You will learn more about me, Alexandra, and my husband, Luke through this blog. For now, what you really need to know is that I was going to be a very different type of mother than I turned out to be. Let me try to explain.
Before Alexandra was born, I had a plan. That plan included, among other things, returning to work and school full-time 8 weeks post-partum, putting my baby in a nursery where she would cry-it-out so that we could adhere to a stringent schedule laid out in a glossy-covered book (you know the ones), breastfeeding for about 6 months or until I lost the baby weight (whichever one came first), and in general resuming my life as I had lived it for 27 years before my child was born.
Now fast forward. My life is nothing like I lived it for the 27 years before my child was born, and it is better than any version of my life that I ever have lived or could have dreamed of living. It is 9:30 on a Saturday night. Alexandra, now almost 14 months old, is sleeping beside me because we co-sleep. She nursed herself to sleep tonight and will wake up a few times during the night for more comfort nursing. Tomorrow she will nurse throughout the day on demand. There are a lot of other things that make me different from the mother I thought I would be, like babywearing, gentle discipline, and following attachment parenting disciplines in general. In short, my life with my daughter (and, of course, my dear husband) is beautiful, amazing, and wonderful. All I had to do to in order to reach this place of bliss was throw the baby book out with the window and follow my gut…and my heart.
Although I could spend hours walking you through the various changes I made in the early weeks of motherhood that led me from “Mother” to “Mama,” I think our decision to become die-hard co-sleepers provides a good case-in-point and highlights and the important role that instinct played in that transition. When we brought Alexandra home from the hospital, we planned to let her sleep in a bassinet. I tried. I really did. I caused myself undue stress about getting the baby out of the bed and into her bassinet and, eventually, the nursery down the hall. But at the end of the day, Alexandra didn’t want to be in the dang bassinet. Turns out in the end, we didn’t want her there either. We (well, I) just had to let go of my notions of what was “supposed to” happen. (Interestingly, Luke gave himself wholly and willingly to co-sleeping from the first night in the hospital when he slept with Alexandra swaddled on his chest. Is it possible that men are oblivious to societal messages that plague women about what they “should” be doing?) It makes me sad that I wasted a few of those early weeks feeling (of all things!) guilty about letting my child sleep nestled under my chin. Once I embraced co-sleeping and did some research, I understood that having my child near me at night was not the product of weakness on my part. It is the result of years of evolution and biological drives that make mamas want their little ones close by.
If you look at children’s books, many times animals are featured snuggled with their mothers at nighttime. In these same books that have so beautifully depicted animals sharing sleep spaces, there will be an image of a child alone in a bed or a mother “tucking in” her child. The reason I felt compelled to co-sleep is because it was the natural way to do things once I tuned out all of the static–all of the advice, books, warnings about “spoiling.”
Today, our sleep looks like this: I nurse Alexandra to sleep, which can take anywhere from 2.5 minutes to 45 minutes. I stroke her hair and tell her I love her. I can tell she is asleep because her breathing turns to little “pfts, pfts, pfts.” Most nights, she nurses several times throughout the night, often while she is essentially still sleeping. Sure, I wouldn’t mind a full night’s sleep, but I also know that she won’t night-nurse forever. She will be 7 years old someday and then 15 (oy!), and I will look back on these nights with warmth and joy that I was able to have her so close for so long and give of myself so freely to her. In the morning, when she wakes up, she will rustle, sit up and smile the most beautiful smile you ever saw. Just as I now know that it is most natural to sleep with her, that smile each morning reminds me that it is also most natural for her to sleep with me!
I know co-sleeping isn’t for everyone. In fact, probably a lot of the things that I will talk about on this blog are not for everyone. My “go-to” line has become “it works for us.” I am thankful that I have a flexible job (more on that another time) and a supportive co-parent. I am most thankful, however, that I have been able to tune into what feels right and start parenting from the place within my heart that tells me that when my daughter is cuddled beside me during the long winter’s nights that I am doing everything just the way I am supposed to be.