I felt his breath as he nuzzled his nose on me drowsily. His soft pink skin glowed with warmth. As his eyelids became heavy, they fluttered a few times before he closed them. The long, dark eyelashes seemed to have mascara on them when his eyes were shut. His precious little hands wrapped around my finger tightly as he made some coos. When I was done nursing him, I gingerly got up and tried not to make any noise while I tiptoed out of the room and left my baby sleeping. My heart beamed with love. And I didn’t want to trade it for anything in the world.
My baby started sleeping fine in his bassinet until he had to transition to the crib. It was during this change that his schedule went more haywire than I could have imagined. He kept waking up at night multiple times to feed and then go to sleep. Initially, my best friend had gifted me a rocking chair that I used to nurse and then put him back to his bassinet. But after doing that more times than I could count, I decided to co-sleep, having him in my bed. I was exhausted and irritable constantly running on such little sleep. My husband eventually slept in another room and when we visited my mother and stayed over at night, she would close her door to drown out baby noise. The only person dealing with my baby’s cries was me, and I had to find a solution.
“Sleep train him!” my mother emphatically directed.
My child’s pediatrician comes from a White background and isn’t always aware of the cultural nuances that go into my family. She explained to me how we’re not in Africa, where the beds are hard and on the floor. I was surprised to hear her say that. While my cultural background is varied, for her to make an assumption like that felt inappropriate. What if I was still maintaining safety standards based on what I learned from decades of what my grandmother and aunts taught me?
“We have to change this schedule; it’s not sustainable for anyone,” my husband told me.
I just didn’t have the heart to see my baby cry for hours without being held. Sure, I appreciated some uninterrupted shut-eye. I just thought that eventually he would grow out of it. But it felt like a constant vicious cycle. I was at my wit’s end and decided to give in.
While my mother and husband both attempted to sleep train our baby, I couldn’t be in the room. I couldn’t bear to hear the piercing cries. I would quickly run into the room and the look of relief quickly emerged on his angelic face as I embraced him.
And then I saw the skyrocketing COVID-19 cases.
Like many, I was in denial about the pandemic initially. I couldn’t believe the headlines and felt like it was just a bad movie. But fatality was increasing as quarantine measures expanded. Panic magnified. We were on lockdown. Eventually, I saw an infant, very similar to my son, testing positive in my state.
I was mortified. And I decided, finally, not to sleep train my son.
Life was too short for me to put my son through unnecessary stress during this pandemic. I had other friends who nursed their kids to sleep for the first two years of life and they were fine. I looked up studies on how both instinct and tradition back up the practice of bed-sharing with an infant. There is even science behind the magic that happens between a parent and child during this special time — exhaled CO2 from the parent may help babies breathe better. The studies showed how bed-sharing could even have a lower risk to infants than other factors like suffering from a peanut allergy. (Note: Bed-sharing in soft bedding and/or with parent who has been drinking or doing drugs do, however, increase the risk of SIDS.)
Yes, I may lose time in my day, and that may mean I tend to both personal or professional work matters less than what I had intended to. But to me, my baby is growing up too fast. He is still in his first year of life, and I want to cherish every moment of that — including being able to enjoy the magic of seeing him doze off to sleep and feeling fulfilled in being able to do that for him. It was much like satisfaction and gratefulness I had in being able to nurse him.
Amid the chaos we are in, and all the pain and uncertainty the pandemic has caused, I do have to thank COVID for allowing me to have this epiphany. It is, fortunately, not too late for me to appreciate these moments with my son.
Celebrate the beauty of different breastfeeding journeys through these photographs.