“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” is a frequent thought I have while I struggle to move my son’s little feet away from my face, ribs, back on a near-nightly basis.
When I was pregnant, I read a lot (a LOT) about those simple first few choices you have to make as a parent. For example, breast or bottle? Cloth or disposable diapers? And of course, where will baby sleep?
I remember reading about the benefits of co-sleeping and bed-sharing and then also reading about the incidence of SIDS if you shared a bed with your newborn. And then about the incidence of SIDS if you slept in a different room. And in the end, we decided to buy a co-sleeping bassinet to keep our munchkin nearby, but not too nearby. I figured he would sleep in it until it was time to move into a crib, where he would sleep in our room until maybe his first birthday, and then we’d move him into his own room.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Our son didn’t come home until he was two months old. A difficult child birth and difficult first few weeks of life made it so that we co-slept, but the way we co-slept was more like he slept in a hospital crib while I slept on the exceedingly rock-hard, pull-out couch in his NICU room. It was rough, especially because I was still healing from some very bad tearing.
But once we brought him home, it got easier. William took to his bassinet no problem. I remember sleeping with his bassinet right up against my side of the bed, staring at him through the mesh wall that separated us, terrified that he might stop breathing. Being in the NICU meant being acutely aware of his every heart beat. At home, there were no more monitors beeping and flashing lights all day and night, no plastic cables stuck to his body to make sure all his vitals were normal. It was beautiful and terrifying all at once.
William was a great sleeper, though. By the time he hit four months, he was basically sleeping through the night. And by that I mean I picked him up and fed him one last bottle at midnight, then we all fell asleep until around 8 or 9 a.m. to start the day. It was glorious. I was the only parent I knew who had such luck.
It wouldn’t last, of course.
We moved him into his crib when he was about 6 or 7 months as he’d outgrown his simple bassinet. And then the panic began. What if I didn’t see or hear him and he couldn’t roll himself over and suffocated on his belly? I followed the popular advice of no soft bumpers, blankets, pillows, or plush animals for the first few months. He still slept well, until about 9 months when we began to hear loud thumps in the night, followed by an angry cry.
I bought a mesh bumper to use on the crib, hoping it might soften the blows to his head when he rolled over, but I never got around to putting it on due to fear of him getting tangled in it somehow. Apparently, no matter what I read, something was going to kill my baby. And to a mother who had already lost a child and nearly lost the other, there was no way I was taking any chances.
But I started watching him during his daily naps and noticed he never seemed to get stuck with his nose in the mattress, and when he did, he immediately moved aside. The need to survive was strong.
Around 10 months, I started getting tired of waking up in the middle of the night to rock him to sleep and put him back in his crib, only to hear him thump his head on the wooden slabs around him and then have to do it all over again. So I said screw it, and brought him into our bed.
He was still small and didn’t move around too much, and I loved getting to snuggle with him at night. My husband also didn’t mind the extra bit of quiet we were getting, and soon he was also bringing him into the bed to avoid the continuous routine of getting up, rocking, putting down, and getting up again.
It worked well–for a while, at least.
Whenever someone asked me about where and how he was sleeping and I told them he slept best with us in the bed, I always got the same response.
“You’re going to regret it.”
“You’ll never get him out of your bed.”
Our son is about to turn 14 months. He’s a really big kid for his age, and stronger than me, I think. We still (usually) put him in his crib to go to sleep at night, but he always wakes up angry, asking us to bring him in to our bed. Sometimes, I try to stay strong, but exhaustion always wins.
There are days that I almost regret ever bringing him into our bed. Like days when I just want to have some time alone with my husband–something I’m sure all parents can relate to. And sometimes I just want to be left alone, rather than have tiny hands and feet pulling at my hair or punching me in the face, making me feel like I’ve given birth to a tiny Mexican wrestler rather than my sweet little kid.
But in all honesty, I don’t mind being the accidental co-sleeper. I’ve made my choice and I don’t (usually) mind that he takes up my pillows or forces me to sometimes sleep at the edge of my bed. I know this time is precious and won’t last forever. Besides, I also get these really beautiful, intimate moments with him I know i’d never get otherwise.
I get to feel his little chest rise and fall with the palm of my hand, remembering how difficult breathing once was for him, being thankful for how far he’s come.
I get to smell his baby breath, something that maybe non-parents, or non-mothers, or people that aren’t me might not entirely get. It’s the most intoxicating scent to me and puts me right at ease. I gave birth so that he might breathe, I think to myself, smiling in the dark.
I get to touch his still-soft skin, massaging his chubby legs and feeling his mighty fingers grasping my arm. Babies’ skin is made of satin and silk and sunshine and bliss.
I get to hear him giggle to himself in his sleep, or make little cooing sounds, or babble while he dreams. I record those sounds in my mind so that I might listen to them again in my old age, joyful to have heard them whispered in my ear.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” I think to myself every night. But like the old cliche goes, I wouldn’t have it any other way.