I’m not sure when I first brought her into our bed. She was definitely over a year old, probably too heavy to rock and I was most assuredly exhausted. We weren’t those parents that planned on it from the start and I hadn’t even heard the terms ‘attachment parenting’ or ‘co-sleeping.’ In fact, in those glorious, blinkered, and so, so judgmental pre-baby days, I remember thinking ‘those’ parents with babies in their beds were crazy. But why did I think that? What about our culture makes it embarrassing to reveal if your child shares your bed? Naturally my illusions were quickly thwarted by my own daughter!
For some reason in our society, there’s a horrible myth circulating that if your child sleeps in your bed, you’ve somehow failed as a parent. You’ve given up. Cribs are for sleeping, they should be sleeping through the night alone and putting themselves back to sleep. You are spoiling them and they’ll never want to sleep in their own beds again. Only tribespeople, hippies and poor families from the olden days sleep with their babies.
When the discussion of baby sleep came up, like a dirty little secret, I usually took on a hushed tone and muttered under my breath, ‘she sleeps with us.’ With my girlfriends with babies, this was usually met with a relieved sigh and admission that it was the same at their house. Interesting. With some however, I got a different reaction. Eyes rolled and I know I saw a headshake. Interesting. How Victorian. It’s not a tiny newborn in my bed, after all. I’m not trying to be controversial.
I suspect part of the problem lies in our Western assumption that everything baby must be hard. The topic of baby sleep is so discussed that new parents come into the job expecting to have problems. In reflection, pre-baby me saw those parents with babies in their beds as lazy and passive. Shouldn’t it be more work? Feeding parental anxiety are the countless websites explaining different ‘methods’ for training your baby to sleep independently. There are people with whole baby sleep consultancy businesses based around getting your baby to snooze alone.
Before our baby-in-the-bed experiment proved a winner, when she woke we would try holding her hand through the crib bars. We would rock her. It could take hours! We tried a ‘cry for 5, 10, 15 minute system’, for about a week, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Feeling desperate, we almost called one of those sleep consultants. Still, pushing my child through sleep training and ignoring her calls in the night to cry it out alone just felt wrong, for me, for her. What a different year it would have been if we’d just brought her into our bed sooner. Dang hindsight. So annoying.
It’s 2012, I can afford two beds (and central heating); I’m from boring European stock and despite being a vegetarian, not a hippy. Yet, this baby in the bed thing feels natural and dare I say, easy. I challenge the notion that keeping our kids close is a negative. Are we to encourage independence (from birth) to the point of stubbornness? What are those ‘I trained my child to sleep through the night alone’ boasting parents actually boasting about? Wow, your child doesn’t call you to get back to sleep. Good job. Is this a parenting success? Shouldn’t our child’s contentment trump societal ‘norms?’ We are not parenting robots. We can make choices beyond the ‘done thing.’ No?
There are many modern day interpretations of the ‘family bed.’ Our daughter now falls asleep in our bed. We read stories, we sing songs and we cuddle. She holds my hand until she drifts off. We then transfer her to her crib, in her room. She wakes once in the night, always crying, usually a nightmare and we bring her into our bed. She falls back asleep within minutes. Comforted. Mother is horizontal. Bliss. Dad has to share his pillow. Hilarious! When she is ready and willing, she can start falling asleep in her bed. I’m going to follow her lead.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, my ideas on what my baby should do and like is never what I expect and must be adaptable. I remember feeling relieved when I finally ‘gave up’ and brought my daughter to bed. It really doesn’t have to be a struggle. Of course, cliché intended, every baby is different. Our baby loves it in with us. The next one may not be interested. However, when I do it all over again, I will try bringing that baby into our bed sooner. For now, the debate continues in our house: which is better, toddler feet in your ribs or breathing in your ear? For sure, nothing beats being woken in the morning with a warm, cuddly, ‘Hi Mom.’
By Leanne Davis