The reluctant co-sleeper

When I was expecting, I bought an adorable little bassinet with a rocking stand to sit next to our bed. Once the baby outgrew the bassinet, she would go to her crib. Of course.

I feel like I should have known that we would end up co-sleeping. Nina proved herself to be a champion co-sleeper right from the start. The first night in the hospital, I found myself holding her and trying to get her to stop fussing. Not crying, just snorting and snuffling and fidgeting and causing my hormone-addled brain to think she was suffocating or something. (And then me paging the increasingly irritated nurse to check on her every hour or so just to be sure she was ok, since I couldn’t get up by myself after having a c-section.)

Once I snuggled her into the crook of my arm, she fell fast asleep and I drifted off. When the night nurse came in to do her checks she took Nina and put her immediately back into the bassinet.

“We don’t allow that.”

I understood. For liability reasons, they wouldn’t let women co-sleep, because what if mom was heavily drugged and smothered her baby unknowingly? Nina grunted, snorted and kicked her feet in the air, and I lay in bed next to her, waking at every single sound and movement for the rest of the night.

When we went home a few days later, I tried to heed the “Sleep when baby sleeps” advice that had been given to me by virtually everyone. The problem was that my husband had to return to work shortly after I came home, and Nina would not sleep in her bassinet for more than twenty minutes at a time. I tried swaddling, and a sleep sac, putting one of my shirts in with her so she could smell me. No dice. I was desperate to get more than twenty minutes of sleep, so I took her into bed with me.


I dressed warmly enough that I didn’t need a quilt, and she was in her footy pyjamas, and we slept. Oh, how we slept. It was glorious. I continued to try the bassinet, but after a point it felt like insanity. Trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Yes, insanity. I read every book I could find, I Googled endlessly to find tips on how to make baby sleep on their own. I tried every. Damn. Thing.

My mother, who is firmly planted in the old school, told me that I used to sleep in my crib every night without a peep. From seven p.m. to seven a.m., even sleeping through when my father dressed me and put me in the car to go pick her up at midnight from work. (Note to my mother: you’re welcome.)

We continued to co-sleep, saying that I would get on that crib thing when she was eating solid food, before her first birthday, in one of the “ideal” windows where babies are most amenable to a new sleep arrangement.

Then I got a job offer. A really, really good job offer. But it meant that I would return to work much earlier than I planned. Nina was going to be my only child, and I was determined to treasure the hell out of every moment during my year of maternity leave. But this job could mean better things for Nina. Things that would last far longer than my year of maternity leave. I struggled with the decision, but I could not turn it down. I returned to work when Nina was six months old.

Co-sleeping took on a very different meaning for me, when I returned to work early. I spent so much of my day missing her so badly, and wondering if I had made a huge mistake by giving up those last six months. It was small of me, but I was jealous of the expectant mothers in my new office, because they still had all that time just waiting for them. So coming home at night and getting to snuggle in next to my sweet little beast was the happiest part of my day.

I still heard, from lots of people, that if I didn’t start young I would never get her out of our bed. That I was setting us all up for bad habits in the future, and I was hurting her by not teaching her to sleep alone. And worse, that she would suffocate in our bed and I’d never be able to forgive myself. For a brief period, I would lie and say that Nina was sleeping in her crib now, just to end the conversation.

Shortly after her first birthday, we reached one of the “sleep guru” approved training windows. I decided that I would crib train Nina if it killed me.

I spent two weeks crib “training” her before I gave up. I tried lying beside the crib. I tried going in and laying her back down without saying anything, over and over and over. I tried rocking her until she was almost asleep before putting her in the crib. I tried putting her in the crib, giving her a kiss and then leaving the room and closing the door behind me. Listening to her scream for hours, sometimes until she made herself vomit, made me ill. She would stop crying for a few minutes, only to resume her screaming.

During the day, Nina was clingy and irritable. She would suction onto me like a little barnacle, and she cried every time I left the room, which was a big change from her usual independence.

Eventually even walking near the crib would elicit terrified screams. Nina would claw at my clothing, wrap her arms around my neck and wail. At the end of the second week, I walked into her room and picked her up from the crib. She was shaking and her face was soaked with tears and sweat. I hugged her and took her to bed, and that was the end of that. Sleep-training wasn’t for us.

Nina is now two and a half, and she still sleeps with us. We have made some good progress in introducing the big girl bed. I know at some point, sleeping on her own is a milestone she will need to reach. For now I’m trying hard to cherish every single snuggle. Bedtime is full of hugs and kisses.  Nina often drifts into the middle of the bed, but she frequently turns to me in the night and whispers “snuggle, Mummy” and then cuddles up next to me again.

Some nights I feel so incredibly frustrated with bed time. I wish that she would consistently sleep in her own bed, I wish that she would stop spending so much time fucking around when she should be sleeping, I wish that I didn’t wake up with her feet jammed in my eye sockets. I wish that studies didn’t show that poor sleep in toddlers can lower their IQ. I wish, I wish, I wish. I know that everyone has a particular cross to bear with their child, whether it is picky eating or tantrums or biting. Nina is generally well-behaved, she isn’t a biter (knock wood) and she likes lots of different healthy foods. Bed time has become the battleground for us. And it blows. Because when the kid isn’t sleeping, EVERYONE suffers. I can’t take a sick day just because my kid kept me up all night. Often I acquiesce to her requests to sleep in the big bed because it is the way to get the most sleep. (Not enough sleep, but the most.)

I sometimes wonder if the “Mommy Wars” survive because we’re all so damn tired. It is hard not to question our bedtime style when we read about someone else who has let their child cry it out, and is now enjoying seven uninterrupted hours of sleep. Or when we are on night six of crying/screaming/gagging, while another mother is sleeping soundly with her little poppet snuggled beside her. This shit is hard. I’m at a loss. For the time being, you’ll probably find me squished against the wall with tiny feet poking me in the back.


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