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My gentle complaint about co-sleeping after 3.5 years

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
... and a suggested solution.

I am emerging from something I never thought possible: almost four years of never, ever sleeping for more than 4 hours at a time. (I can catalog the four times in which I obtained more than this easily- for example, Thanksgiving night of 2006 I *could* have gotten 6 hours if I hadn't awoken in a panic believing my still-sleeping son was most likely dead since he hadn't, for once, woken every 2 hours.) My first son began sleeping for 5 hours at a stretch 2 months after the second son was born. The second son is now almost 17 months old, and still, at most, sleeps for 1 4 hour stretch, usu. right from 6pm to 10 pm.

But my schedule has changed, and I do my academic work from 10pm-2am and my husband and nanny take the children from 6-10 am while I sleep. For four, beautiful, unbroken hours. Every day. (Or almost every day.)

It's the consistency that is transforming me. I didn't realize how deeply tired I was.

And it has caused me to reflect on our sleep history as a family, and come to some conclusions about co-sleeping.

The biggest one is that it is, for most families, an "expensive" option. And what I mean by that is that it is, in my opinion, the best thing you can do for your children at night... but that it is going to cost you. And if you don't figure out what bank needs to be filled with what kind of currency, it will bankrupt you. If you find yourself fretting that co-sleeping has taught your children "bad habits," or worsened their ability to sleep, most likely the problem is not that your children are not getting enough sleep, but that *you* (and possibly your partner) are not getting enough sleep. Your sleep: this is the currency with which you pay for co-sleeping, especially if you have restless, sensitive-souled babies like we do. Co-sleeping, I think, only really gives your children its full benefit if the parents are getting enough sleep.

I can see now, in retrospect, that in struggling to give my children 24 hour ultra-responsive, attachment parenting, I often let the whole thing backfire. I got up with them every 1.5 hours, every 45 minutes, but I was cranky more often than not, and in the daytime, I could be down right un-attachable due to my exhaustion-induced irritability. How many mornings have I woken up to their bright, sunny faces, and felt only resentment, exhaustion, and contempt for the next few hours in a quiet, dark house with two excited, energetic children? More than I would like to admit.

I do not regret co-sleeping for a minute, but I do regret not handling it more wisely.

My mothering has been shaped by this website and the people I have read here more than by any other source, and so many of the women here seemed so on-top of it. Even when they were posting to complain, the bar of nighttime expectation, as I (an admitted perfectionist) interpreted it, was that I should be able to bear with so many night wakings. And that as a stay at home mom, this should be my life and I should be able to manage it by myself.

But I am seeing now that in spite of my best efforts to do my best, I have not been at my best for most of the past 3.5 years because I have been exhausted.

I am not suggesting that other mothers, starting down this path, turn to a non-co-sleeping arrangement. One quiet, beautifully perfect moment with your sleepy baby by your side, staring contentedly into your eyes before falling asleep, automatically makes the whole thing worthwhile. What I am suggesting is that if you choose to "buy" this option-- the very best option available for most babies (at least in the beginning!)-- that you do it knowing that you need to fill your own sleep bank with enough hours that you will be, upon waking, the parent you intended to be when you chose the best option for your baby in sleep. I had a spouse who was in his intern year of medical residency during our baby's infancy. I couldn't, and didn't, ask for his help at all at night. But to make co-sleeping really work for us, I should have tried to find another source of support that would ensure that at some point I got regular, deep sleep. Every day. It probably would have meant giving up much or even most of my free time in the evenings after our first son was in bed, as we couldn't financially afford a nanny. But the value I placed on those hours of freedom was also very high, especially if my husband had a rare awake night at home during his 80 hour work week. Like I said, it can be an expensive option.

But I am a different person now, three weeks into a schedule which includes regular, dependable, unbroken sleep. I am calm now. I notice when I am irritable, and I can reign myself in instead of giving myself over to it. I play with my children. And when they wake up at 6 am full of wiggles and giggles, I do not feel like selling them to the gypsies.

So to all of you new, exhausted moms who are up tonight reading this board simply to find reassurance that you are not crazy to think co-sleeping is a good idea, who are panic-stricken at the thought of doing another week, let alone another month or year of nights like the one you are living tonight, I tell you that you are on the right path, but that it is ok to look for help as you walk down it. You deserve it. And if you don't buy that, your children deserve a rested and peaceful mama. Be creative. Make it work. Find the support that will get you consistent sleep at some point every 24 hours. I deeply wish I had.
post #2 of 13
Thank you for your treatise. I value the words of an experienced mama. As I get ready to go back to work, I'll be looking for ways to fill up my sleep "bank." We've only been co-sleeping for a year, since DD was born, but it certainly feels like a whole other world that the majority of people have no idea exists.
And now I'm off to sleep. Thanks again, mama.
post #3 of 13
Thank you for such a heartfelt, erudite post!
post #4 of 13

Lovely post, and very true IMHO. (I am also a huge fan of the early morning uninterrupted recovery sleep, though sadly mine is not usually 4 hours. After reading this, I am inspired to see how I can make that happen a little better.)
post #5 of 13
as I read your post. I truly love co-sleeping, but I'm so tired. I haven't had uninterrupted sleep since I got pregnant, in Oct of 2007! I have often felt like a complete failure over DS' sleep.
post #6 of 13
I'm so glad this has worked for you but I want to point out that not every Mama experiences such long periods of interrupted sleep as a result of cosleeping. I think this is a great solution for Mamas who have support and the need for sleep other than that they are getting with their child in the family bed.
post #7 of 13
Your post really resonated with me. Co sleeping ended up costing too much for our family. Had my partner been able to be more available at night, or we had family around, or I could endure with a more joyful spirit, perhaps it would have been better, but we just couldn't cope.
post #8 of 13
Thanks for this. I also think we should not feel guilty for wanting and needing sleep. I am a firm believer that if I find myself resenting something I need to make a change.
post #9 of 13
Oh, mama! Of course we all have to choose what is best for US... sometimes cosleeping is not the best choice. While DS1 is almost 3 and comes into our bed almost every night, for DS2 it is not an option. He is such a light sleeper it just doesn't work. We found out the hard way (13 months of no sleep!) that for him, a SILENT, dark room was the answer to a good nights sleep. I do long to snuggle him in bed with me, as DS1 does. However, we are all more pleasant now that he's sleeping
post #10 of 13
I love your post, and you are so right. I can't imagine not co-sleeping, but there is a price... that I am willing to pay. I know other families choose differently. When I started getting that 'more than 2 hours of sleep' (at 19 months PPD it was life changing. And another time when I could get more than 5 and regularly 5 - 7. Wow what a difference.

Now I blissfully wake next to my 5 year old having naturally woken up (after 8 hours) next to her and watch her sleep and then wake.
post #11 of 13
Originally Posted by Maluhia View Post
I'm so glad this has worked for you but I want to point out that not every Mama experiences such long periods of interrupted sleep as a result of cosleeping. I think this is a great solution for Mamas who have support and the need for sleep other than that they are getting with their child in the family bed.

This thread reminds me of when mamas talk about the difficulty of breastfeeding. It's not all roses, but many mamas do not experience these troubles.

It's hard to balance sharing difficulties and not scaring people away. I remember a thread on a facebook group about latch difficulties and bleeding...it had many people posting that they "wouldn't even try breastfeeding after reading."

But I appreciate the discussion. I had no idea that co-sleeping could cause so much disruption! Especially from toddlers. I mean, I've heard of infants waking up frequently and thought it was due to changing sleep cycles and needing milk more often.
post #12 of 13
It seems to me that the OP is just counselling other mothers to seek support, whether it be from their partners or elsewhere in their communities. Good advice IMO. It takes a village after all.
post #13 of 13
I agree with you 1000% OP! I chose cosleeping b/c it gave us all the extra sleep we needed,without that- there was too much chaos at night. BUT....I had to use common sense along the way too,knowing that if I was overtired,I wasn't much of a good mama......so we coslept,with some mama and daddy rules.... by the time babes were 9-12 months, they knew that nighttime was for sleeping- nursing was going down,and waking up. Other than that,patting,gentle breating,etc, and my babes learned to sleep.
right next to me,till they were about 3,then we transitioned them with no big problems.
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