When I was pregnant I had one principal wish for my infant offspring: that she be a good sleeper. By an extraordinary stroke of luck, this turned out to be true of Natalie. The first morning after she came home from the hospital, we emerged from the bedroom fresh as daisies after what was basically a normal night’s sleep. “She woke up once,” I reported to my astonished mother, “but just nursed right back down to sleep.”
(In my own infancy I apparently did not do this. Also, my mother does not seem to have forgiven me yet for the first three sleepless months of my life. Sorry, Mom.)
Our nights would not have been nearly as restful without one key element, though: Noodles slept with us. Not in the helpful sidecar that friends had loaned us (which I couldn’t stop calling the “Arm’s Length” co-sleeper), but actually in the bed with us.
We didn’t plan to sleep in the same bed as our baby. We didn’t plan a lot of things that happened anyway. & is fond of saying that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and in this case, the enemy was a strange alternate self who came welling up out of my subconscious and completely overwhelmed my reason. I could not sleep without my baby right next to me. So that’s where we put her.
It was so easy. She’d wake up in the night, as babies do, but would seldom cry. She didn’t need to. As soon as she’d sigh or grunt, my eyes would fly open; within seconds we’d be nursing, and within fifteen minutes we’d both have drifted back to sleep. Early on her father and I slept stiffly, unnerved by the presence of something so fragile within accidental smothering distance, but this too passed. Within a few weeks, it was as much her bed as ours. And the Arm’s Length Co-Sleeper, when not serving as a nighttime changing table, gathered laundry.
My stepmother, who had bought us a beautiful crib as a baby shower gift, was less than well pleased to see it too being used as storage space. “When are you going to put the baby down to sleep in there?” she wondered on more than one occasion.
“When she sleeps through the night,” I decided.
But what did that mean? During the early stages of the breastfeeding campaign, we got into the habit of waking up every two hours to nurse. Then Natalie slept through her 2am feeding and that was fine by me. Eventually she required only one ridiculous-o’clock feeding and wouldn’t wake again until after 5. And on April 10, 2011, she slept through even that feeding. She went down at midnight and didn’t wake until 5:15.
My Greek chorus of Facebook friends confirmed that this counted as Sleeping Through The Night.
And then I balked. She couldn’t go into her own room, not yet. I was long past the worst of the postpartum hunker-down: my reluctance to go outside and need for constant round-the-clock physical contact had abated months ago. But I was still lazy. I wasn’t ready to assume the burden of actually getting out of bed and walking into another room whenever my daughter wanted to nurse at night. When she promptly resumed her late-night feeding the next night, it felt like a reprieve. Of course she still needed to be in with us.
Nonetheless she was clearly outgrowing our bed. When she punched me in the face in her sleep, it was cute the first few times. When she started grabbing handfuls of my hair in a deathgrip, I admired her strength and dexterity. But when — in the space of about five minutes — she hit me, sneezed wetly in my face, and tugged viciously at both my hair and an earring, I had to admit that it was time to put her somewhere else.
Normally, whenever Natalie would doze off during waking hours, we’d carefully slip her into the swing and let it do the work of ensuring she stayed asleep. But on the evening of April 21, I took a gamble and settled her into the Arm’s Length Co-Sleeper instead. (After clearing out all the laundry, natch.)
And she slept, as they say, like a baby.
This was new. We’d attempted to put her down in the sidecar for daytime naps before, never with more than a half hour’s success. But the second this kid hit the mattress she was out like a light, and stayed that way until after 6 the next morning. She tossed and kicked and wriggled in her sleep, but did not wake up.
I guess she was just ready.
As she slept longer and more calmly with each successive night in the sidecar, I realized that I was too. When I pulled her into the bed at 6:15am to nurse, I no longer felt the clicking into place of a key in a lock. My daughter was in my bed, but it wasn’t her bed any more. We’d both graduated.
What a relief. I’d been flying blind on the whole co-sleeping thing — didn’t plan to do it, never quite got my head around it, secretly believed everyone who warned me that once the kid settled in to your bed she’d never leave and you’d be stuck sleeping next to a kicky kindergartener. Now I can say with a clear conscience: we co-slept only as long as we needed to, and we outgrew it naturally, just as I’d hoped we would.
Natalie’s not in the crib yet. I’m still too lazy, and she wakes up too early, for me to embrace a situation where her first feeding would effectively mark the beginning of my day. But she still fits comfortably in the sidecar with plenty of room to spare, and we’re all happy with her there — within arm’s reach, yes, but also at arm’s length.