I Never Meant to Co-sleep, It Just Happened

I never meant to co-sleep with my baby. It wasn’t an intentional choice made before his arrival. I didn’t carefully weigh the research and decide that the pros outweighed the cons. In fact, I spent countless hours during my pregnancy decorating a nary used nursery – picking out beautiful bedding and bedskirts for a crib we never used.

When he arrived, I intended to put him down for naps in the nursery, in his crib, where I knew he was supposed to sleep. However, as I tried to balance naptime with his older two siblings, he wound up sleeping against my chest in his Moby wrap more often than not. If I tried to put him down, he would just wake up. It was easier to just leave him, and let him sleep peacefully while my hands were free.

Then when it was nighttime, I tried putting him down in the co-sleeper crib at the side of our bed. He would sleep for a few minutes after I rocked or nursed him to sleep, but he was restless and woke to nurse often. I was so exhausted by the physical demands of life with a newborn that I simply got lazy. I would roll him into bed to breastfeed and leave him there. Sometimes it was because I had already fallen asleep. Sometimes it was because I couldn’t muster the motivation to get out of bed and carefully return him to his crib without waking him. I tried to put him back as often as I felt able, but after a few months, I stopped trying altogether. My need for sleep was more important than his need to sleep solo. We hit the six month mark, the age at which I had transitioned his older brother and sister into their own rooms at night as infants, but he had still yet to sleep a night in the crib at the side of our bed. He wouldn’t fall asleep unless he was breastfed or rocking in my husband’s arms. We knew it was time, so we tried to “do the right thing” and sleep train him.

It was a nightmare.

I couldn’t stand to hear him scream and cry. I couldn’t stand the frightened look on his face when I would go back in to lay him down. I couldn’t stand the way it made me feel — helpless and cruel and tortured all at once. I knew it was supposed to take a few terrible days, but I wasn’t willing to follow through with it. Everything inside me told me it wasn’t the right choice, for me or him. So I brought him back into bed with me, and he’s been there ever since.

Now, at nearly 18-months-old, I wonder if I made the right choice. It is certainly not easy to have a toddler wedged between my husband and I every night. There are times I wish desperately that we had our own bedroom and uninterrupted nights. It is a pain to have to tiptoe around when getting ready for bed or getting up in the morning. All too often one of us will inadvertently wake him, leaving all three of us miserable until he is back asleep. We always talk about how he should be in his own room, but we just can’t seem to summon the strength it would take to sleep train a toddler who has never slept alone.

Even though I know this can’t possibly last forever, it feels that way sometimes. Especially when he is wedged sideways between us, kicking at my face and swatting my husband with his little fists while he sleeps. The nights when he wakes three or four times, wailing in our faces for no apparent reason, make me wish I had ignored my gut and done the sleep training when he was still an infant. Maybe by now he would have slept through the night at least once. I can hardly remember how it feels to wake after a full night’s sleep – it seems like an intangible luxury.

Yet there are other nights when I still feel like this is going by too fast. I know there will come a night when he will sleep in his own bed and never return to ours. I know, too, that he is my last child, and sleeping on his own will be that final move away from being my baby. Co-sleeping has become my way of suspending time – of letting him stay tethered to me just a little bit longer. How much longer can I lay by his side and smell his sweet, fine hair? How much longer will I be able to steal a morning snuggle before anyone else is awake? The answer is always not long enough. Not matter how difficult it is now, I know I will miss it deeply someday. Co-sleeping may have been an accidental parenting decision, but it’s one I can’t imagine regretting when it’s over.

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Glamour, Women’s Health, Babble, Yahoo Parenting and more. She lives in Reno, NV with her husband, three young children, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

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