If you ask me point-blank if I co-sleep, I’ll say no.
Because I don’t—or rather, I never intentionally do it. It just sort of happens in the middle of the night. So, in my mind, I don’t co-sleep in the typical sense of the word. No, my toddler goes to bed in her own room and is supposed to stay there. And she does…for about six hours.
And then, well, we co-sleep.
Again, this wasn’t intentional. I had fully planned to do what I’d done with my son: gentle sleep-training (that he pretty much ignored) until actual sleeping just kind of kicked in. I did all the things you’re supposed to do and set a good sleep foundation for him, but truth be told, the only thing that worked had absolutely nothing to do with me: Once all of his teeth came in at 20 months, he started sleeping through the night. It was like magic.
Still, I planned to use all of those (supposedly) tried-and-true sleep techniques with my second child and hope for the best. But there was always an issue.
For starters, I now had two kids in a New York City apartment, and they shared a room. My older child was just about to start preschool when my daughter was born, and I didn’t want her waking him up numerous times a night.
And second…man, I was tired. I was tired in that mind-numbing, bone-crushing sort of way that I imagine hostile governments use to torture POWs. I hadn’t been working when my son was little, but now I was working from home—spending the day with my two energetic little loves and then attempting to use my brain after they went to bed. And inevitably, the baby would always wake up just as my head hit the pillow.
So the reality was, if I took all that time to get the baby back to bed, I would never get to bed. I’m sure that makes me a bad mom, but trust me, I’d be a much worse mom if I was even less functional and even more sleep-deprived the next day.
And anyway, I figured that my daughter would follow the same teething trajectory as my son and that, like him, she’d eventually sleep. As tired as I was, I wasn’t too worried about it. The only problem? She is sloooooow with her teeth. She’s almost 2, and she’s only just now getting her four incisors and starting to feel the rumblings of her 2-year-old molars.
It. Never. Ends.
But here’s the thing: Teething pain aside, I kind of love this whole co-sleeping thing. OK, that’s a lie: I love this whole co-sleeping thing. And that’s my dirty little secret.
Because in those impossibly quiet, dark hours of the night, I get to snuggle with the most perfect little girl on the planet, who also happens to be my last baby. We’re past the flailing stage where I’m worried she’ll knock out another one of my teeth (yeah, that’s a story for another day, but just FYI, it didn’t happen while co-sleeping). She doesn’t sleep diagonally on the bed. She doesn’t cry and fuss. She doesn’t even make a peep once she’s in my arms.
No, instead, she curls up right next to me, as I cradle her with my whole body. I get to be as close to her as I can be without her still being in my belly. Plus, she’s not doing her usual toddler thing, saying “NO!” all the time and trying to prove to me that she’s a big girl who can do it all herself.
After just a few seconds, we start to breathe in sync. Our bodies rise and fall in tandem, our heart rates slow, and we both calm down.
The truth is, I sleep better with her. I only recently realized I wasn’t fully calm and relaxed until that moment when she’s in my arms in the middle of the night. It’s like there’s something missing until she’s there. She calms my racing mind and makes it seem like all is right with the world, even when my brain wants to tell me that it’s not.
I usually fall asleep before she wakes up, but if I don’t—and if I’m feeling particularly anxious—I wait for that little cry so I can go pick her up.
But I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this.
As parents, we get hit with so much judgment about so many things, and sleep is a biggie. From practically Day 1, we’re asked: So, how are you sleeping? Is she sleeping through the night yet? There’s inherent judgment in those questions, and when you’re sleep-deprived, it feels even worse. After all, it’s kind of the most basic parenting skill, so when you’ve seemingly effed it up, it’s hard not to feel like a failure.
In the first year of her life, I blew it off, especially since I was breastfeeding. But now, there’s that niggling feeling that I should have gotten her on a better sleep schedule. That she should be sleeping through the night on her own. That I should want her to stay in her own bed.
And I do…sort of. Just maybe not yet.
For the naysayers out there, this won’t last forever. She will figure it out. We won’t be co-sleeping until she’s 18, and I haven’t screwed up her sleep cycle forever. We still have that basic nighttime routine, and it will all fall into place eventually. (Man, I wish that I was this calm with my first kid, and if you are in that boat, let me tell you that it will all be fine eventually—really!) And I can already see how she sleeps more soundly when she has a break from the teething pain after a particularly bad stretch.
So, for now and for as long as it lasts, I’ll enjoy the snuggles. I’ll enjoy this season of motherhood before the next one takes over without warning. And I’ll enjoy my beautiful little girl, who takes comfort in my arms and who gives me comfort in ways I didn’t even know I needed.
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