By Olivia Campbell
If only you’d given birth to the kind of babies you can lay down anywhere after they fall asleep, and they stay asleep.
With a finally passed-out 17-month-old on your shoulder, you have to slither into bed as gingerly as you can: waddling on your knees like a penguin to the middle of your mattress, turning around and then laying back as slowly as possible—utilizing all the core muscles you have left after having two kids (sit-ups being absent in your recent memory) while sliding him carefully down your arm and onto his pillow—if you’re lucky, your arm won’t get stuck underneath him. Your precious 23-pound wrecking ball has already slept soundly on your shoulder while you peed and brushed your teeth with one hand, so you are feeling pretty confident about tonight’s sleep potential.
About 20 minutes after you both get all settled in (you know, long enough for you to be lulled into a false sense of sleep-security), it happens. At first it’s only rolling and writhing. You hope he will calm back down because it is dark and you are both under the covers. Exhausted after a day at the office and then chasing two wild boys around while your husband works late, you only have the energy left to offer a banal butt pat, served alongside a robotic “shhhhhh.”
He’s wiggling faster now, tossing and flailing as if his limbs are willing him to wake. He groggily requests “meh” as he pokes a finger into your chest. You quickly oblige, hoping the soothing act of nursing and resulting full belly of milk with lure him back to sleep, as it has so many night before. No such luck. First he turns so his feet are underneath him, then straightens his legs and sticks his butt high into the air. Next, he side-steps closer to you and slides both legs up along your top arm, until finally his straight, stiff body is planking across you at an angle: feet on your shoulder, mouth on your boob, nursing away.
After feasting on both sides twice, he sits up and alertly assesses his surroundings. Your greatest fear is realized. He was only taking a late-evening nap. Hey Ma-ma, 11:30 p.m. is playtime, get with the program! Don’t let him shake your stoicism; just pretend you’re asleep. That will work, right? Undeterred, he pokes a determined pointer finger deep down into your pillow a few inches in front of your nose and slides it slowly along the pillowcase toward you. His aim is to gauge the openness of your eyes, but he misses and stabs you in the cheek.
Realizing that “Da-da’s” absence significantly increases his play area, he begins rolling up and down your husband’s pillows giggling fiendishly, as if he’s on a lush grass-covered hill deep in the throes of springtime. Next comes flash dancing—quick bursts of running in place that crescendo in purposeful falling and artificially loud laughter. Then BLAMO! Out of nowhere, a sharp kick from a 5½-inch foot scrapes mini-razor toenails across your cheekbone. It retracts back quickly and then lands a heel squarely on your nose. It’s going to be a long night.
If only you’d given birth to those babies you can lay down anywhere after they fall asleep and they stay asleep (you know, the kind all your friends seem to have?). It was with your first son that you discovered the ultimate frustration of spending an hour dutifully walking your baby to sleep in a zombie-like stupor, only to have him wake up the minute you peel him away from your body and begin the slow decent toward his crib. You accepted that slithering into bed with a baby on your shoulder was your only chance for sleep.
Because of the severity of the potential danger that has been indelibly—if undeservedly—linked to bedsharing, some find it difficult to even admit. And those that do admit to it don’t dare confess to it being less-than-ideal at times, for fear of adding to its negative image. Most nights, it does feel like the best choice of all child-sleep-situation options available to you, but—like most aspects of parenting—it can be awesome at times and unbearable at others. It’s not all snuggles and Mr. Sandman.
You too are guilty of perpetuating this lie; your smug boasting to coworkers now hangs stale in the back of your mind, mocking you: “Bedsharing is so great! You know, we just love it! It’s the only way I get any sleep with a nursing baby.” You don’t remember sounding that nasal or superior. You felt so confident and convincing, proudly declaring your rebellious sleep situation. Now that you think about it, they clearly saw straight through you. C’mon, they see the dark circles under your eyes and hear the yawning.
“We couldn’t even have our son in the same room with us at night!” a friend admitted. “I was so not prepared for the amount of noise babies make—the grunting and snoring—I would never get any sleep if he was in our room, let alone our bed.”
“You co-sleep too?” your boss confessed with excited relief. “The twins sleep with us in our king-size bed because the one just loves to nurse. He uses me like a pacifier.” She waited many years to finally have children. She wants them close to her. Since she works full time, nights are the longest stretch of time they have to be together, but she doesn’t often admit to bedsharing. She definitely hasn’t told her pediatrician. You haven’t either, you know. If we can’t even broach the subject with friends, family or healthcare professionals without worrying we will be seen as someone who knowingly puts their child in danger, how can we have any hope of an open discussion of guidelines for safe practices and suggestions for making it more mutually enjoyable?
“They are getting so big now,” she continued. “I feel like it’s time to kick them out because they are taking up so much room, but I don’t know where to put them since they are used to sleeping with people.”
Yes, once you start sharing a bed with an infant (or two) you eventually end up feigning sleep while dodging kicks to the face from a 2 ½ -foot-tall bully; shouting “GO TO SLEEP!” as hope for the solace of slumber anytime in the near future slips further from your grasp. Recognizing the seriousness of your tone, your son collapses and curls into a ball next to you like a shamed puppy. Slowly, the nighttime ninja begins slinking down toward the foot of the bed on his stomach, disappearing under the comforter. Off the bed to freedom. Once he touches the floor it will be over. He will be running around the living room until 2 a.m. flipping the light switches on and off. You scoop him up and firmly lay him down next to you, forcefully inserting the comforter under his armpit. He senses you mean business and is momentarily peaceful. Eventually, the squirming begins again.
You remind yourself that not every night is like this; that you can only truly appreciate the thrill of your baby’s soft late-night cuddles and smiling early-morning awakenings after experiencing the agony of an errant flailing arm shocking you awake at 3 a.m. by backhanding your eye so hard you see only brilliant white. Like his brother before him, he too will soon have a bed of his own. You will once again revel in the decadence that is whole nights of deliciously uninterrupted sleep … unless you decide to have that third kid, anyway.
Olivia Campbell is a writer, dancer and mom of two feisty boys whose articles on parenting, health, natural living and dance have appeared in The Daily Beast, Mothering Magazine and The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts Quarterly.