'Co sleeping' was never part of our grand plan. Our grand plan was simply to sleep - I guess the 'co' just came along for the ride.
This article originally appeared on Kidspot.
The NRMA guy was making small talk as he fixed the battery in my car. “You know where my toddler sleeps?” he questioned, rhetorically. “With us, in our bed. I like nothing more than nuzzling my nose into the back of his neck and smelling his hair. It’s paradise.” He answered his own question without waiting for my response. “Yeah, I guess mine does too… sort of…” was my fizzled-out reply.
This isn’t the first time someone has volunteered information on their proud co-sleeping arrangements. There was the friend-of-a-friend, the plumber, the Uber driver; the list goes on. What is it that makes those parents who have embraced sharing a bed with their toddlers so out ‘n proud? Is the stigma around co-sleeping so bad that those ‘rebellious’ bed-sharers feel they need to holler their status from mountain tops? Perhaps it is. But it’s never occurred to me that sharing the bed with our baby, and now our toddler, was anything but normal.
How our sort-of co-sleeping arrangement started
When Hendrix was born we all slept together. It made sense. I could breastfeed without getting up in the middle of the night (think Melbourne, winter, brrrrr!), all he seemed to want was to be as close to us as possible and we all were able to get some sleep. Or so we thought.
It all changed when we realised how noisy the little bugger was. Sleeping like a baby – ha! Our baby slept like a little pig – snorting, grunting and wheezing - he made a terrible racket! So we moved him to the cot and my two-year journey into midnight zombie walking began.
In again, out again
They say the best thing a baby can be given is a good routine, but this was never going to be possible. While our bedtime routine was rock solid (Hendrix always knew when he would be going to sleep), the bed part wasn’t – and where he would be sleeping was largely unpredictable.
My partner travels a lot for work, and in those early days when he could easily be away for a few weeks at a time, I would regularly pack up and head for home, where my parents could help out with the baby minding. As a result, Hendrix and I slept together regularly. But when it was time to return to reality, I found putting him back in his cot increasingly difficult.
Crying it out
Though the seemingly thousands of sleep training programs I read vowed that they were not those “inhumane” cry-it-out ones, they essentially all involved putting my baby in his cot and letting him scream his head off in some shape or form. But it seemed the only way, so let him scream we did.
After two weeks I was a nervous wreck. The term ‘spirited’ couldn’t begin to describe the persistence our child had. Every night, three times a night, for up to an hour a time he screamed. Being in the room only seemed to make it worse, so instead I would sit on the floor outside his door, or with my head buried under the pillows on our bed, sobbing and shaking and pleading for it to stop. It just wasn’t right, we were all miserable and none of us were getting any sleep. Something had to change.
The day I threw the cot out
I was over it. Exhausted, tired of the screaming, a complete emotional nightmare, I dismantled the cot, put a double mattress on the floor of Hendrix’s room, and breathed a sigh of relief. The wailing abated as I lay down with my son until he fell asleep. When he woke up in the night I climbed in next to him and we cuddled quietly until the morning.
This is not to say that removing my child’s enclosure made everything easy. When he started crawling I would have to be the cot - stretching my arms and legs out in L-shapes and bracing myself against the walls while he did his best to commando himself outta there. But once he was asleep things were, by and large, a dream. When he woke in the night he would cry out and I would drag myself to his room, plonk myself down, shove a boob in his mouth and go back to sleep.
To a big boy bed and beyond (into ours)
When Hendrix was about 20 months old, we got him a single bed. We lined the edge with pillows until we were sure he wouldn’t fall out and he made a big deal about going to sleep in his bed. For a while he continued to cry out in the night and one of us would go to his bed to comfort him, but when he realised he could reach the doorknob, he just started to climb into ours.
Honestly, it was bliss at first. I wasn’t deterred by the distinct lack of space or the kicks to the head, and I cared not that we still were up at 5am most mornings. I was just so relieved to not have to get out of bed in the middle of the night, every night. It was just so nice to not be woken by crying.
Somewhere along the line, we had officially started co-sleeping (from 2am onwards).
A transitory bed-hop (that we know won’t last forever)
We’re a higgledy piggledy lot. If I need an unbroken sleep, I’ll take Hendrix’s bed. If Hendrix doesn’t want to go to sleep, he’ll come to ours. If my partner is working a late night, Hendrix and I will share the big bed. It’s a mess, but it does work. And somewhere in the middle, Hendrix has stopped with the early mornings, I’ve regained my sanity and my partner is happy to spend the nights with his nose nuzzled into the back of my son’s head. “You know where my son sleeps? In our bed,” I’ve overheard him say to strangers. “Smelling the back of his sweet little head… it’s paradise.”