Confessions of an Accidental Co-Sleeper

5 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

It was a Wednesday morning, and to the casual observer I was probably just me, standing in the corner of the lunch room at work, staring blankly out the window at the sunlight twinkling on the water. 

But in actuality, I was manifesting a miracle.

Do you ever do that?  I don't do it nearly as often as I should, and I wonder when I will fully embrace the fact that when I run into one of life's so called road blocks, the only practical way for me to proceed is to give up.  Give over.  Pass the baton, so to speak.  That morning, I stood in the corner of that empty lounge and asked the God of my understanding to reveal to me the answer to my long standing conundrum: how do I stop co-sleeping with my son after two warm and fuzzy years?  I was really at a loss as to how we would transition, but I knew Will was ready.  Also, I was five weeks pregnant and this knowledge provided me with an urgency which up till then had been lacking.

It's funny, I never intended to co-seep with my baby.  In fact, years ago when I heard my sister was doing it, I thought she was cuckoo-loca.  It seemed to me an odd, unnecessary thing, and anyway, was it even safe?  And how would the child ever learn to sleep on his own?

And then I was pregnant.  And through a complicated series of unique and not so unique events, we found ourselves co-sleeping.  I don't like to make excuses for why we did this, because the truth is, I don't feel it's something that needs excusing.  I did what felt right according to my own intuition.  And at the end of the day, had none of those bizarro circumstances existed, wouldn't I still have made the exact same choices? Probably.  

But it was a strange series of events that led us to co-sleep.  

We had the beautiful nursery complete with beautiful crib, but I still purchased one of those Arms Reach co-sleepers that attached to the side of our bed, because I had a strong uneasiness about leaving the baby alone in that nursery.  (You know.  Thug neighbors doing ner' do well activities on the porch outside the baby's window.  Before you roll your eyes knowingly and assume I was merely a nervous Nellie, shut yo mouf'. A man was killed on our street!  Shot dead in broad daylight!  It was kind of a bad scene.)

So I wanted the baby close to me.  And I believe he wanted to be close to me, too.  

In hindsight, that co-sleeper bassinet was a godsend.  I'd always heard nightmares about those first few months of nighttime parenting, but having my baby so close to me in the night meant I never woke up to him crying.  He never really had a chance to cry or fully awaken, for that matter; when he stirred, I would sense it and roll over and nurse him.  Most of the time neither of us even woke up completely. I'd nurse him, snuggle him back to sleep, lay him in the co-sleeper and drift back to sleep myself.  There were no long bouts of crying to soothe, my nighttime parenting was seamless and not very difficult.  I don't look back on those early days as being stressful; I look back on those days and feel like they were Heaven.  A sleepy Heaven.

And then Summer came, and my little William got too tall to fit in his co-sleeper.  This was also around the time I went back to work full time, and my heart was raw and anxious.  We were at a crossroads.  To try and put him in the nursery with the window open was not an option (thugs, memba?) and I was more than a little distraught about returning to work and being gone for 11 hour stretches of time.  Hubby didn't love the idea, but I brought the baby into the bed with us, and we all slept.

When we moved into our new place (sans thugs, pimps and ho's), we set up W's nursery but I guess you can say it remained more of a playroom.  There was a strange little window in there that opened with a crank, but it didn't have a screen at the time.  We continued to co-sleep in our bed, but it wasn't working as well anymore.  Our pediatrician had always recommended we do what worked for us

until it stopped working, at which point we should recalibrate and find a different solution.

Have I mentioned Hubby suffers from severe obstructed sleep apnea?  He snores.  He didn't like to wear his CPAP mask, though, because he believed the tubing was a choking hazard for the baby.  He never fully embraced the idea of co-sleeping anyway, although he liked the fact that we all slept soundly.  But we weren't really sleeping soundly anymore.  I was nudging Hubby awake every few minutes, terrified his snoring was going to awaken the baby.  Soon after, he moved to the couch.  I'm not sure how long he slept out there, but he will tell you it was a while.  I felt terribly guilty about it and still do to this day.  There was a time in my life when the thought of not sleeping next to Hubby every night was unthinkable!  Had I not been working full time would I have been more willing to separate myself from W at night?  Perhaps.  Either way, as time wore on I knew something had to be done.  But what? 

Hubby's doctor told him he needed to get more sleep, and not on a couch.  He was overcompensating with too much caffeine, which in turn was causing acid reflux and some scary sleep apnea episodes. When he came home from his doctor's appointment and told me all of this, I knew something needed to be done.  So I went with the first thing that came to mind.  We needed an immediate solution, even if it wasn't perfect, and even if it couldn't be long term.  We went out and bought a twin sized mattress that very same day and set it up in W's room.  Hubby moved back into the bedroom, and me and William moved onto the twin mattress.

If this all doesn't sound crazy enough (I do realize it must sound disfunctional to the outside world), we all slept amazingly well.  I knew it was unorthodox, and I felt somewhat guilty for not sleeping next to Hubby, but it worked for us.  When the pediatrician noted that it might take its toll on Hubby and me and our marriage, I pointed out that Hubby stays up working until 2 or 3 AM anyways (and he snores!) and she said, "Oh.  I didn't realize that."

It's complicated, see?  Not long ago, Hubby moved his workspace into our bedroom.  So while I've been knocking around the notion of ending the co-sleeping arrangement, the fact remained that where would I sleep once it was all over?  We have a rather small place and if Hubby was working in the bedroom every night until 3 AM, how would I get any sleep in there?  Nothing is ever black or white, I find, especially when it comes to parenting.

But it was time.  As much as it pained me to admit it, I knew William was ready to sleep alone, and I knew as I got deeper into my pregnancy I wouldn't be able to stay in there with him anyway.  That morning as I stood in the cafeteria at work, I noticed the sunlight was blaring off the water, dancing and twinkling, and it drew me over to the window.  Alone in the big empty space, I uttered a silent prayer to the god of my understanding.  Please, I thought, I surrender our sleep arrangement into your hands. I surrendered as I have done so many times before, and a sudden peace fell over me.  Everything was going to be okay.  Somehow.

When I got back to my desk I read this article and tears streamed down my face.  I know the feeling, although the weaning I knew I had to do was a different kind.  I have slept next to my sweet little boy every night of his life, for the past 25 months.  But I knew in my gut it was time.

Why tonight? Hubby wondered.  He had been nagging me forever to fix this arrangement, but now that I was finally taking action he seemed hesitant.  How would he get his work done?  I knew it had to be that night, though, while my resolve was strong.  I'd had a sign, I told him, and something told me there was no going back now.

So in the end, the countless judgements I've endured for co-sleeping with my kid, the rude insinuations, the raised eyebrows, the many suggestions to "cry it out" from

the well meaning Ferber devotees, would not spur me to change.  In the end, I followed my instincts, my gut and my heart, and I did what was right for my family.  You can't always find the answer in a book, or from a doctor, or the internet, your sister, or friend. Sometimes, the answer comes to you in a flash, and you just know how to proceed.  I'm taking my own path in my mothering, and I'm glad of it.  Even if it means that sometimes people are going to look at me like I'm nutso.

That night, I laid in bed next to W, our nighttime music playing softly in the background, and I sadly breathed the moment in.  As we laid snuggled up facing one another, he wrapped both of his skinny arms tightly around my neck, hugging me to him, like he often does.  I breathed in the scent of his wispy hair, watched his little mouth pump his binky, looked at the dark, thick eyelashes that covered his piercing blue eyes.  I kissed his soft, squishy cheeks, and like I'd done so many times before, I carefully snuck out of his room. But this time I wouldn't be returning a few hours later.

I had a heaviness in my heart, a sharp mourning I hadn't felt since the end of my maternity leave.  But I knew I had to proceed.  And the truth is, he did fine!  There were no tears (save a few from mommy), and although he did stir several times, in each instance I tiptoed into his room, laid a hand on his back and he was soon back to sleep. He never woke completely, although one time he did sit up and playfully say, "Mama..."

I laid there watching the video monitor all night, eyes burning with sleepiness.  Around 3:30 AM I realized he wasn't restless anymore, he didn't need me to keep vigil, he probably never did; but I still couldn't sleep.  Eventually I did nod off, though, and dreamt some vivid dreams.  In one, little W was driving a car, and I was the passenger. He was going the wrong way, though, so I pulled him out of the driver's seat and put him in his car seat and got behind the wheel.  A telling dream for sure.  I didn't even have to consult my dream book to interpret that one. 

Hubby and I do allow William to drive our lives, so to speak, in many, many ways.  We each make our own personal sacrifices for him and each other, every day of our lives.  I work to support us when I would desperately rather be home with W, and Hubby stays home with our child and has put his own career on hold, working every chance he can get, which means whenever I am home and can take over.  This means we don't have a lot of quality time to spend together, and when we do, there's always a certain unfortunate element of a "borrowed time" feel to it.  It's not easy, and we both struggle from time to time.  But we do what we do willingly, consciously, and most of the sacrifices I make for William don't really feel like sacrifices because I love him so deeply.  My love for my son is the closest thing I will probably ever come to pure, unselfish emotion.

But the fact remains.  If our unique circumstances had been less complicated, if there hadn't been thugs smoking God knows what outside that window, if we'd lived in a huge house with ample space for all of our needs, if I didn't have to work and be gone for such long stretches...would I have done it any differently?  I'm not the type of person who likes to think my circumstances dictate my life choices, and yet...don't they, sometimes?  I think in my heart I probably know the truth.  The truth is, I waited a long time to become a mother and if I had the chance to do it all over, I would probably become an "accidental" co-sleeper all over again.  I wanted him close to me, and he wanted to be close to me. And that's that, really.  Disagree with my choices, judge me if you like. Many already do, and right to my face!  And that's always fun.  (Although by the same token, many people sheepishly admitted that they also let their kids sleep with them.)  I have my own strong opinions on parenting, naturally, but I usually

refrain from voicing them.  Because who can really say why any of us make the choices we make, save for ourselves?  I do what feels right, I follow my intuition, and I think that's all I can do, really.

And would I have traded those moments in the dark, when W's baby hand sought out mine, and grabbed on tightly? When he'd curl up next to me, those countless number of times?  Those nights when it felt like the only quality time I could carve out was while both of us were fast asleep?  I would not take them back for anything.  Because those were some of the sweetest, most tender moments I have yet to experience in this lifetime. But there will be more to come, I realize.  This is a marathon, not a sprint, and as my mother told me this morning, sometimes you have to do the hard stuff as a parent, the stuff that stinks, the stuff you don't really want to do.  And I know she's right.  

When William looks back on his childhood, I pray he won't tally up the three measly hours we get to spend together each weeknight, the way I do.  Nope, I pray when he does look back, he'll see one thing emerging in front of all the rest: LOVE.  Because in the end, all of our choices, all of our actions, all of the things we are judged upon or look back on and wonder, did I make the right choice there?  In the end, they all stem from love, don't they?

William has always been a good sleeper, and he still is.  Nearly two months later, and after all that worrying I did about how I would teach him to sleep by himself, he does just fine.  He sleeps like a champ!  That big transition I obsessed over was a complete non-event.  If you'd told me this a year ago, I never would have believed you. 

Do I miss that precious cuddle time?  Of course I do.  Is this just one of many instances I'll face of having to "let go" as a parent?  Yup.  But we're learning together, William and Hubby and me, we're finding our own way.  I have to say, I'm proud of W and me for jumping this little hurdle together, and for doing it at our own pace, in our own unique style.  If I had to give advice to a mom or dad just starting out, I'd say this: follow your own intuition.  Read the websites, and the books, nod your head at all the unsolicited advice, but when it comes time for you to take action, follow your own heart, because chances are you already know way more than you think you do.  And you will know your child better than anyone.  Your intuition as a parent is real, and it's one of the most valuable tools in your repertoire.  xoxo

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