Love It or List It. In searching for a potential new home purchase, the Realtor in the popular TV show, Love It or List It, insists that each child must have his or her own bedroom. Siblings must never share a room. Imagine his chagrin if the buyer mentioned that the Master could be the biggest room because the kids would just sleep in the parents bedroom. While the HGTV hit is a Canadian based program, the sentiment that children should have their own room, never bed share with parents, and babies should be in a nursery with their own crib is proliferated in American society.
I bed share. I never intended to sleep in the same bed as my children. The first night we brought Willow home I placed her in the Pack n’ Play bassinet. She wailed. I cried. I remember picking her up and in between my heaving sobs, I placed her next to me in the bed. I was fearful of bed sharing because Frank, my husband, was quite the violent sleeper. He flailed. I certainly did not want to harm my baby by letting her sleep next to a man who might smack her in his slumber. That tearful night, Frank became a still sleeper. He was keenly aware of our precious bundle in the middle of the bed. I remember the static I received when I stated that we let Willow sleep in our bed.
Willow has been sleeping in our bed for 10 months now. I nurse and it is extremely convenient to roll over and let her nourish herself without me having to get up out of bed. I get a decent amount of sleep when she isn’t sick or wanting to suckle continuously. I’m not sure how low my supply has dropped, if Willow is still hungry because she isn’t getting enough solids during the day, or if Willow wants the comfort of nursing for teething or a growth spurt. Regardless, Willow has been up and nursing more frequently at night.
I’m 12 weeks pregnant. Pregnancy takes a toll on my body. I get viruses frequently and have trouble combating them. When I start to recover, I seem to get another one. Willow has been sick recently too. Frank has been ill as well. At least one of us has been fighting sickness since the end of November. The sleep deprivation accompanying this illness is wearing on me. I’m very fatigued. In an effort to regain strength, I reluctantly decided that I’d stop night feedings between 11 pm-4 am. Needless to say, Willow isn’t happy.
Willow can smell me when we bed share. In an attempt to stave off a typical 2 am feeding, we decided we would try placing Willow in her crib to sleep. Last night was relatively successful. We enjoyed an evening at a friend’s house in celebration of Groundhog Day. Around 9 pm we left to drive home. Willow fell asleep in the car, which is a blessing and she does it frequently. She was so drowsy that when I pulled her out from her car seat she didn’t even open her eyes. I quickly transferred her to the crib. (Kudos to Frank for putting PJ’s in the diaper bag so Willow was ready for sleep when we got home.) She cried a little but within 10 seconds was snoozing away. I would say she woke about every 1.5-2 hours, but after rocked her for 2-5 minutes and put her back in the crib, she was sleeping again. Willow stayed in the crib from 9:30 pm-4 am.
This was an accomplishment by American standards. My little girl slept on her own! She didn’t sleep through the night, bad girl (enter sarcastic sigh). (Rant: Good babies: Babies who don’t openly express needs through crying or times of wakefulness. A good baby is one who is silent, smiling, and sleeps when the parents sleep. God forbid a child has a need and can’t vocally express it. AGH! Babies have needs not wants. Willow is getting to the age where she understands cause and effect, but she still mostly has needs not wants. She isn’t manipulating me to meet those needs.)
[A comment on sleeping through the night: No, a majority of babies aren’t sleeping through the night at 6 months. Most parents just might be ashamed to admit their sleep deprivation for fear of condescending remarks from other parents or family members. It is perfectly normal for a child to wake in the night. In fact, it is prudent and evolutionary for a child to wake at night. In the past, individuals understood that a baby who woke up was wanting comfort from his or her mother (generally it was the mother who cared for the child in the past…she carried the baby in-utero for 9 months). A rousing child has a decreased chance of dying from SIDS. Also, a child could sleep through the night for a brief period of time and then regress. Willow was starting to sleep 12 am-5 am without nursing (even while bed sharing) before I went back to work. At three months, when I returned to work, she started waking every 2-3 hours to nurse or snuggle. Night time is a period for bonding between a child and working parent (if that parent works during the day). Babies will also wake up sometimes because they are undergoing a growth spurt, sprouting teeth, or are uncomfortable that particular evening. Adults have periods of sleeplessness as well. Why do we expect children to behave better than adults? We shouldn’t!]
Anyways, I’m digressing. The fact remains, Willow stayed in her crib from 9:30 pm- 4 am.
Here is a summary of a conversation I had with my mother this morning. Me: “Willow slept in her crib last night.” My mom said, “Good. She was fine. I told you she would be.” Me: “Yeah, she was, but it was still rough. She really wanted her 2 am nursing session.” Mom:”I’m sure Frank doesn’t want her in the bed with you.” Me:”Actually Frank is fine with it and finds it comforting like I do. The time he doesn’t want her in the bed is when she’s fussing.” Mom:”Well it is time for her to have her own room.” Me:”In other cultures, bed sharing is normal.” Mom:”We live in America, not in another culture.” Me:”Yes, but just because Americans do something doesn’t make it right or better for my family.” Mom: “These NJ drivers!” (Yeah, even though we are adults, we can’t disagree without her wanting to hang up. She can tell me how everything I do is wrong, but if I contradict her, I must be shut up by a different conversation or a hang up on the telephone line.) While this emphasizes a disagreement between me and my mother, most Americans agree that children are fine to be left crying in a room by themselves and being in their own crib is perfectly normal once they are brought home from the hospital (because of course everyone has a hospital birth and if you don’t, you are intentionally putting your child in danger and don’t mind if they die (note the sarcasm here too).
Last night was hard for me. I didn’t sleep as well. Yes, I didn’t have to nurse and get that energy drained from me, but I would rouse often. When I did wake, I was watching the monitor. Every time I heard a deeper snore or quick whimper I was fixated on the glowing screen. At 4 am, when I brought Willow into our bed to nurse, I finally started to sleep deeply and comfortably. In my mind, she is still so young. Yes, she will do fine in her own space (and did). Willow will be okay when Frank and I spend our first night away (both of us) from her. Kids are resilient in many ways. A child’s resiliency doesn’t negate the difficulties of parenting or worrying about your child. You want the best for your kid. It might seem neurotic and our children always grow up thinking we are a bit more overbearing than we actually are (hopefully), but we do have concerns. There are dangers in this world. We want to protect our young. It comes down to trusting God with their decisions and their care. We can’t shelter them from life’s experiences. Children must learn to become adults, but it doesn’t make it easy for the parent who must slowly let go. Also, it is common for babies to sleep with their parents in other parts of the world. Other cultures get by on way less shelter space than Americans. Their limited space might be more out of necessity than desire, but they manage and generally raise well adjusted, independent children.
I also hold Willow a lot. I don’t put her in the stroller often, but will carry her around the store. This isn’t to say I never put leave Willow in her car seat or put her in a stroller, but I feel comfortable and content when she is attached to me with a carrier. I’ve been told that Willow fusses now when I put her down because I held her too much in her younger months. Willow could be fussing because she is going through a common stage of development called separation anxiety. If I walk out of the room, she feels that she is alone. In that moment, she feels hopeless and lost. This is a natural progression in a child’s development. (Have Americans forgotten this?) Sometimes, she is crying for us because she soiled her diaper and doesn’t want to be set down because she needs tending to.
I don’t like letting Willow cry it out. Her tears seem contrary to meeting her needs. I understand that Willow will be fine with a little crying. As Willow enters her toddler years, I understand that Willow will throw tantrums. Willow will assert her wants and get angry when I try to manage those by teaching her societal norms and typical, acceptable behavioral interactions. Willow will cry. I don’t have to let her do it when she wants me to hold her before work because she just wants to be reassured that I’m near, I don’t have to let her soothe herself to sleep in a dark room by herself, and I don’t have to rush these moments. I don’t want to rush her childhood. Yes, I look forward to watching her grow up and having time alone with Frank again, but in the meantime, I want to savor Willow’s fleeting precious moments now. Please don’t make me grow up and especially her, too quickly.
Also, please don’t say we are wrong because we aren’t doing things the way Americans generally do. Sure, it is different, but not these practices aren’t wrong.
[There are many other faux-pas practices (at least compared to American ideals and what Americans consider normal) that I have implemented in my parenting skill set. Bed sharing and baby wearing are just two that I’ve discussed at length in this post today.]