Co-Sleep or No Sleep

Inspired by amendments made by Dr. Ferber in regards to his sleep philosophy, on December 29, 2005, the Styles section of the New York Times ran an article by Amy Harmon in which many co-sleepers voluntarily outed themselves. I myself, felt vindicated.

I had actually gotten to the point where I could say to just about anyone who questioned our sleep situation, "Well, it works for us." Anyone that is, except my own mother. My wonderfully supportive mother in all other ways couldn’t bring herself to be OK with the fact that we slumbered with our child. Every possible problem from the baby’s dry skin or the slight rash near her eyes was due to her granddaughter "sleeping with the adults". Yes, the "adults". Not her parents, or even her caretakers, but the very disassociated word "adults" pretty much summed up what how she felt about the whole thing.

So, when she came upon this article in her bible, the New York Times, I couldn’t help but rejoice inside. It had not been psychologically easy for me to disregard my mother’s advice as I had (still have) a tendency to thrive off of her approval, but I had done my own research and bottom line — it worked for our family. Before I gave birth, when I was first handed the information sheet entitled "The Family Bed" during my breastfeeding class at The Pump Station in Santa Monica, I truly thought I’d be reading about how bed sharing should never under any circumstance be practiced. Even after I had read the article that so voraciously stated all the benefits to co-sleeping, I still found it difficult to wrap my head around. I pretty much dismissed it right then and there knowing in my gut that it wasn’t going to be the right choice for us. I remember feeling turned off by the very idea actually. I kept quiet in those classes, a moderate amongst the hardcore home birthers and die hard breast feeders, thinking to myself, "well, I’ll give it my all and see what happens." Never once admitting out loud to the class that I looked forward to an epidural and had no real feelings either way about formula. This was even before I had realized that in this group the word Enfamil was synonymous with cyanide. The pressure was on.

Things changed after I had my baby via c-section (not information I readily offered up at the time either, as it seemed outside of the pain avoiding Beverly Hills crowd — anything not completely natural regarding birthing was just unacceptable in sunny southern Cali). It was tough to be a brand new mom already feeling like people thought I had done it wrong simply because there was no ripping of my vagina involved. I didn’t feel like less of a woman at all, I experienced pregnancy and birth just as I was intended to. However, at the time, I felt vulnerable, and having a baby who wouldn’t sleep coupled with a sobering dose of postpartum depression only added to my feelings of doom and failure. All of these elements actually supported my next step: co-sleeping. A friend suggested it. She was a level headed mother of two who I had turned to at the time to help get some relief from the tears and fears. She did not breastfeed her kids until they were five (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and her two year old now slept in his own room on the other side of the house.

Somehow this legitimized the whole thing for me, plus I was just plain tired of getting up to nurse, swaddle, and rock every hour. Partly because I knew it was best for my baby and had heard it helped with the PPD, and partly because I wanted to be able to fit in as an earthy new mom, I also became determined to breastfeed. There were so many nights of "I can’t, I can’t anymore" only to wake up with a renewed vigor ala Rocky, to never give up.

Oh, the drama of it all. I always had my back-up cans of Cyanide/Enfamil, hiding in my bookshelf so the postpartum doula who I had hired to help with this challenge could never discover them. It just made me feel better to know they were there in case I gave in to one of those 2 am panic attacks and decided to indulge my daughter in a big fat milkshake that would magically make her sleep for 4 hours straight. I battled with the voices in my head of the ghosts of breastfeeding counselors past, "One bottle and she’ll never go near your breast again, one bottle and nipple confusion will prevail, one toxic concoction of water and powdered chemicals and her development will surely be seriously compromised."

And so a co-sleeper was born. On the one hand I was free to brag to my new crunchy granola circle of baby sling clad mama friends, and another part of me had become a closeted, indulgent, lazy, baby runs this house, don’t tell the family or scheduled sister-in-law of my new found freedom. My husband didn’t get the subtle sensitivity of it all and met my neurosis with, "Whatever you want is good for me." Can’t you angst with me?

But truly it did work for us. Being large-breasted, it took awhile to get the "roll over and nurse in the middle of the night" joy that all the perky breasted mom-babes bragged about. I really felt that just one of my milk-filled boobs was bigger than my entire child and I truly feared I would smother her, but we soon got the hang of it.

The best part of co-sleeping was purely selfish. I needed my sleep and this was helping me to get it. In retrospect, as parenting has become more about her accomplishments and less about mine, I don’t need the approval (as much). I get my feedback from watching her thrive, most of which has nothing to do with whether she got the bottle or breast. I would offer, though, that our sleep arrangement — which incidentally supported the breastfeeding — has helped us both to thrive. If I get my rest, I can be more present for the both of us. I tried to sell it to Mom with, "We are so eager to push our children into independence here in America," and, "We are the only culture that doesn’t sleep with our babies."

But at 3 am when I sometimes have to pick up my now two-year-old child out of her big girl bed because of a bad dream, or maybe it is a bad habit (whose to say?), I do know that I am not thinking about American culture v. Indian customs. I’m thinking about how early I have to get up the next day. Eventually, kids all talk and walk and sleep through the night in their own bed no matter what it took to get them there or how quickly they did it. I’m glad I’ve gotten to the point with my choices where I can sometimes feel akin to that obnoxious bumper sticker — "How’s my parenting? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT". It’s not quite as angry as that, perhaps more like, "there is no need to even ask the question, no need to hide formula, no need to not fully present the truth of myself to my mom or someone else’s au natural mom". So, for now, it feels good to just come out of the closet.