Co-sleeping aka Small-foot-in-your-back-Sleeping aka Slapped-in-the-face-in-the-middle-of-the-night-Sleeping is a term used to refer to a child/ren sleeping in the same bed as the parent — intentionally (http://www.cosleeping.org). It is a staple of attachment parenting approaches and is a fairly common cultural practice for non-Westernized people. The idea of a family bed makes sense in a lot of ways for a lot people. There may well be economic/space limitations that require it but beyond that sleeping is one of the most intimate acts we share as humans. So, it would make sense that sleeping with your child would be reflective of and contribute to the bond between parent and child. I was a co-sleeper, much to my father’s irritation, with my parents, and then later my mom only, well into my pre-teen years. Yes, I was a full-size person who could do some basic algebra and cook simple meals who still slept with her mother. So???
It, would therefore, make sense that Asha and I would co-sleep; we have for most of her five years of life. Asha was a late-term preemie who suffered from IUGR (see here for explanation), meaning she was only 2 lbs, 1 oz when she was born. She spent the first month of her life in the NICU and all of those weeks sleeping alone in a little plastic incubator. It was as awful as you may be imagining, or have been unfortunate to have experienced. It was the most unnatural feeling in the world to go home from the hospital alone. So, when I finally got to bring her home, the idea of her tiny little 4 lbs self in the very large Pack-N-Play just seemed wrong. In addition, I breastfed her for 22 months (I wear that badge proudly thankyouverymuch!) and her being right there made night feeding that much easier. Sleep was of a premium after that time we were separated when I went home at night and she stayed at the hospital. I tried to move her to her crib several times in that first year and a half but it still just didn’t feel right. A good friend always reminds me of finally confessing, “It just doesn’t make sense to me for that little bitty baby to be in that big ol’ room all by herself!” So, after a while I gave up trying to force it. I wasn’t ready. And, trust me, I got a LOT of pressure to “get that girl in her bed” from well-intentioned family, friends, and acquaintances. But, I wasn’t ready. Asha is a very active child and after she started walking and running and jumping and climbing there wasn’t much time in her waking hours that I could just be with her in stillness. Co-sleeping gave me that. It gave me a peaceful, quiet time to be with my child and marvel at her wonder. I still take moments here and there to reflect on the awe that is my child when she is soundly sleeping. But…now?
But now, at 5 and a half years of co-sleeping, baby girl gotsta go! I said (a bit) facetiously the other day that I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since February 2011 (Asha was born in October 2011). Between pregnancy discomfort and poor health, shuttling back and forth to the hospital that first month, sleeping in recliners incubator-side, night breastfeedings, middle of the night tantrums while trying to sleep train, and after weaning, her little grabby hands seeking comfort in my neck and cleavage, it’s kinda true. Sleep is vulnerability epitomized. The other piece about sleep post-kids that has been true for me, and I suspect may be true for others, is that I don’t find that same depth of sleep throughout the night now that I am responsible for a little person. We live in a highly-urbanized area and I’m a single woman parenting. Honestly, there is a small current of fear of my keeping us safe that never quite goes away. I’ve come to appreciate my capacity in mothering in such a way to allow Asha to draw her safety and comfort from me at night to sleep soundly and sweetly. Now, I think we’ve crossed some important threshold. I think it is now more important for her to have that success of independence of sleeping on her own and building her capacity for self-soothing than it is to be with mommy. She is a super-strong willed child. That means that this transition to her own bed full time ain’t gonna be easy. However, I want that will to be coupled with confidence borne of experience. When she’s out in the world I want her to have both the unabiding confidence that her mama has her back AND belief in herself to weather any storm that comes her way. I have to lay the foundation for that now and celebrate her success when it comes. Aaaaand, equally important, it’s time for me to sleep in the middle of my very comfy, very cozy bed like a giant adult starfish! Sleep is so critical to our functioning; the research in this area absolutely reinforces this truth (sleep.org). If I am going to be the best me I can be personally, professionally, and as a parent, it is time for me to get some good restful sleep. I don’t know how Asha and my relationship will shift and grow once we successfully make this change but I’m looking forward to it for both of us.