Last night, the muppet* was asleep by 9.30, tucked in beside me, and I was dreamily pinning away on Pinterest. He did his usual eye-rubbing and arm-waving about half an hour later, so I duly fed him a bit more and he settled back down. Now, I’ve long learnt the lesson that I should be getting my own head down this time, but I so rarely get to watch a whole tv programme undisturbed, or crochet a few rows, or read a few pages of book, that I carried on pinning and catching up with blogs. I was tired though, so about 11pm, when the husband had reappeared from ebaying for Triumph parts (more on that later), we all snuggled down and turned off the light.
For all of 40 minutes.
First there was arm-waving, then the legs joined in and I got a few sharp little kicks in the tummy, then there was squeaking and finally full-on huff puffs. Tucking him under my chin to calm the waving arms wasn’t going to cut it, I could tell. By the time I’d sworn vehemently, thrown the covers off, and dragged my so-very-nearly-asleep self to the loo, there was hysterical howling from atop daddy’s chest. I crossly huffed back into bed, steeling myself to dampen the howls by the almighty power of the boob. It worked, as always, but did take half an hour, and thoroughly woke me up. And awake I stayed for the next three hours. Or at least, in that hopelessly tired-but-can’t-quite-drift-off state. Until the arm-waving started again and I knew he was actually hungry this time. Sigh.
So why is our son sleeping in our bed, disturbing our nights, when he could be in his own room, disturbing himself and putting himself back to sleep? Because I’m an attached parent, and so, probably, is my husband. We tried separate beds in separate rooms, and it worked, for about a week. Except we were frantically busy with trade shows and I was completely worn out from getting up every hour or two hours to calm the ‘I’ve been abandoned’ howls from the next room. So I caved one night after getting up for the fourth time, and we became three in a bed. And got a whole nights’ sleep. Almost. And I felt human again. And thought, why on earth did I put myself through that hellish, sleep-deprived week when I knew the solution all along? I suppose I had to find out that it wouldn’t work for us, for now. I knew in my heart of hearts that my baby should be kept close, and that I missed him when he wasn’t in his Moses basket at the end of the bed. (He’d outgrown it so the cot seemed the only option.) But I couldn’t shake the societal pressure that says babies over six months don’t need to be in their parents’ bedrooms any more, that they’re quite capable of sleeping through the night, alone, in their own room. I’m sure some are, but I know the majority, including our muppet, are not.
I was quite firmly against co sleeping to begin with. It disturbed my sleep.
I worried it wasn’t safe. And besides, the muppet was quite happy in his Moses basket: he knew we were close, and we did respond at the slightest whimper. We snuggled in bed to feed, then moved him gently into his basket once he was asleep. Put him down still awake, you say? Not a chance. Oh, I tried, but quickly realised it was far less stressful to keep cuddling him til he dropped off, than endless shushing and cheek-stroking, and the inevitable picking him up and starting all over again. I was also recovering from horrible anaemia, and feeling very weak, so any extra exertion was utterly draining.
Co sleeping is no longer the western norm, but for virtually all other cultures around the world it is, and has been since the dawn of time. It helps keep tiny newborn babies alive by regulating their temperature and breathing, and keeps mothers in tune with their babies’ needs. It therefore helps establish breastfeeding and milk supply. It’s normal, and despite our society’s best efforts, instinctive. Putting my baby to sleep in another room, no matter how warm and cosy, was completely against all my instincts, and I did fight with this. Curling up with a muppet in the middle just felt so right the first night we did it, and continues to feel thus. It’s also infinitely nicer to wake in the morning to a smiling little face next to me than to howls from down the landing.
One day, I know without a doubt, my baby will be ready to sleep in his own room. Until then, I’m more than happy to snuggle up three in a bed, not least because we all get more sleep this way.
I know I will always find night time parenting hard: to feel even vaguely like myself I need at least eight hours’ sleep, something which is hard to come by with a baby, particularly in the first few months. We are lucky our muppet is a ‘good’ baby (no baby is ‘bad’ though, they’re just themselves) who does, on occasion, sleep for 10 hours straight. A normal night for us is about eight or nine hours, with one or two wakings at either end of the night. I know parents who have it much worse, and also ones whose babies were sleeping through at three months. I just have to remind myself that I WILL be able to get through the day, and that another night will come around soon enough. I managed in the first few weeks with only a couple of hours some nights, so four hours isn’t going to kill me at this stage, no matter how cross it makes me feel. I have to try hard(er) to accept it, to be a good parent even in the small hours when the drunks have stopped marauding down the street singing tunelessly, and kicking beer cans. I always get at least enough sleep to stave off insanity, and just seeing that smile, or hearing that delighted laughter reminds me of that. I just need to remember it when I’ve not yet got to sleep, and the arms start waving…
*Even before we were married, our future children were affectionately known as The Muppets, so this is Muppet #1.