Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tales from an accidental co-sleeper

There was a time when I couldn't pay her to snuggle for more than a few minutes (five minutes, actually). Oh, Alyce loved to breastfeed, relaxed and calm in my arms or on the bed next to me, but in this way our physical relationship was quite utilitarian. It's not that she didn't love spending time with me, or that she didn't need that mama-downtime that little ones seem to need to get them from adventure to adventure as they toddle about their day. But Alyce was not once to waste snuggles on non-nursing lounging or sleeping. Not my little girl.

I had never given much thought to co-sleeping or family beds or anything of the sort before having Alyce, even when my midwives suggested along the way I might like to sleep with my baby because it could be easier on me during the night (you know, when this tiny human was sure to wake up every 43 minutes, give or take a few seconds, for milk). I wasn't against the idea at all, but it just never seemed necessary. I had grown up with most everyone I know using a crib for their little ones (except for my radical cousin, you know who you are), and Matt didn't like the idea of sharing our bed. But then Alyce arrived in our world, wanting milk every 43 seconds, and I thought, co-sleeping! What a wonderful idea! Now I can breastfeed and sleep! Everybody wins!

No. Turns out Alyce wanted nothing to do with sleeping in our bed. Once she was done breastfeeding she wanted her own space and she made it perfectly clear that sleeping nestled in my armpit was not for her (fast forward two and half years and you'll find a different baby happily nestled in my armpit, thank you very much, Alyce Mary). She did not want to sleep snuggled up to me, she did not want to sleep touching me, and she most certainly did not want to stay in our bed. She would writhe and complain, snarfling up a storm the entire time, so I quickly abandoned any plans of getting any sleep and moved her back to her crib. And we never looked back.

Until about four weeks ago.

Moving in with my mum in November meant that Alyce and Shira were going to have share a room. Matt and I want the girls to share room anyway (though we had already tried once with little success), but we assumed that they were now old enough to figure it all out (note to self: they never just figure it all out). Alyce sleeps very well, from about 6:30 to 6:30, but Shira's sleep is still a bit erratic some nights, and it is always filled with what we call roll-over shrieks, where she whimpers and yells for a few minutes while she readjusts herself between sleep cycles. Shira falls right back to sleep after these moments, but Alyce? She immediately panics, hands over her tired little ears, and begins her own shrieking. This in turn reawakens Shira, and you see where this is going. If they managed to sleep most of the night together, Alyce's early morning sleep was interrupted by Shira starting her day pre-five o'clock (yes, we are that lucky), and then she'd be cranky and tired all day. So much fun!

Our first reaction was to bring Shira into bed with us so that our four-year-old could enjoy a full night's sleep, but that backfired. She immediately realized that sleeping in bed next to me meant constant, uninterrupted access to boobs. She lasted a week in our bed before putting her back in her crib. I love breastfeeding my toddler, but not every thirty minutes through the night. So Matt (I think) suggested that we bring Alyce in bed with us for awhile. Silly Matt, I thought. Alyce won't stand for that!

Except that she loved it, or I should say, loves it, because she's still there, in our bed. Since that first night together she has fallen hard for not just sharing a bed with her mama, but for snuggling on top of me all night long. Sometimes she swings a heavy arm across my trachea, while other times she uses her feet to "snuggle" up, rather violently, with my kidneys, but mostly she just wiggles her way over to me, rests her head on my chest, and falls asleep. She starts the night in her own bed, next to Shira's crib, but halfway through the night we bring her in with us. Matt has, unfortunately, taken to sleeping on the couch in our bedroom because he's more sensitive when it comes to being tackled by a sleeping a four-year-old. But he doesn't seem to mind these changes because he cares more about everyone getting sleep than he does our king size bed (oh yes, she takes up an entire side of a king size bed).

You know who else loves it? Me. I love it so much. She's such a busy kid now, tackling the world with enormous leaps and bounds, but for about six hours each night she's all mine. Sometimes she wakes me up and asks if I'll roll over and snuggle her better. Sometimes she pokes my arm until I open my eyes and then tells me that she loves me. I know there are some of you thinking, she's setting herself for a terrible habit to break, but we say, that's ok. We'll take the hit.

There are many worse things in the world than sleeping with your child, and I'm learning just how lovely it can be. I've felt closer to Alyce these last four weeks, as though we have this new store of patience for each other now that we're sharing a bed. I know this won't last, in part because I also really like having an adult bed, but for now, just for a little while longer, I'll enjoy my not-so-little Alyce snuggled in close. Better late than never.

Did any of you start sharing a family bed later in your child's life?

Now if you'll excuse me, this post is reaching epic lengths, and I need to retrieve Alyce and tuck her into our bed for the night.


  1. Oh we don't cosleep. Nope, but every morning a new child in my bed. Very rarely do we go a full night without one of them "sneaking in" or presenting themselves always on my side declaring a bad dream and needing a cuddle.
    I would be lying if I said I didn't love it. Cause I do. No shame

  2. That sounds lovely and all but my children won't sleep after they crawl into my bed! A lovely idea then takes a bad turn when none of us are sleeping...but I s till try to make it work on occasion. This gives me some hope.

  3. This week I've slept with my husband 3 times, my nieces (ages 10 and 13) once (the rest of the nights, they slept on a mattress on my bedroom floor), and my toddler twice. I love it. I coslept with nursing infants until their murmuring and wiggling kept me up; then we were strictly "in their own beds" parents. I think you become more flexible as your parenting confidence grows. Sleeping with my almost three year old last night was like sleeping with an animated ragdoll...I found her all over the bed at different points in the night. But this morning, I could see her sleeping animated when she's awake, so peaceful and beautiful in sleep. Her shirt had risen up to show her little round tummy, her arms flung above her head, her hair messy. I just sniffed her and nuzzled her like the mammal I am and surrendered. It's all good. My husband sleeps in the very comfy queen-sized bed at night, and like your hubby realises that the important thing is that everyone gets sleep. Just embrace these days.

  4. I love your words. They make my struggles and joys so much more real - to know another mama is debating, fighting or loving the same things I am. Thanks Danielle. You're the best :)

  5. Exactly, no shame! I hate the shame that sometimes comes from all these different ways of parenting. Do what works, what makes you happy, and what gets your household sleep!

    Stephanie, what a rotating crew in your bed! Isn't it amazing how becoming a parent stretches what you thought was normal? I was thinking that today when Shira was nursing for the zillionth time.

    And thanks, Gemma. It's always good to know that you're not the only one learning how to do these things!