Sleep, oh, sweet sleep. It's on the minds of most parents in our modern world. Parents are warned that they will never sleep again. And then our expectations are largely realized - sometimes even exceeded - when we compound our difficulties by resisting a baby's true sleep biology.
Marisol started in a bassinet next to our bed. When she was about one month old we put her in a crib in the BEAUTIFUL nursery we prepared for her. It went relatively well for a few months. I went to her when I heard her wake on the monitor, changed her diaper and nursed her back to sleep in our comfy glider, then put her back down. Until she was about 5 months old. Then everything seemed to fall apart (what?! Babies have sleep REGRESSIONS?? What do you mean?!) This period of time was very hard for me - and it coincided with Thanksgiving and Christmas that year.
I did not want to let her cry-it-out and she would wake up almost as soon as I put her down almost every time. I would try patting her to sleep, sometimes even lying down next to the crib. At my low point I was actually making a bed on the floor with blankets and pillows and when I got too tired to try keeping her in the crib we slept together on the floor. Yes, you read that correctly - I was sleeping with my newborn on the floor in our house that had a perfectly good Queen sized bed and full-size futon. Looking back on it now, it's amazing to me what I went through trying to have her sleep in a crib. And I had even read Dr. Sear's book, Nighttime Parenting, while I was pregnant! I loved the idea of co-sleeping before she was even born. So why was I so stuck on her sleeping in the crib?
I think there were a couple of factors. First, I don't think Mike was ready to try anything so "out there" (ha! So funny now - poor guy, he really had no idea what he was in for! To be fair though, neither did I). So I really tried for his sake not to be "weird" about the baby's sleep. I already had a natural birth, was using cloth diapers, and was breastfeeding almost constantly so I think I wanted to do something "normally". Why I wasn't just proud of all those things, I don't understand now, but I'm a different person then I was 6 years ago.
Also, for a couple of months she did ok in the crib. So I think I was lulled into thinking we had sleep "figured out" (I know, I know - what a rookie!)
I remember my father-in-law asking me almost every time I saw them (which was often since we lived in walking distance) how Marisol was sleeping. I dreaded the question and wanted to say, "No!! She's not sleeping through the night! I'll let you know when she is!" I remember calling my mom after a particularly hard night and being so tired but she wasn't able to come over and I thought, "How am I going to make it through the day?" (Spoiler - I did live to see another day.) I babysat a little girl and I remember loving when she wanted to play pretend and it was "nap" time - I lay on the floor a lot at that house!
Fortunately for me, at Christmas time we went to Florida and I was like - "She's sleeping with us!" I didn't want to be exhausted for the whole vacation. It was such a beautiful relief. When we came home from vacation I was not going back to the floor. So I slept with her on the futon for a while and eventually we both moved back to the big bed with Mike. We haven't looked back since.
I remember asking my pediatrician when she was tiny how I "should" put her to sleep. I asked, "So I should put her down sleepy but awake, right?" (I think I probably read that one in a magazine.) And the wonderful man, bless his heart, confirmed that yes, ideally this was the best practice for babies learning to sleep on their own. Even now I can still see his gentle, kind look that pretty much defied the words even as they came out of his mouth. It's like I can see a thought bubble over his head in my memory, "Poor, naive, first-time mom. She's trying so hard! Do I tell her the truth or just agree with her?"
Nap-time was another struggle Sometimes she slept in the car and I would then continue driving her, she sometimes slept in her in a swing, and I remember one time walking in the rain for an hour and a half because she was asleep in her stroller and I didn't want her to wake! And she never seemed to be on a "schedule" - it was just all so confusing and HARD! Even my mother, who is about as supportive as you can get, sometimes questioned my "methods" (or lack-thereof).
When Gerry came along I didn't think twice about co-sleeping. He has slept with me since we came home from the birth center the day he was born (we did use the bassinet a bit when he was tiny too). He's always been pretty good about going back to sleep if it's the nighttime hours and I'm just more relaxed about nap. When he was a baby I thought he was "different" than Marisol was, but as he's grown I've seen them largely follow the same pattern - which tells me it is more me (and Mike), our "sleep-practices", and our attitudes that have changed. Neither of our children really slept through the night till they were about 2 1/2 (and Gerry still wakes during the night sometimes at 3 1/2). This sounds awful to most people, but I can honestly say it's fine. Because I'm right there they go right back to sleep. I've also read enough "studies" and "stories" as well as talking to real live parents to know that night waking is very common.
Am I tired sometimes? Yes. But I don't know parents who aren't.
I'm not trying to push co-sleeping on people who don't want to do it or who don't think it's right for their family. But I do think it would be way more helpful to new parents everywhere if people were more honest about how sleep really looked in their homes. It's another example of everything being so private and hidden in our isolated, nuclear family units/homes. When Marisol was little I would always "admit" that she slept with us a little sheepishly, like I was letting people in on some dark secret of ours. I would "justify" it because when we moved to DC we only had a small one-bedroom condo. So it was a "good thing!" that we *did* co-sleep. In reality, I would have been sleeping with her even if we lived in the Spelling's Manor in Hollywood.
Now it seems so normal I just don't even think about it. All of our friends who come to our house know our sleeping arrangements. Marisol is 6 1/2 and still loves to sleep next to me. I'm not worried about it. I know when she's ready and the time's right she will sleep in her own bed.
So many people are looking for "solutions" to the children's sleep "problems". Most of what are considered problems are actually a child's natural way of sleeping. That or they really want to be close to their parents. Peter Gray PhD calls our culture's issues with our children's sleep an "Evolutionary Mismatch." I love this perspective (of course!) and highly recommend reading his short essay on the topic.
So - Sleep. We make it way harder then it needs to be. Being tired is a big problem because it makes everything else seem difficult to deal with. When we are sleep deprived there is little else that can be right in our lives. I know from experience. But the more we let go of our expectations, embrace the truth or how children sleep best, and then make our decisions based on that knowledge, the more rested we will be (even if we are still tired!)
ps Sometimes we *will* be exhausted when we have little babies, no matter how we do things. This is not about those times. For those times we need love and support and listening ears to commiserate with us - not people trying to "solve" our sleep issues. These are the times that I wish we had our tribes surrounding us.
What is your "sleep story"? (I know you have one, every parent does!) I'd love to hear it. What has made things harder or easier for you?
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.