickly soothe her back to sleep.  And for the most part that meant that we all got more sleep… except for the times I’d find myself staring at her while she slept.  I’d watch her tiny chest move up and down, and memorize every little detail of her perfect little face.  I’d think to myself this is crazy, what are you doing, go to sleep. But those memories, in the dead of night, the ones where there aren’t any pictures – are the clearest in my mind’s eye.

The morning cuddles were always the best.  There was always lots of cooing and giggling, which eventually morphed into babbling and games.  She’d drum on my belly, or rub her daddy’s back.  It usually ended with a ticklefest involving pretend spiders.  On the weekends, we used to be able to trick her into sleeping in with us.  But now she bounds into our room at 7 am every morning exclaiming It’s wake up time! I slept in my princess bed all by myself. We can’t sleep, the sun is shining. I want to watch something. Now sleeping in means lying in bed with my eyes closed, listening to a Tiger on TV sing catchy jingles about life lessons.     

When she was a baby, she slept in the crook of my arm, her hand always on me.  I could feel the rise and fall of her chest all night.  Eventually she got bigger and then she slept next to me, but I still curved my body around hers, close enough to still hear her breath.  And then one day, she could talk, and she began making very specific requests on how I “cuggled” her.  This arm here, mommy.  Don’t breathe on me, mommy.

I find myself wondering when it’ll be the last time.  On average, she woke up twice a night until she was a year old.  And then once a night until she was two.  But for the most part, she’s slept in her own bed all night for almost the last year (a sentence I never thought I’d say).  But there is still the occasional wake-up because of a nightmare, or a noise, or just the request Mommy I want to sleep in your bed with you.  There was one night, about a month before her brother was born, when I got just such a request.  I willingly obliged, preparing myself for the chance that this might be one of the last times that I might share a bed all night with her.  I memorized her sweet breath on my face.  Her little arms wrapped tightly around my neck.  Her legs propped up on the side of my growing belly.  I tried to capture her smallness.

I know that if we offered it, she’d still want to sleep in our bed.  But now that her brother is here, he’s claimed her old spot.  I’m still holding on to the fact that she even wants to sleep with me once in a while.  If daddy’s out of town and she asks, I let her.  When it’s the weekend and baby brother is napping and I’m tired too, I let her.  It’s not the same anymore, since I have to face the baby, acting as the barrier between them.  But now she says heart-melting things like Mommy I want to be close, and she drapes her arm over me, acting as the big spoon.  She’s the big spoon.  How did that happen?

My only regret is that I didn’t start bedsharing sooner with her.  I had heard all of the warnings during pregnancy; that it was dangerous, that I’d never get her out of my bed, and that there was a short window of time in which I needed to sleep train her or else she’d never learn how to sleep.  Everything in parenting had been presented as a choice, except for this.

But I had no idea how strong my biological need to be close to her {and her to me} would be.  Every bone in my tired, aching, postpartum body screamed at me to pick her up and sleep with her. She was the furthest from my body she had been in 9 months; she was unsettled, and I was unsettled. If I wasn’t with her, I’d constantly wake up to check the monitor to make sure she was okay.  She only wanted to sleep in our arms or on our chests.  She flat out refused to sleep in the co-sleeper in our room.  She’d wake up the second we laid her down in her crib.  Parenting in the modern, Western world just wasn’t agreeing with me {or with her}.

Eventually, I gave in to my intuition, did some careful research on safe bedsharing, and took the plunge. And it just felt right. Of course, I didn’t need much “permission” to give in to it.  I shared a bed with my parents until I was two, and my brother did the same.  I witnessed bedsharing as the norm when we’d visit extended family in India.  We never had a crib in our house.  In fact, I never even saw a crib until I was thirteen years old and started babysitting.  So, it wasn’t that big of a leap for me.

I can’t talk about this topic without acknowledging that it’s mired in controversy.  But an army of 10,000 pediatricians couldn’t have kept me from sleeping with my baby.  It’s like the CDC’s recent recommendations against alcohol for all young women.  It’s one-size fits all, and is so condemning in its tone that it fails to do the most important thing: actually educate people.  We’re mothers, not monsters.  We have brains and boobs and biological instincts, so just let us use them already.

If half of us are even occasionally bedsharing, but lying to our pediatricians about it because their response is just don’t do it instead of here’s how to do it safely, then no one wins.  But to be fair, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t support bedsharing, it is supported by The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the USA Breastfeeding Committee, La Leche League International, UNICEF, the WHO, and even the Breastfeeding section of the American Academy of Pediatrics (how’s that for a mixed message).  Just read anything by Dr. James McKenna and you’ll know where I stand.  Every family is different, and bedsharing isn’t for everyone. But it can be safe, is entirely natural, and the bottom line is: it worked for us.

After I went back to work full-time (which coincided with the dreaded 4-month sleep regression), bedsharing became a necessity to get a good night’s sleep.  After being apart all day, she missed me, and I missed her.  There was no way that I was going to spend precious time fruitlessly bouncing my baby back to sleep in her room for half an hour, only to have her wake up when I put her back in her crib, when she would peacefully fall asleep in my bed in 3 minutes flat.  Putting her down to sleep initially is a different story… but as long as the waking happened after I was ready to go to bed, I was fine with it.  As soon as I stopped treating her night-wakings like a problem, they stopped being one.

And now I just have these beautiful memories with my daughter, who is no longer a baby. But my son is a baby, and has been in my bed since the day he was born.  So I’m soaking it in and am recognizing all of the beauty in bedsharing…

There’s beauty in the fact that despite the early loss of my nursing relationship with my daughter, bedsharing restored our bond.  Those first 10 weeks of pumping every 3 hours meant that I lost precious time that I could have been holding her.  I made up for it by snuggling her and soothing her back to sleep in my bed.  When she was old enough to use sign language, she’d wake up in the morning, and sign for milk.  I’d sit up in bed and pump her a fresh bottle, while she clapped her hands with excitement and anticipation.

There’s beauty in the fact that it lets me better take care of my kids when they’re sick.  When my daughter went to bed with a low-grade fever, I was able to keep her close and feel her body heat enough to know when it spiked in the middle of the night so I could do something about it.  And when my son was congested and having difficulty sleeping, I could position him to be more comfortable so he could breathe.

There’s beauty in the fact that I sometimes get the privilege of catching a smile flash across their faces or hearing a laugh escape from their mouths.  What wonderful dreams they must have.

There’s beauty in the fact that every time my son startles awake, I don’t have to feed him.  I simply lay my hand on his chest, with my other arm touching the top of his head.  All it takes is my subtle touch, the awareness of my presence, to soothe him back to sleep.  It’s how we survived the fourth trimester.

There’s beauty in the fact that when my son does need to nurse, there’s no crying. It took me several weeks to even learn what his hunger cry sounded like, because I honestly never heard it at the beginning – he was always close enough to get the milk flowing before the tears were.

There’s beauty in the fact that when my son wakes up in the morning, his entire face lights up with delight as we lock eyes – the way he looks at me sets my heart on fire.  He does a whole body stretch like he’s had the best sleep of his entire life. He latches on to nurse, but unlatches often to smile a gummy, milky grin at me.

There’s beauty in the fact that our mornings start together.  My daughter creeps into our bed in the morning, telling us about her dreams. She pokes and prods at her baby brother, he babbles back at her, she scratches her daddy’s back, kisses are doled out, we all tickle each other, and start our days with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.

So when I look back on this season of my life, I’ll always the cherish the beauty that bedsharing brought to our days {and nights}.

 

 

 

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18 thoughts on “The Beauty In Bedsharing

  1. I love this post! I was vehemently against bedsharing, raised to think it was unsafe, a crutch for kids who will never become independent, everything bad. But when my son went through his first cluster-feeding/growth spurt, I gave in after nearly falling asleep on top of him on the nursing pillow in the middle of the night. I haven’t looked back. Being able to catch when his eyes first open in the morning makes my heart so full and happy. Getting all the cuddles a busy toddler doesn’t like to dish out makes every snarky comment worth it!

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  2. I never thought I would bedshare until the moment I had my baby and didn’t want to put him down. It was convenient for breastfeeding, and I loved to keep an eye on him. Now after 3.5 years, we are close and he’s growing so quickly. The day will come when he won’t want to anymore, but I cherish the time I get to spend with my baby as our days are spent apart. I think education is key – Not everyone is cut out to cosleep, some people won’t wake for a quake! If I felt there was a danger, I would have changed the arrangement. I’m happy there are others who feel the same way and aren’t ashamed of bedsharing. I get grief from my mother endlessly about my arrangement “Is he in his own bed yet? You have to get him in his own bed” etc…Just like breastfeeding, they think I will do this forever or something.

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  3. I have been for 2.5 years now and loving every minute of it. My other half mind you is bugging for him to sleep in his own bed. I can’t do it yet.. I love the thought of him beside me cuddling with me. I know I will have to soon.. Not to sure how I will but I know the time will come.

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  4. Love it, thank you for writing this. It’s lovely to her another mum say ” she only slept next to me or on our chests”… because it’s so natural, and somehow society makes you think that your babies are like that because you are spoiling them. We shared a bed with our little man until he was two and then moved him to his own room with a double bed, so we can go there and stay there when he needs. We did this because i was pregnant and wasn’t sure how it would be with the two of them sleeping in same room/bed. I am loving bedsharing with our new baby but i so miss the cuddles with the toddler…when he comes in the middle of the night i wish i could tell him to stay, but he gets oh so jealous of his baby sister….it would be chaos. I just wish all mums could be supported from day one to follow their instincts, and educated to do so safely. x

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  5. Please keep writing the way you do about the things you do. It’s like a breath of fresh air! The internet is so full of stuff about how to MAKE baby sleep and how to FIX sleep “problems”. This post brought tears to my eyes. It arrived in my newsfeed at exactly the right moment for me. I’ve been so torn between the feeling of contentment with baby in our bed and the perception fed to me by society that “baby must go down!”

    When I scooped my little one up last night as he called out to me – I cuddled him a little bit tighter and opened my heart up wider to cherish each gentle stroke of his hand grasping and reaching for me even though it was 3am and every bone in my body was screaming out for more sleep.

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  6. Beautiful! My big girl is also 3 and does still cuggle (we call it that too!) with us every so often. I love it. I also have a 22 month old & he has sadly never been a fan of bedsharing…even as a very small baby he always wanted his own space. My favourite nights are when all 4 of us are sleeping in the same bed…luckily we have a big bed!

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  7. Love this post! I was the same with my 1st, I felt the need to bedshare but followed all the advice to avoid it and from the day I did bed share was the day I was finally happy, rested and even connected with my baby. With my 2nd, now 5 months, we have a bedsharing crib, for the extra space more than anything. We love it.

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  12. I love your style of writing. The first three days of being home we struggled with doing the ‘right’ thing and tried to get her to sleep alone. All she wanted was to be held close to sleep. The last night I was so sleep deprived and still recovering from my c section. I brought her to bed with me, nursed her to sleep and we slept. All night.
    Now her crib is next to the bed and i crawl in with her, nursing to sleep and then i fall asleep with my husband. Until early morning when i slide her from her mattress to ours and we fall asleep. The way you describe your eyes locking and your baby smiling is how i feel and its the best thing in the world.

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