How My Family Sleeps Is No One's Business
Becoming a parent for the first time is completely crazy. If you’re anything like me, your entire prior experience with children was cooing at them from a safe distance, and maybe babysitting the odd toddler or two. When we had our first child, I knew only one thing: I could not function without a good night’s sleep. All the books I read gave specific instructions on how to get babies to sleep, so I was pretty sure I had it all covered.
As it happened, the model I birthed didn’t come equipped with fully functioning sleep features. And nobody tells you they’re final sale, do they? What do you do with a baby that doesn’t follow the rules? I tried convincing her, I tried the soft line and the hard line and every line in between.
To be honest, it felt like our daughter never slept. We could bounce her, walk her, stroll her, snuggle her, trade her off to grandparents, beg her . . . nothing could convince her to sleep if she wasn’t in constant contact with a warm body.
I read every piece of research and every opinionated article I could find, trying to find a solution to getting a good night’s rest. I reached out to other moms on mommy boards, I asked family and friends. Should we sleep train her? Let her cry it out? Should we cuddle her till she fell asleep? Apparently, we may have scarred her for life no matter which option we chose. For every article praising a sleep plan, there were three denouncing it. All we wanted was to sleep, but all we found were conflicting theories and opinions.
A lot of people told us crying it out was the only way to go. I remember sitting outside my daughter’s room while she screamed for an hour and a half solid. Her tiny hiccups as her breath caught in her throat nearly killed me on the spot. That was enough of that. So naturally, I felt like a failure. I wasn’t tough enough to wait for her to adjust, and I wasn’t a good enough mom to convince her to sleep.
Oh, Mommy guilt is powerful, isn’t it?
Some people suggested a sleep doula, but paying someone to teach our baby how to sleep just wasn’t in the budget. Some suggested warmer clothes, or maybe cooler ones, or maybe put something that smells like us in the baby’s crib. Or perhaps white noise, or no noise at all, or close the door, or maybe keep it open. Who knows, it’s all a sleepless blur, really. A big, guilty, sleepless blur.
As if new parents don’t have enough stress, I was worried we’d created a monster by not having our baby sleeping independently by three months of age. The words “self-soothing” and “good sleep habits” haunted me, and I wondered how she’d ever survive now that I’d failed at probably the easiest parenting task given to me.
Then, one day, I realized the only thing that mattered was what worked for us, for the three people under my roof, and nobody else in the world. And so if our arrangements didn’t seem right to others, I was okay with that.
What worked for us was sharing a family bed. We did so safely, and happily. Of course, I’d read all the reports and terrifying news stories, but I’d also read about cosleeping in other countries, and throughout history. Just as importantly, we all slept well when we were together.
That’s not to say it works for everyone, but knowing my baby soundly slept through the night when I was next to her made my daytime hours so much easier. We all woke up refreshed, and ready to tackle whatever the new day presented us – no longer in an overtired haze.
When our son came along three years later, we didn’t even fight that battle. We welcomed him into our bed, too. And again, we all slept soundly and safely. We were actually featured in a segment CNN put together on “Extreme Parenting” because sleeping together is just so extreme, isn’t it? What a crazy concept, to cuddle the ones we love most while we sleep.
Of all the things to fret over while learning to be a parent, I really don’t think sleep has to be one of them. I promise you that whatever way your family chooses to safely sleep is the best way. I promise that your child won’t be scarred whether you let them cry it out, or you rock them to sleep, or you share a bed. I promise you that your child won’t want to sleep next to you forever.
We all have to do whatever gets us through, and for my family, that was cosleeping. I’ve been a mom for nine years now, and it’s been some of the best sleeping of my life.
Alex Durrell is a freelance writer, blogger, speaker and entrepreneur. She does in fact blog at I Don't Blog and she covers everything allergy-related at Irritated By Allergies.