“He’s been crying foreeeeeever.”
“How long are we supposed to let him do this?”
“Well, it’s definitely been five minutes.”
“It’s been one minute . . . one.”
“Oh my gosh. I can’t.”
Thirty seconds later, our son is resting comfortably on me while an episode of The Office plays softly as background music.
“I’ll just nurse him for a few minutes,” I promise as I adjust to make sure he’s safe and secure in my arms. Then I fall asleep five minutes later.
That was five years ago. These days, we’ve added a little wild woman to our family, and even though both kids have their own beds, they expect that if they need it, either mommy or daddy will lay down next to them or let them climb in with us. In the early years of their lives, they expected to sleep with us every night. It wasn’t what we planned, this ongoing evolution of what has come to be known as “cosleeping,” but it is what we do. And for us, it is perfect.
I didn’t read a lot of baby books while I was pregnant. But one of the few I did promised me that I could sleep train my children very quickly and with absolutely no tears. It was just a matter of patience and persistence. It even said this magical process could be done in weeks. Ha. Har, har, hardy har.
When we brought home our son, I was confident. I had a method, and there was very little indication in the book that it might fail. In fact, I don’t think they even fielded that possibility. As long as you left the hospital with a healthy baby, you could do it. Only I couldn’t. No matter how many times I picked up our son, put him to sleep, and placed him back in his crib, he was still awake minutes later. Our doctor, who we really do love by the way, had one piece of extremely useless advice: just let him cry.
So what’s a mama to do? I didn’t want to let him cry. Not because I believe Ferberizers to be some cruel alter-mom breed. It just wasn’t right for me. In that early season of baby rearing when an hour feels like a day and a day feels like a lifetime, I couldn’t imagine enduring night after night of failure. That was why, after about a minute of attempting to follow doctor’s orders, and nearly drowning in the wrongness of it for our family, I scooped up my son, flipped on The Office, and promised to stay awake until he was settled down again. Then fell asleep five minutes later.
We were not intentional about our decision to cosleep. It just happened. In the years that followed, we would endure two divergent reactions to our sleep strategy. Many people would look at us with [very] thinly veiled judgement and try to point out safety statistics in a concerned tone. The rest of the people we talked to would rejoice at the arrival of the word “cosleeping” and immediately begin to gush over us. We were part of their tribe. And you breastfeed, too? Even better! But we felt like frauds, because really, we hadn’t found cosleeping. Cosleeping had found us.
After the first night, where I fell asleep with a peaceful baby in my arms, I realized I really liked having him with us. I talked about that epiphany with my husband, and researched safe ways to continue on in a similar fashion. I did all the soul searching that comes with making a counter cultural decision. And above all, I made sure it would be safe for my child. As all the boxes were checked, I found peace in the arrangement. Not because it was our plan, or because it was right for everyone, but because it was right for us and it worked better than our original plan.
Here’s what I hope you take away from our story: I hope you realize every decision you make should be right for your family. Only you know the unique personalities and needs at play in your home. Listen to your instincts. Trust your heart. Of course, be safe and use wisdom, but know that for every person who agrees with you, there will be two who don’t. That’s just the way parenting works.
Some parts of your parenting approach will be planned. They will be things you read about or saw or experienced in your childhood. You’ll know what you want to do and that will work perfectly. Other times, you’ll stumble into a way of life you never expected. When you do, think of us, the accidental cosleepers, and remember that nothing is ever really an accident.