“There were 3 in the bed . . .”: Co-sleeping, Part I

I love sleeping.  I love my bed.  I’ve always been a great supporter of the idea that babies and children should sleep in their own beds, thus allowing their parents to have some private, adult time, and also, to sleep.

Before Charlotte was born, I agonized over how we would all sleep.  I begged an expensive and stylish wooden crib as a gift from my parents, with the idea that this crucial piece of childhood furniture would be in our household for many years, ideally serving two or more children, and we’d want something that was a joy to look upon.  G set it up in the freshly-painted, newly-curtained bedroom alongside a bookcase filled with books, and I purchased organic cotton crib sheets in greens and yellows and creams to fit the bedrock-hard mattress recommended for infants.  

I researched endless bedside contraptions and bassinets that would allow us to keep her in our room for the first couple of delicate months, but I put off buying anything, mainly because the ones I liked were so expensive, and the ones I didn’t were so ugly (Shallow?  I prefer ‘discerning’).  “And who cares?” I thought.  Ideally I wanted our kid to sleep in the crib right from the get-go.

I remember that first night home from the hospital as if it were yesterday: I camped out on the futon in the baby’s room, listening to her every breath and hiccup, so filled with adrenaline that I could have easily run a marathon between each delicate snore.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink.  So, the following night, in lieu of more baby-watching, I retired to my quiet, peaceful, adult room, prayed my child would live through to her next feeding, and slept like the dead.

This routine went on for the first few weeks of our child’s life, at which point she miraculously decided to sleep through the night.  Like, every night: 12 hours.


“We’ve done it!” I thought.  This whole sleeping thing is a cinch.  You just have to be firm, and set them up in their own room, and everything else falls into place.  Who cares that she didn’t really nap more than 33 minutes at a stretch, or that I still had to nurse her every hour during the day, and then to sleep every night?  After that final meal, she slept, and that was that.

A month later, when Charlie was three months old, we brought her to Europe.  We stopped off in France to see family, and then continued on to Wales for our friends’ wedding.  Everywhere we went we had cribs set up for us, but I just never used them: it was cold in France, and then colder in Wales!  I awoke the first couple of nights to my child screaming, little limbs frozen to icicles beneath her fleece pajamas.  She didn’t get sick, but she was mad: it had been 80 degrees when she was born, and the temperature had never dipped below 75 Fahrenheit in her living memory.  As far as she understood it, life was one long, New England heatwave, punctuated by brief, unpleasant experiences involving air conditioning.  Autumn in the UK came as a rude awakening, literally.

P1020563 “This won’t do,” I thought.  So I bundled her up and brought her into bed with me.  I tucked her inside my shirt, warmed her little body against mine, and nursed her back to sleep.  It was easy and wonderful and empowering and lovely.  And suddenly, the idea of sleeping with my child didn’t seem so odd after all.

When we returned from Europe, sleep was still pretty good.  Charlie was now 4 months old–that magic age when Harvey Karp and oodles of other baby-experts tell us the “4th trimester” ends, and our children begin to wake up to the world.  Charlie’s version of waking up to the world included a moratorium on all napping, and a shift from sleeping 12 hours at night to sleeping only 8.

I was ok with that.  So what if I had to wake up once or twice in the wee hours to nurse her back to sleep?  I was good at sleep-walking.  I barely noticed those night-time feeds.  The lack of napping was a bit more inconvenient, however, especially as I’d recently read about 300 books on sleep: I became obsessed with the idea that lack of daytime sleep was hurting my daughter.

I tried everything: from carrying her in a sling 12 hours a day, to nursing for hours on end to keep her sleeping (I read a lot of books during this time period, and became adept at one-handed page-turning).   Since this was my full-time, 24-hour-a-day job, I figured I really didn’t have anything better to do than spend every waking hour trying to get my kid to nap.  So I did.


Then, sometime around December, when Charlie turned 5 months, she decided sleeping at night was lame.  She would go down to bed at her usual time–6pm or so–but then she would wake up an hour later, and then again an hour after that.  Some nights she would wake up screaming every 45 minutes.  Other nights I couldn’t put her down at all.

I became a zombie.  I stumbled through daily life in a miserable, coffee-fueled haze.  I cried a lot, mostly in the middle of the day, when no-one could see me.

We tried a million different versions of sleep-training, both for naps and at night.

When she turned 6 months, we tried letting her cry-it-out: the bain and the Holy Grail of all parents’ sleep-existence.  The first time, she cried for over two hours, then slept for 45 minutes, then woke up crying again and refused to go back to sleep.  The second time, my husband caved after an hour and a half.  The nights following our attempts at CIO were hellish marathons of hiccuping sobs and hours of rocking, singing, nursing, shushing.  We all cried.  And then we cried some more.  None of us slept.

During the day, however, my little girl was a giggling, grinning, joy to behold.  She was just learning to sit up on her own, and being upright made an awesome improvement on her overall mood: this girl was not made to take life lying down.  IMG_0863We had moved the futon mattress onto the floor of her room so that she’d have a place to sit up and fall over, to roll around and play with the dog.  In the depths of our New England winter, her room and that mattress were a haven of warmth and light and comfort.  It was our favorite place, at least in our waking hours.

Then, one night, instead of putting her in her crib, I lay down with her on the mattress, and we both fell asleep.

And I awoke, 11 miraculous hours later, to a new world.  Co-sleeping: I was a convert.


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