Parents who manage to get their offspring to sleep in their own beds all night are my heroes.
Well, slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean. After five kids, I haven’t mastered the art of walking in, placing my child in their cot, and walking away. I can’t do it. My kids have pretty much been co-sleepers from birth, not because I necessarily subscribe to the ‘it’s better for them’ mentality, but rather because it’s the only way that has ever worked in our house.
Here’s how it plays out for us. Each of my five times, the routine has been the same. We bring home this divine, tiny creature and sit and stare at it, marvelling at its perfectly formed ten little fingers and ten little toes, receding hairline and beautifully shaped lips. We spend hours poring over this new little person, studying eye and nose shape and deciding where the likenesses between the siblings can be identified.
We cuddle it pretty much non-stop as we devour own favourite Netflix or DVD series (pre-Netflix era) in a blissed out, zombie-like state.
Days turn to nights.
The days run on feeding schedules, the nights are no different. I feed my new little one for the final time before we go to bed for the evening, and place him/her in the bassinet by the bed. For the life of me I cannot imagine placing someone so tiny, who has, until now, existed purely in the safe confines of my uterus, in a completely different room. So I swaddle him/her, as the midwives did in hospital, and place them gently in the cradle.
And I sit. And I watch. And I wait.
And sure enough, before long, the baby wakes with wind, or hunger, or just needing comfort. So I bring him/her into bed and spend time feeding, burping and settling again. By this time, the little critter has grown quite accustomed to being cuddled, and feeling the familiar warmth and security of my heartbeat. He/she sleeps soundly against my skin, without a peep or murmur. I relax and start to feel the exhaustion overtaking me. It all just seems too easy to stay just as we are.
So after a few more attempts at placing my little one back into the bassinet, patting them back off to sleep and repeating the whole process, I come to the inevitable conclusion that sleep is the most important outcome for us all. I feel guilty for being weak, knowing full well once I start this pattern, it will be exceedingly difficult to break, but I nestle them up in bed with me, and we sleep soundly for 3-4 hours at a time.
I’ve tried ‘Sleep training’ and ‘Controlled crying’ (once and never again), and for me, it just isn’t worth the angst. For the kids, or us as parents. It is traumatic and exhausting. I understand that at times it is good for kids to have a cry to tire themselves out, but for me personally, I prefer to limit these episodes. It just doesn’t feel natural. My anxiety goes through the roof as every protective motherly instinct I possess tells me that what my child needs is soothing.
The first eighteen months fly by with the night-time ritual being simply that our little one falls asleep between us. For the most part I love it. I steal kisses during the night and regularly wake to check they are breathing and safe. It feels like such a sacred time.
Now however, what doesn’t feel overly natural is having an almost two year old kicking me in the kidneys during the night, and throwing her hand down my shirt trying to stroke my breast as she sleeps. She throws herself around, she cries in her sleep and she frequently wakes us for one reason or another. It is at this point of the game that I find myself waking up in the morning feeling like I’ve gone nine rounds in the ring with a mini Mike Tyson, and wondering how I could have been so INSANE as to let our daughter share the bed. Her immaculate looking beautifully made up toddler bed mocks me from the room next door every time I go in there – an elaborate bedroom ornament she uses to play on with her dolls, and occasionally to occupy when reading a book to herself. Other than that, it is redundant.
As it was for my older children. This isn’t my first rodeo, so obviously I knew this stage would come. And I made the decision to co-sleep knowing this. Working full-time means that the primary concern for me has always been to be able to function, and co-sleeping has allowed me this.
At this juncture, however, I am insanely jealous of those who did the hard yards early on to now walk in, put their child in the cot, and walk out, with the rest of the night, and their beds, to themselves.
As with my older kids, my last little lady will eventually, when she is ready, transition to her own single bed at night, but I fear there will be many years before she successfully stays in it all night. In the meantime I will do my best to continue to appreciate the precious cuddles – and endure the karate-like kicks in the kidneys – as much as I possibly can, knowing that even this is one of those parenting stages that I will miss when it passes.