No Place to Lay my Head

One day recently my son Jacob, who is almost four now, was telling me where everyone sleeps. According to him Hannah sleeps in Hannah’s room, Jacob sleeps in Jacob’s room and Daddy sleeps in Daddy’s room. Then I asked him where I sleep, and he looked confused. He had no idea how to answer the question – and I can understand his confusion. Years of co-sleeping have blurred the issue considerably.

Serious boy
Jacob doesn’t know where I sleep

The truth is there is no single place that I sleep. When one of my kids wakes up at night and needs me, I crawl in with them. This is why I got them double beds as toddlers. I didn’t relish the idea of trying to squeeze myself into a car bed with a two-year-old, as I’d heard many of my friends had done. When it’s really hot out and my husband Jon wants to have the fan on and the window open, I go to sleep in Jacob’s room, where it is more than a little too warm but blissfully quiet. And sometimes, it really does happen that I get to sleep in my own bed with my husband and no children all night long. (Dare to dream!)

In Jacob’s mind, all the other members of our family have a room of their own, and I just drift about between them. Sometimes it really does feel that way. I am a woman without a country. I have no single place to lay my head. I go where I am needed, I get enough sleep most nights, and I try not to overthink it.

There was a time when I never would have dreamed of sleeping any place other than my own bed, beside my own husband. In the early years of our marriage we would argue most every night about the temperature (I like it hot, he likes it cold) and the sleeping conditions (he likes the fan, I like it quiet). Not once did it occur to me to sleep someplace else. I would have viewed that as a sign of marital discord. And so we compromised, and both of us were unhappy, and I could rest easy knowing that if my husband and I were tossing and turning, we were tossing and turning together.

Time changes things, though. Two children and various sleeping arrangements and some major furniture purchases later, I’m much less fussed about where I sleep. I no longer consider it a necessity that I sleep beside my husband all night, every night. The truth is, really, Jon likes his space when he sleeps anyway. He’s never been one to spoon, preferring not to touch me at all while he slumbers. And yet, our marriage survives. The difference between sleeping on opposite sides of the same king-sized bed or sleeping down the hall from each other is largely academic, and I don’t think it signals imminent marital meltdown.

Is it unfair that with four people in my family, I am the one who doesn’t get a room to call my own? Maybe. Mostly, though, I just think it’s a pragmatic reality. My goal isn’t fairness, it’s sleep. I’ll do whatever I can to get the most sleep for the most people in my family. If that means that my preschooler can’t tell you where his mom sleeps, well, I can totally live with that.

What about you? Do you find your sleeping arrangement changing from day-to-day? Does it bother you, or do you accept it? I’d love to hear!

Why I Co-Sleep

On Wednesday, my son Jacob and I appeared on the local CBC evening news, in a story about co-sleeping. Because I am a co-sleeping parent. When I was initially contacted about the story I spoke with a producer who mentioned that she herself had co-slept. All the same, I assumed that some other source would also be interviewed for the story, presenting an anti-co-sleeping message.

I agreed to participate, because I thought it was important to speak out on behalf of co-sleeping parents. I believe many more parents choose to co-sleep than are reflected in statistics on the subject, and I believe that the vast majority of us are not doing it flippantly. I wanted to give voice to that. However, I feel that I was portrayed as being almost dangerously irresponsible. My friend Lorien took up the call with the CBC on behalf of all co-sleeping parents, and you can see her thoughts on how co-sleeping was portrayed.

The truth of the matter is that, in spite of dire warnings from the BC Coroners Service, I’m not entirely sure that I buy the argument that co-sleeping is unsafe. For one thing, as John Hoffman and Annie of PhD in Parenting outline, when a baby dies in an adult bed there is no distinction made between a safe co-sleeping environment and an unsafe co-sleeping environment. Just as a crib filled with stuffed toys and pillows can be unsafe, an adult bed filled with the same things can be unsafe. The difference, though, is that if an infant suffocates under a pillow in a crib the pillow is blamed, and if an infant suffocates under a pillow in an adult bed co-sleeping is blamed.

Hannah 'napping'

In addition, there is conflicting information about co-sleeping from a variety of sources. People like Dr. Sears and Dr. James McKenna write about the benefits of co-sleeping. It’s simply not true that there’s a universal consensus on the dangers of co-sleeping.

But even if the data isn’t as clear as one would believe in regards to the dangers of co-sleeping, if so many pediatric societies and medical bodies recommend against it, isn’t it a good idea to avoid it? I avoided deli meat when I was pregnant, for example, even though the actual rate of listeria infection in pregnant women is about 12 per 100,000. Even if the likelihood of contracting an infection was low, I didn’t want to risk the potentially serious side-effects. Why wouldn’t I take the same precautions with co-sleeping?

Hannah and Dorothy napping together

To answer that question, let me share my experience when Hannah was a small baby. She had a bassinet, and I placed it beside my bed for her to sleep in. My idea was that when she woke up I would bring her into bed to nurse her, and place her back in the bassinet when she was done. In short, I intended to follow the advice of the pediatrician who was interviewed opposite me in the CBC news story. It sounded like a good plan when I hatched it before Hannah was born. In practice, though, it didn’t work at all.

Here’s the thing about babies – they crave human contact. Ask any parent and they will tell you that their baby likes to be held a lot. That desire doesn’t magically end when the sun goes down. So I sat up in bed and nursed Hannah to sleep. I laid her down in her bassinet, and like clockwork she was awake again in fairly short order. I nursed her and tried to transfer her again. And again. And again. Because I was using nipple shields at the time the side-lying position didn’t work for us, so I found myself sitting up much of the night trying to nurse my baby back to sleep.

Jacob sleeping at 3 months

I became seriously sleep-deprived, to the point that I was severely depressed for the first and (so far) only time in my life. I cried much of the day. I was convinced that I had made a terrible mistake by having a baby. I started to become concerned that I would doze off while I was propped up on pillows in bed nursing Hannah. And one thing that I knew for sure was that it was really not safe to sleep while holding a baby surrounded by pillows.

Things were different when I brought Hannah into bed with me. She slept for longer stretches when I was nearby, so I slept for longer stretches, too. Once I was better-rested I stopped crying all the time. I stopped resenting my baby, and feeling that I was the worst mother ever. I stopped imagining what it would be like to just run away and leave it all behind.

Jacob napping

I am not the only parent who makes this miraculous discovery. I’ve spoken at many parenting groups, and chatted with many parents in my daily life. I can tell you that many, many, many parents end up co-sleeping with their baby. They may not do it in the same bed they share with their partner. They may not do it all night long, or every night. But many of us, at some point, cuddle up with our baby just so that everyone can get some sleep.

When the reporter was here she asked if I had blogged about co-sleeping, and I answered that I had. She commented that it must have been controversial, and I said it wasn’t. I suspect most parents understand the very real, very practical issues at play when you just want a good night’s sleep. Many of us swore we’d never co-sleep, and many of us have eaten our words. Just as we’ve eaten our words when it comes to never bribing our kids or never letting them eat sugar.

And so I co-sleep. I have researched safe sleep environments, and I have read position statements from pediatric societies. And then I made the best decision I could for my baby and my family. I would never tell other parents to co-sleep, or not to co-sleep. I would only suggest they do their own research, too, and maintain an open mind when the realities of parenting run smack-dab into their pre-conceived ideas. Because we’re the parents, and that’s what parents do.

Did you co-sleep? How did you come to your decision? And would you do everything the same way again? I’d love to hear!

Scenes from the Early Morning

It is 2:30 in the morning. Approximately. The truth is, I don’t know exactly what time it is, and I don’t want to know. Knowing won’t help anything. It will only stress me out, and interfere with my already limited sleep.

I wake up to find myself in two-year-old Jacob’s bed. This is not unusual – Jacob has slept through the night precisely twice in his 27 months on this planet. He is just lucky he’s cute. Since he’s still breastfeeding, and since I rouse far more easily than my husband, I often head into Jacob’s room when he wakes up. It really isn’t so bad – we bought him a double bed for just this reason. There is plenty of room for an adult and a toddler.

Actually, I take that back. In theory there’s plenty of room for an adult and a toddler. In practice, Jacob frequently takes up far more space than anyone his size should physically be able to. It’s an ability that all toddlers have, I think. They arrange themselves in just such a way that you are left with roughly one square foot of mattress to sleep on. It’s quite the trick.

Getting back to my story, though, when I wake up at 2:30am (or whatever unholy hour it actually is) I am sleeping face down on Jacob’s mattress, and he is sleeping on my back. Now, the kid weighs less than 27lbs, so he’s not big. But still, I wouldn’t sleep face down wearing a 27lb backpack, and sleeping face down with a 27lb toddler splayed across my back is no more comfortable.

I have no idea how I got into this position. My best guess is that somewhere around 2:00am, or whatever time it was 30 minutes before I woke up, I decided I was done nursing Jacob and rolled on to my front. And then Jacob, also not quite awake, went in search of the breast that disappeared and ended up on my back. It’s plausible, but there’s really no way to verify if I’m right or wrong.

Regardless of how I ended up here, I know a few things for sure:

  1. Sleeping face down is not comfortable for me.
  2. Sleeping face down with my kid on my back is even less comfortable.
  3. I am really going to feel this in the morning.
  4. I am not going to be able to shake this off like I could have 10 years ago. With each passing year, it just gets harder to shake things off.
  5. I will probably still be feeling this two mornings from now.
  6. In spite of all that, it’s not clear to me that moving is the best idea, because I really, really don’t want to wake Jacob back up.
  7. In spite of my reluctance to wake Jacob back up, I am going to have to bite the bullet, because OW.

I am happy to report that Jacob did not wake up when I moved him. I am unhappy to report that I was right – I did really feel it in the morning. And the afternoon. And the evening. And the next morning.

Like I said, Jacob is just lucky he’s cute. Because OW.

What is the oddest position you have ever woken up in, when sleeping with a toddler? And have you witnessed the amazing ability of a 2-year-old to occupy a whole king-sized mattress? How do they do that, anyway? Share your stories and theories in the comments!

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