By Tess C.
I knew before my son was born that I wanted to keep him in bed with me. I knew vaguely that I slept with my mother when I was little (honestly, it lasted until my teenage years when I lived at her house). Because of that history, it felt like the comfortable route to take, but I also read about safety guidelines for bed-sharing. My husband was open and positive about the idea as well. Our son started off sleeping in a oval-shaped co-sleeping bed in between my husband and I in our bed. Sometimes he would sleep in a bassinet next to the bed, but was mostly in bed between us. We gradually moved him out of the co-sleeping device and into the bed without anything else. From the time he was a born up until he was four to five months old, he woke to nurse every two hours. Night and day.
Around five to six months, we put bed rails up, yet there were times where him falling was still a concern. We didn’t even own a crib until he was seven months old. We tried a crib when the rolling really became a problem. I would get our son to sleep and had a baby monitor set up to watch him. After I would transfer him, I felt restless as I was so used to having him close by. He would wake after two hours of being in the crib, though he had been sleeping longer stretches while in our bed. I attributed it to him realizing it was a different sleeping environment. Once he would cry, I would put him back in our bed for the rest of the night. I tried it again the next night and the same thing happened. So, we gave up the crib for a while. At some point between six months and a year, my son became accustomed to sleeping in my arms for naps. He would sleeping lightly enough that he would wake when I tried to put him down. It was maddening. However, he was sleeping at least 5 hours straight in our bed by nine months, so I was happy.
I became pregnant with our second child when our son was a year old. He was still sleeping in my arms for naps. I started to panic about how I would handle another child with this type of routine. I knew I couldn’t. I had nursed my son to sleep since birth up until that point. Unfortunately, the pregnancy caused terrible nursing aversion. That coupled with other stresses within our family caused me to abruptly weaned our son out of desperation at the age of fourteen months. I felt sad, yet relieved. This changed bedtime drastically. I can’t be absolutely certain, but I believe weaning triggered a lot of the nighttime issues we still struggle with. My son started to wake once or twice a night and cry. My husband would have to put him back to bed because I would get so overwhelmed and upset, which was unusual for me. The wakings were not very predictable. Sometimes he would wake an hour after going to bed and cry unconsolably. My husband or I would try to hug him and talk him through it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Some nights, it was as simple as him wanting water or having a wet diaper that he wanted to take off.
Then bedtimes got later and harder to initiate. I have always stayed at home so I fortunately have a lot of freedom with our schedule. Additionally, my husband has had jobs where he wouldn’t get home until seven or eight o’clock at night. Early bedtime has never worked for us, but when my son started to refuse sleep until eleven or midnight, it was draining. Rocking him to sleep became impossible as he would physically fight to get out of my arms. At one point, the only thing that could even get him to sleep was driving him around in the car. This lasted for a couple of months. Being pregnant, it was an easy fix, but I started to feel frustrated. It felt like a ridiculous solution to keep long term, especially with a baby soon to be added to the dynamic. I tried to rock him to sleep again and it worked for the most part. Naptimes fluctuated, but bedtimes were more consistent, even if there was a night waking a couple of times a week. The bed rails came off when my son was around seventeen months old and I was not eager to put them back on. Yet, we wondered how we would safely have the new baby sleep in our queen sized bed with a toddler.
We decided to side-car the crib to our bed and encourage our son to sleep in it. It happened from time to time, but he preferred our bed. Before our daughter was born, sleep had been better for at least a month. We had the two of them in the same bed the day after she was born. For the first two weeks, it was wonderful. They took naps together while I watched them and went to bed at similar times. After those two weeks, my daughter started to cry for hours on end starting between eight and ten o’clock with only a few minutes of silence until two or three in the morning. My husband and I tried many things to calm her. The methods that worked had to be done in precise ways, like rocking her at a certain angle for example. What comforted her one minute would not comfort her the next. I honestly thought she liked my husband better because he was able to calm her much better than I could. We never were able to figure out the source of her discomfort, but thought it was either silent reflux or colic.
During this time, our son slept in our bed. We would listen for him while trying soothe our newborn, or one of us would be in bed with him. He would wake sometimes because he would hear her crying or notice we weren’t in bed. On very overwhelming, late nights, I would drive both of my children to my mother’s house and stay with her. She would try to calm the baby while I tried to get my toddler back to sleep. I am immensely thankful to have had her help during that stressful period. When our daughter was around two and half months old, she started to feel better and fall sleep calmly at night. Our routine got better. They would both wake at times and cry, but they both slept at least 5 hours straight. I was grateful. The only problem was our bed, which seemed to be getting smaller by the day. Four people do not fit in a queen-sized bed, even if two of the people are quite small.
I started to think about getting our son to sleep in his toddler bed in his own room, even if it was for naps. I never imagined letting him cry, that is, until after a pediatrician visit where I opened up about our sleep struggles. It was recommended that I put him in bed, let him cry and go in to comfort him every few minutes. He had just turned two. My expectations had started to change and I thought maybe he was capable of sleeping in his own bed. So, I tried this during naptime one day. It failed miserably. My son thought I was torturing him. I had no way to keep him in his room, so he would immediately run to the door after I closed it behind me. He started to cry and it got worse by the minute. I kept putting him back in bed and leaving again. He would always get out of the bed to come after me. Meanwhile, I had a baby in the other room who I hadn’t been able to get to sleep start crying because she didn’t like being alone and hearing her brother crying. I tried this for an hour and a half. It was a miserable hour and a half for all of us. I vowed never to do it again it was so terrible.
We kept our routine of sleeping in bed together, though my husband would end up sleeping on the couch or the floor some nights. I knew that wasn’t fair to him and we needed another solution. (For the record, he wants our children to sleep in the bed with us. This is something we both re-evaluate every few months to make sure we are both still comfortable. He’s actually happier about it than I am sometimes. He entertained me having our son sleep alone because I was struggling.) This brings us to our current situation of having moved our mattress in the living room. Yes, we moved our mattress into our living room. We sleep on it horizontally. Half of the week, my husband sleeps out of town because of work now. So we all fall asleep when we get tired. I nurse my daughter, who is now seven months old, to sleep then cuddle with my son who is close to two and half, if he’s still awake. I keep water nearby in case he wakes up. I’m usually on the Internet because of insomnia, so when they start to stir, I snuggle up to them to reassure them that I’m there when they need me. I’ll be honest: I have complained from time to time about how crazy our sleep is or how I wish I could have “normal” kids who sleep easily, but I wouldn’t trade this closeness for anything. It’s a beautiful thing.