To Co-sleep or not to Co-sleep

There I was, surrounded by my midwife, her assistant, my husband, my step mother and my mother-in-law, all looking down at this beautiful creature that had just entered the world and took his first lungful of oxygen. It was a magical moment. Maximillian seemed bathed in light to me, olive-skinned and wide-eyed, looking up at me in a way that seemed as old as time itself.

We were well prepared for this moment. He was planned, our first child. And down the hall in the other room sat a white crib, bought by one of his grandmothers, draped with homemade blankets, a small mobile with soft woolen sheep hanging just above. Max is fortunate. He has relatives to spare. On his father’s side of the family he comes from Mexican-American lineage, a large family with many aunts, uncles, and cousins. And for his baby shower they had fully stocked his room with special lamps and decorative pieces, a rocking chair and stuffed animals, toys galore tucked away in the closet. It was a mother’s dream nursery.

But it would be a room that Max would never use.

For the first week he stayed in my bed, by my side, every night. It was a worrisome time for us. Am I doing this right? Is he getting enough to eat? What’s that noise? Is that normal? Is he comfortable? Will I roll on top of him in the middle of the night and squish him? I slept with one eye open, and even the smallest audible nuance did not escape my ears. But when I had adjusted to the routine and settled in to motherhood, nights were peaceful. When he was hungry, I’d simply open my pajamas and let him drink, then we would both drift back to sleep. If he was wet, I could change him without leaving the bedside. And we didn’t have to miss one moment of his growth. But it was also time to discuss the dreaded crib. The family expected us to use it. Certainly it wasn’t cheap. And wasn’t that what parents did, anyway? Put their babies down in the crib and get a good night’s sleep?  “If you don’t get him used to it now, you’re going to have major problems down the line,” came the warning from relatives.

We tried it. One night after Max had fallen sound asleep with a belly full of Mamma’s milk, we scooped him up and quietly moved down the hall, gently laying him in the crib. His eyes immediately opened. The crying began when we took our first step back into the hall. We tried, and tried, and tried, but it always ended the same way. With crying that wouldn’t stop. “Let him cry it out,” relatives told us, “He’ll get used to it.” Get used to it? Let him cry it out? I was baffled. This went against every mothering instinct-bone in my body. And the few times that it did work, and he stayed asleep, it wasn’t long before the monitor chirped with his voice as he awoke hungry, needing to be fed.  Or wet, in need of a diaper change. As I stumbled down the hall to the crib to feed, exhausted and in a daze, I thought to myself, what am I doing? Why am I doing this? I remembered the week before, lying in my bed, with Max’s warm little body by my side. I remember the ease with feeding. No getting up, no walking to the another room. He would simply roll over and feed as I slept on. There was no staying up all night listening to every squeak and chirp of the monitor, wondering if he was okay, listening for breath, for life from lifeless machine. When he was sleeping next to me, our breath, it seemed, became one, moving in and out in unison. Why couldn’t it be that way again? Why was I doing this?

The answer came back loud and clear. It didn’t have to be this way. We didn’t have to do what the relatives expected us to do. We listened to our own voice instead, listened to our hearts. From that moment on, Max slept in our bed. For five years until his sister was born. By then he had his own room with his own bed. But that didn’t mean we stopped him if he had a bad dream or needed comfort and wanted to climb into our bed. He was always welcome. It just seemed natural. We did the same with my daughter, and she started sleeping in her own room about the same time that he did. She’s seven now, but still comes into our bed every once in a while if she awakens in the middle of the night and needs comfort, or when we travel. Both of them are well adjusted. Confident. Secure. And I didn’t have to sacrifice years of bonding and closeness with my children.

I remember once, going to a pediatrician. He had asked if we co-slept. I told him yes. I told him that it just wasn’t working out the other way. I mentioned the crying. I told him that I wasn’t comfortable having my baby sleeping in a room down the hall. He made a suggestion. He said, you know, you can put him in the closet.

Put him in the closet? Is that why I had a child, so I could put him a closet?

No. I had a child so that I could love him, and nurture him, and let him know that I will always be there for him. To give him the gift of love and security. For us, co-sleeping was the most natural, fundamental thing to do. And the crib? The beautiful unused crib made a perfect storage bin for all those toys and clothes.

Kimberly Torres

© 2023 Donna Simmons

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