Before I was a mom, I had a few ‘ground rules’ that I shared with my husband about my parenting style. While some of these were relatively common sense (ex: Maintaining a strong marriage is very important to me), and others are part of greater philosophy on life (ex: I do not believe in using violence to resolve problems, and therefore will not spank my child), many were just formed obscurely, based on little evidence or knowledge other than it didn’t seem “right”.
Co-sleeping was one of these. The idea of sharing our bed with a child was something that was incomprehensible to me. How could parents put their marriage on the back burner like that? Wouldn’t it create kids who were so dependent that they would never fall asleep on their own? Wasn’t it healthier for kids to learn that they don’t always ‘get their way’, and that they need to learn to sleep on their own at all costs?
Of course, it never occurred to me that my child would be a non-sleeper. I was sure that I was going to raise a baby who, by three weeks, would go to sleep by seven, sleep through the night, and only wake up the next morning (a full twelve hours later). After all, that’s what normal babies do, right?
And along came Sleepless Sammie. For all of his amazing qualities, the child was born with an insane ability to keep himself awake. It was like he was possessed. He would wake, every hour on the hour, the entire night. Usually he would want to nurse, but often he would go right back to sleep as soon as I picked him up. Of course, once he was put back in his bed, the routine would start again.
We tried it all- a bassinette in our room, the crib in the nursery, and yes- in our most desperate moments- we even tried to let him sleep through in his car seat and infant swing. Some of these options worked for a few hours, here and there. But overall, they were all glaring failures.
There was only one way Sammie slept for more than an hour or so at a time: and it was when he was in my arms.
So, after agonizing over the decision, Jason and I begrudgingly welcomed Samuel into our bed with absolutely no way to predict how long the arrangement might last.
As far as things went, I didn’t mind cosleeping all that much. We eventually got used to the reduced bed space, and all three of us found that we were definitely more rested this way than we had been in the past. But it was definitely not something that I had intended on doing.
I had a really hard time shaking the fears that we were somehow delaying him from growing up, that somehow co-sleeping would stunt his independence. This was an odd fear given that Sammie has always been an unusually independent baby, often occupying himself for two or three hours at a time from as young as six months of age. I knew in my heart that the bedsharing arrangement was what he needed to feel secure and safe at night, but had many, many insecurities about the decision.
It didn’t help that- at almost every turn- we were constantly being judged by those around us. Only a few of our friends had chosen to bedshare, and our decision was treated as bordering on abusive by some of our mainstream acquaintances. My mom even had the nasty habit of forwarding me emails from the media which discussed children who had been smothered or suffocated to death in a bedsharing incident (almost all of which being related to the use of alcohol or drugs). It seemed everyone had an opinion, almost all of which being that we were “wrong”.
It became the topic that we were afraid to discuss. And then it became the topic that we became extremely defensive about. After all, it’s very easy to casually judge a family’s decisions without walking a mile in their shoes. These people didn’t spend eight hours a night awake with a crying baby. They didn’t watch their child’s coloring slowly blanche away to gray due to the lack of sleep. They didn’t live the exhaustion of having to work on literally no sleep.
They weren’t living our life.
They couldn’t understand our choice.
And we stopped caring.
At about 18 months, I started to notice that Sammie was tossing and turning in the night a lot more than he had been. His sleep seemed more restless, and he woke up more frequently to nurse than he had in the past. We tried to work through it but eventually started to wonder if maybe our sleeping arrangements weren’t triggering some of the problems.
So, we decided to start working on transitioning him into his room.
It was the right time. It was the right place.
From basically the very first night (with a few odd exceptions) Sammie took to sleeping in his own big boy bed like a real pro. I would nurse him to sleep, quietly escape to our bedroom and usually only return once or twice a night if he was thirsty or hungry. This was a HUGE step forward for us.
Amazingly enough, without any major intervention from Jason and I, Sammie had accomplished what everyone had believed was impossible. He had “chosen” to end his cosleeping arrangement- on his own, with no tears or fight. Almost like he was ready…
But, then the naysayers told me that it didn’t really count because he wasn’t “self-soothing”. As long as I continued to nurse him to sleep, he wasn’t really sleeping without me. In his mind, I was still there.
I suppose they had a point- Sammie fell asleep in my arms and didn’t tend to realize I was gone until he woke up. He very rarely soothed himself back to sleep, and always seemed to require some intervention, whether it be nursing, rocking or back patting.
So, once again I worried. Once again I stressed. Once again I asked myself if I was being totally irresponsible and creating awful habits in him that he would never ever break.
Until one night, a few weeks ago, I decided to let Jason put him to bed. We had had a long day, and he was fighting sleep, so we decided to let him play in his room until he fell asleep.
Which he did.
On the floor.
Hardly an ideal situation. But we had turned a corner- Sammie had fallen asleep for the first time “on his own” in his bedroom.
Since then, we successfully sent Sammie to sleep on his own almost every night. The first few found us transitioning him from floor to bed. But, within a few short nights, Sammie realized that his bed was infinitely more comfortable than the floor, and he would simply climb in of his own accord and fall asleep once he was tired.
Sometimes it’s at 830pm. Sometimes it’s not until 930pm. But it’s always on his own terms, in his own time, and in his own bed. He sleeps through to night, until he wakes up happy and refreshed approximately eleven hours later.
He makes the independent choice to sleep, which was our goal from the day he was born.
Interestingly enough, Sammie now sleeps better than most of his peers who were sleep trained or who slept through the night from day one. That’s the crazy thing about sleep- it changes on a nightly basis, and just when you think you’ve got a routine nailed with your kiddo, they go and change the rules on you.
I am sure that we will go through phases where sleep will, once again, be a struggle between us. But the lessons we learned in the process are much more valuable than the sleep itself:
Some kids just need to go from a to z before coming back to b. They beat to their own drums, and do things on their own time. It’s not that they’re “faster” or “slower”, they just see life in a different order and focus on different things at different times. Sammie has always been that kid- a quality that both fascinates and infuriates me. And ultimately, sometimes I need to just let Sammie be Sammie, adapting my point of view to his needs. And if I can do that, eventually we’ll always find a rhythm that works for all of us.
This blog is part of the 2012 Summer Blog Challenge (31 posts in 31 days). To follow along with my fellow writers, visit their blogs:
Meaghan at Magz D Life
April at This Mom's Got Something To Say