Three years into parenting and pregnant again, I became an accidental co-sleeper.
The whole business originated with the toddler bed last fall, which we eagerly swapped our crib for, compelled by vague ideas of having another child and by several months of wonky sleep interruptions after a move to a new apartment. Getting rid of the crib will solve everything, we thought!
Turned out, getting rid of the crib (or, to be more specific, turning the crib into a toddler bed) made for some very cute Instagram pictures of what felt like a magnified version of our child – he looked so big with no bars! – and the exact same amount of wonky sleep.
After a brief period of learning that he no longer needed to call to us but could instead silently pad into our bedroom in the dark in an adorable and terrifying way, that is exactly what he did. We tried all the things parents try: we made sticker charts for staying in bed; we calmly returned him to bed at 2 am; we lay in bed with him at 2 am; we even deprived him of water an hour before bedtime in the hopes that maybe his night waking was solely a result of a full bladder. Nothing “worked.”
I’ve read the message boards and tried to apply logic to all the nights our son has ended up in our bed, tracing it to the fact that he actually ate chickpeas at dinner (!!) or the way the bath went long or the fact that I again forgot to bring home his bird painting from school or, just once (and I am not proud to admit it), mercury being in retrograde. I’ve blamed myself for not being consistent enough, especially when friends whose children do not climb into their beds in the early hours of the morning look at me, alarm in their eyes, when I tell them mine does.
But I eventually got too pregnant and, thus, too tired to fight. And I also remembered, of course, that there is a whole world of parents who co-sleep, not because it is forced upon them, but because they prefer it, as do their children! Parents I know, parents I don’t know, famous people, like Hilaria Baldwin, who posts beautiful pictures on Instagram of herself asleep next to one of her children, looking blissfully rested and immune to the kinds of anxiety I’ve cultivated in myself. I realized that for me – maybe not you, and certainly not everyone – it was time to swim with the current and stop finding ways to keep our son from coming into our bed. It has been an overwhelming relief.
After all, he’ll be sharing his room with a little somebody soon enough; and soon after that, we’ll be ordering the two of them bunk beds; and soonish after that, they’ll be slamming their bedroom door in our grown-up faces and, well, you see where I’m going with this.
I can’t say I’m not a little excited to know that there is, far in my future, eight uninterrupted hours of sleep. There are nights when, having been recently awakened by a three foot tall creature patting my face and vaulting his body up over mine into the middle of our not-large bed, I spend upwards of an hour staring silently into the wakeful abyss while my son and husband snore obliviously beside me. There are early mornings – I’m talking 4 am – when I am shuttled back to the first six months of my son’s life, to so many hours spent wondering if uninterrupted sleep might ever be mine again. And now, here I am, wondering the same thing.
But there are also mornings when, to my surprise, I open my eyes not only mildly rested but overwhelmingly endeared to the tiny human stretched perpendicular across our mattress, who will, by approximately 6:07 am, be awake and ready for me to be, too. If I have learned anything from being a parent so far, it is that girding yourself to the inevitability of change is the only way forward.
My right now is not so terrible. Lately, my son has been opening his eyes just after 6 a.m., wrapping his soft arms around my neck, pressing his forehead onto mine, and whispering, “Mommy, I love you so much. You are my best.” My best. I mean, goodness. Much like the messiness of our sleep routine right now, this phrase is perplexing and wonderful. And it’s what I have, so I’m taking it. Because there are worse ways to wake up.