30 November 2011

The Family Bed

If you've been reading "regularly," and I use that term loosely, considering that I loosely post things here, you may have guessed that by now, we've moved.

We have, and are *almost* settled into our new little place in Bloomington, Indiana.  There are, of course, the little bits of things that still need sorting and put away, but they are becoming fewer and fewer.  Phew! (er)

When we moved, we pared down our things (you wouldn't have guessed it if you had helped us move), trying to streamline the amount of STUFF we owned, and trying to guess what we would need in the new house.  There was quite a bit moved along to new people, including our beloved bed.  We bought it when we had been married only a year and were moving out of our teeny-weeny apartment (in which you had to walk through the closet to get to the bathroom) (and which also came with its own bed - looking back on that - ick!) and into new digs, in which we needed our very own bed.  That comfy thing lasted us from IKEA through the rainy three-plus-hour drive home tied atop our little Kia Rio Cinco and for almost eight years (including two pregnant ones for me)!  You know it's comfy if a pregnant lady can sleep on it.  But, I digress.  The most comfortable bed in the world is now living at my in-laws (where we can visit it any time we want) and we bit the bullet and bought the ultimate: a king-size bed.

For a family of four living on a graduate student budget (read: enough actual income to pay the monthly rent and the rest loans/grants/family support), the king size bed was a big bullet to bite.  But we knew that with more space - including a room especially for the girls - we would need it.  Why?  Because, even though their Gramp built them a beautiful bunk bed - which, dad, if you're reading this, they love dearly and we WILL use it, I promise - our girls sleep with us.


They have since they were born - first Olivia, wrapped up like a baby burrito on her little crib mattress (on the floor) next to our mattress (on the floor).  I remember those first few nights, me rarely sleeping as she lay alone on her little bed, wondering if she was cold, if she was breathing, if she was lonely.  I know I was lonely, and, little by little, I moved her into our bed.

Nathan and I had made a conscious choice that we would be co-sleeping.  That's the official term for parents and children sleeping in the same room.  Some people buy special beds for their babies (we had one with Elsie - a co-sleeper from Arm's Reach) that can be attached right next to the big bed like a sidecar.  Others put the crib in the room of the parents, or, as we had, put their big mattress on the floor abutting a little mattress for the baby.  After a while, we found that the best way for us was to all be in the same bed - the family bed.

I loved the thrill of it - first of all, I had a big row with my mama about it, so I felt a little rush of adrenaline, knowing I was being disobedient.  But I also felt connected to mamas the world over who sleep with their babies in whatever bed they have - futons, straw mats, Serta sleepers, a blanket on the floor - whatever.  I remember nursing Olivia to sleep in our little place on Newgard Avenue, and drifting off, thinking that mamas the world over were nursing their babies at the same time - that I was participating in a timeless rite - a cultural tradition of the human experience.

By now, at least for some of you, I know that there must be alarm bells and whistles going off in your heads.  "No! No!" you might be thinking, "You'll roll over on the baby!  The baby will fall on the floor!  The baby will suffocate!  That's what cribs are for!"  Don't worry - these aren't new thoughts - all of these worries came through my head, too.  And, if you know me, you know that I'm a worrier, so all options needed to be examined before I could relax.  Of course, we had to be informed - one doesn't plop a baby in an adult bed and expect everything to work out beautifully.  We read bazillions of articles, we asked people who had co-slept, we looked at the statistics (a good article can be found here), heard arguments on both sides, and then - well, we did whatever we wanted.

The truth (at least for our family) is, bed-sharing was the easiest and best way for everyone to get enough sleep.  I couldn't imagine having to make up every two or three hours for those first few months (and during every growth spurt after that) to get up out of bed, walk into another room, take my crying baby out of her crib, nurse her, put her back in her crib, walk back to my own bed and try to go back to sleep.  No, thank you.  I took the straightest route from A to B, I suppose, and put that baby in my bed and let her nurse at her leisure (and my rest).

That, and the fact that we didn't have another room in which to put the baby.

A friend of mine (and Olivia's doula) related it to me in this way: when you sleep, you don't roll off the bed onto the floor - you are aware of where the edge is.  Now just imagine that you have a tiny little person next to you - how much MORE aware of her would you be than the edge of the bed, with your mama (or papa) spidey-senses all a-twitter?

Bedsharing got us through some nasty times - Olivia and her "colic," which turned out to be what I like to call womb-nostalgia*, my post-partum depression, as well as the usual kid illnesses (which can be harder for the parents than the baby sometimes, what with all the worrying).  It also got us through two one-bedroom apartments.

And now, here I am, up early after a well-rested sleep (mostly).  Olivia is curled up next to me with her teddy bear (Olivia Bear, of course), and Elsie is clinging to her daddy's armpits on the other side of the bed.  We all fit, too, in this big ol' bed.

I know my children won't always sleep with us.  I fear and relish that fact.  I look forward to the time when no one is kicking me in the face (that's why Elsie's next to Nathan) or rolling over on top of me (ha!  The tables have turned!).  The time when my husband sleeps next to me and not two people over.  But we are both aware that these are precious days.  Too soon will these little souls venture out into their own room and the wide wide world.  Then I will look back to these sweet snuggle times - when a sleeping Elsie reaches her chubby hand to find mine.  When Olivia - who is growing more and more into an independent big girl - wakes in the morning light, rolls over and says, "Mama, I'm glad we snuggled."

*womb-nostalgia is a very silly term for the very serious way that many babies miss the womb - some doctors call it colic, but Dr. Harvey Karp describes it as "the missing fourth trimester."  Bedsharing helped, but the real hole-in-one was wrapping the baby up like a little burrito, taking her into the bathroom, turning off the lights, turning on the shower and standing in the middle of the floor (not in the shower), holding her on her tummy, and swinging her side-to-side.  Worked every time.

Some Links on Co-Sleeping (for those of you who like to read more things):

"Cosleeping:  Real Men Sleep with Their Kids" - Mothering Magazine
"Sleep Environment Safety Checklist" (for both family beds and cribs) - Mothering Magazine
"The Latest Research on Co-Sleeping" - Ask Dr. Sears
"Seven Benefits to Sleeping with Your Baby" - Dr. William Sears
"Five Benefits to Cosleeping Past Infancy" - Natural Parent Network
"Fun with Analogies" - PhD in Parenting (this one's a little crass)

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