True Life: Co-sleeping Saved My Sanity

It all started out so innocently.

My sweet little baby girl, nestled all snugly in her bedside sleeper. She was so cute and tiny and cuddle-worthy. She was even adorable at every single middle-of-the-night feeding, when I would wake up, float across the hall to my designated and meticulously prepared nursing zone in my guest bedroom and settle in for a breastfeeding session. After pondering my good luck at being able to catch up on my middle-of-the-night sitcom-rerun-viewing, I’d feed, burp, and diaper change and then place this teeny morsel of delightful humanity back in her sleeper and prepare for another blissful 38 minutes of sleep before the next doctor-mandated, every-two-hours feeding. 

Feeling a little overwhelmed and pea green with envy about the domestic utopia of the above paragraph?
Don’t worry—I made it all up, and I am throwing up in my mouth a little right now at even the imagined sanctimomminess of those words. Ambrosia and honey did not flow from my breasts, and my morning-after-little-sleep complexion was not the spitting image of satin-faced Emma Watson. I was grumpy. I was groggy. I did not like breastfeeding. I did not like night feeding. I did not like them at two days, two weeks, or two months. I did not like them, Sam I Am! Bottom line: This girl needs her sleep! 
However, I was really committed to breastfeeding for the first year, so I struggled and grumped through it, getting up throughout every night, relocating to the guest room, and forcing myself to stay awake so I could get this tiny human back in her own bed. I did this for months and months and months (and months and months… I could go on, but I think you get the picture). Once, I fell asleep with my daughter in our bed and my husband woke up in horror, aghast that he could have potentially unwittingly squished her in his sleep. After that, my vigilance resumed, and I continued on the multiple instances of waking up and relocating in the night as the best way to make sure we didn’t fall asleep together. 
But, the best-laid plans of mice and men, and all that…
After maternity leave ended, the struggle was real. When I went back to work, I was permanently exhausted. Between driving, working, pumping, then returning home to baby time and housework, my energy was sapped. When you add waking up multiple times in the night to nurse, I felt and looked like an actual member of The Walking Dead. I was exhausted, moody, hormonal, cranky, and did I mention exhausted? So one day, I just snapped, as it were. Don’t worry—it wasn’t anything too dramatic. I just decided, “I’m going to see if safely co-sleeping could work.” To be honest, I was nervous about it. What if something terrible happened? 
We were fine, though. We took all the necessary precautions of ensuring a safe sleep space (Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory has published some great guidelines). And then we tried it out. And, wonder of wonders, it worked. My daughter slept better, which meant I slept better. We didn’t have to give up breastfeeding at an early stage, which probably would have happened otherwise because it was just so exhaustingly unsustainable. I was able to calm down the resentment I was feeling over trying to be Super-Lacto-Mom (the world’s weirdest and possibly most unmarketable super hero) and Exemplary Employee Mom. And, it grew into bedtime rituals that are honestly the very best part of my day now. Even though the days of nursing are long gone (hallelujah!), the bond we built by cuddling and snuggling at bedtime is so special. My daughter, who is now two, will tell us she’s ready for bed. We lie down together at her bedtime and she asks, “Can I cuddle in your arms and talk about our day?” We chat and sing and say prayers together before she goes to sleep and I go about my tasks before my own bedtime (and by tasks, I obviously mean catching up on Netflix and HRH Kate’s wardrobe). It’s made her feel secure and comfortable about sleeping without having to go through the painful but effective “cry it out” method. 
It’s one of the parenting choices that I consider a mixed blessing. It’s easy to speak glowingly about it, but I also sometimes juxtapose the sentiments I just shared with the grumpiness I feel at about 4:00 A.M., when my arm is asleep because I’ve been using it as a pillow because child and/or husband have claimed 93 percent of the available mattress space.  
I hope co-sleeping doesn’t last forever, because it’s definitely more comfortable having at least a small portion of the bed to oneself; however, right now at this stage, I’m loath to give it up. Soon she’s not going to want to cuddle every night; she’s not going to ask, “Mommy hold you?” and she’s not going to want me, her world’s “most favoritest” person by her side when she closes her eyes at night. So, with that in mind, I savor the sweet cuddly moments we have now. Co-sleeping isn’t always the most comfortable, but it’s definitely got a soft spot in my heart. 
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