I got married when I was 23 and divorced when I was 26, so by the time I was pregnant with my son last year, I thought I knew a thing or two about never saying never. However, pushing a human being out of your body and then taking it home with you scuttles even the grandest of plans, and two weeks into parenting, I ended up doing the one thing I said I would never do: I shared a bed with my baby.
Bedsharing was born out of complete necessity for me. Our son, like many newborn babies, did not take very well to the idea of immediate baby independence. He easily nursed to sleep and never struggled with knowing it was night time, but God help me if I tried to set him down. His beautiful Moses basket might as well have been a lake of fire for how much he despised being put into it. I stayed up all night long for over two full weeks, letting my baby sleep on my chest on the couch while I watched TV. The first few nights, I was convinced I could just never sleep again. I was bursting with pride and love and spent those short summer nights staring into the sleeping face of the brand new person we’d made, grateful that I didn’t need to sleep.
However, soon, my well ran dry. I was more and more exhausted every night. As someone who’d done research into infant death, reading infant death records for weeks at the Los Angeles Department of Coroner, I was keenly aware of how dangerous sleeping with a baby on a couch or armchair is, so those nights sitting up with my baby became fraught with terror. I tried making up for the all-nighters during the day, when my husband or my mom could watch me nap with the baby snuggled into me, but eventually, the adrenaline that pushed me through the first several days completely abandoned me and I was shattered. I went back to trying to put the baby down in his basket (and later his Pack and Play), only to spend entire nights cycling through nursing, patting, shushing, rocking, and praying that my son would sleep. I still wasn’t sleeping, and now, neither was the baby.
So, I researched. I read the work of Dr. James McKenna and discovered Sarah Ockwell-Smith. As an anthropologist, it didn’t take much to convince me that I needed to bow to the will of biology: I cleared all the blankets and pillows from my bed, curled my body around my nursing baby, and slept with him. I placed the baby flat on his back, kept an arm across the top of his head and my thighs pressed up against his feet, didn’t drink, smoke, or take sleep aids, and always had my body between the baby and my giant husband. I was usually cold and uncomfortable and waking every 2-3 hours to feed the baby, but my son slept all night and I managed to sleep too.
Our son is 9.5 months old and still sleeping with us. No one is more surprised by this than I am. The emergency sleep stop-gap has become the way we live. Our big, mobile boy still sleeps cuddled up with us and I don’t know now if it’s because he needs to or because I’d miss him too much if he didn’t. Because this story isn’t called The Greatest Miracle On Earth, I can’t say that bedsharing solved all our sleep issues. Being breastfed and refusing pacifiers, my son was (and still sometimes is) up several times a night to eat or be comforted. When he’s teething or sick or jet lagged or growing or learning new skills, he can be up every 45 minutes and I go a bit nuts. Because he doesn’t sleep well without me, my bedtime is his bedtime and I haven’t been out past 7pm (without him) since he was born. There are times when parenting our son this way can be overwhelming and exhausting and relentless, and I question why I’ve done this to myself. I fear that by choosing to follow my son’s lead, I really have created a spoiled little monster who expects to be held and coddled all the time.
And then, I look down at the little baby in my arms or tucked into my side, my months-old little baby who just needs his mommy, and I wonder why I think he shouldn’t.
Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her first PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and old news, check the archives over at Whiny Baby.