The art of parenting is all about figuring out the most graceful way to adapt, or your kid (often literally) craps all over your plans. That's definitely what happened to me when it came to baby sleep, and all the plans I made before bed-sharing that went right out the window. In hindsight, I now realize that most of my "plans" weren't really plans at all, so much as uninformed assumptions I made about what my life would look like after my kid arrived. Like many people, I assumed I would be a much better, more in-control parent than I turned out to be, because dealing with a real person with his own biological agenda is no joke.
Though I'm a total childbirth nerd who couldn't get enough information about the act of bringing new people into the world, and though I actually studied child development and psychology in my past life as an educator, I have to admit to dropping the ball a bit on practical information about rearing small people between the ages of birth and preschool. Did I have a clear vision and a detailed birth plan ready to optimize my birth experience? Yep! Did I have a well-developed, research-driven, moral philosophy of parenting that orients my approach to socialization and discipline? You bet. Did I know how to change diapers or deal with a sleepless infant? Nope.
Changing diapers turned out to be really easy, especially when my husband was doing it most of the time after I gave birth. But the sum total of my preparation for baby sleep was adding a co-sleeper and a crib to our registry, after reading some research on the safety of various sleep arrangements and enough of (read: not nearly enough of) a book about breastfeeding and co-sleeping to feel reasonably comfortable occasionally bed-sharing, safely, if we needed to.
As it turned out, we "needed" to. Every night for the past 723 days.
Moral of the story: if you're going to bother with any of the parenting books, at least finish the damn book. There might actually be some information in there that would leave you slightly less misinformed than your non-parent self would otherwise be. And maybe (or y'know, definitely) prioritize learning about things that have to do with how you're supposed to spend a freakin' third of your whole day, like sleeping. If it's supposed to take up that much of your time, it's probably important, you know? RIP to the following plans I made before bed-sharing with my baby:
I Was Going To Sleep Mostly Uninterrupted...
You’d think, with all the suspicion I marshalled for the rest of the Pregnancy-Birth-and-Parenting Industrial Complex, that I would have thought to interrogate the phrase “sleep like a baby.” I didn’t. (I’ve paid for it.)
Once I reconciled myself to bed-sharing, I did get more sleep than I would have otherwise, since my strong-willed (and strong-voiced) little guy is very much on team #KeepThemClose. But even though things were typically smooth during his non-mobile baby phase, there have definitely been more interruptions now that he’s got a much-larger body shifting and wiggling around at night.
...And My Husband Would Help Equally At Night
Now, to be clear: my husband is an amazing, supportive partner who is very involved in the day-to-day raising of our kids. He has definitely sacrificed in the course of our family bed-sharing adventure, given he's a bigger human than both of us trying to survive on the tiny sliver of bed adults get to keep when bed-sharing with a little one.
But since most of my son’s nighttime demands revolve around boobs, and since having comforting boobs has made our son strongly prefer me in moments of distress, that’s meant me doing most of the nighttime heavy lifting.
Typically, thanks to breastsleeping, that hasn't traditionally been that big of a deal for me. But when he’s upset and wailing all night over a new tooth coming in, or a new food that didn’t agree with him (Yeah, I’m looking at you, gas-inducing chickpeas at eight months)? It’s all me trying to figure that out with minimal disruption to our collective sleep environment, since I can theoretically "sleep when the baby sleeps" as a stay/work-at-home mom. Theoretically.
Also mostly my problem? Getting peed on before we found the right brand of overnight diapers. Not a thing Past Me considered when she dropped the ball on investigating all this sleep business.
My Partner And I Were Also Going To Sleep In Each Other’s Arms Again
I definitely imagined myself spending more time cuddling my husband than my baby at bedtime. Of course, I’m not terribly upset by the baby cuddles. Baby cuddles are so awesome, and so fleeting.
But now that those baby cuddles too often come with a side of toddler headbutts to the face and kicks to the stomach (way more forceful than they were during pregnancy, now that he's multiple times bigger and strengthens his muscles on dry land and all), I’m starting to reconsider our nighttime arrangements.
My Son And I Would Have A Lovely, Simple Bedtime Routine...
In my mind, I’d put him in his cute little jammies, we'd sit in our chair, where we'd nurse, I’d read him a couple of stories, I'd sing to him, and then place him into his bed to sleep.
In reality, we did have a simple bedtime routine in the beginning: I’d eat dinner, then we’d go to bed and he’d nurse, then we’d both fall asleep together (or he'd fall asleep and I'd read things on my phone). Of course, once I stopped wanting to go to bed at the same time and place he did, and he decided that he didn’t want to sleep apart from me, things got more complicated.
...And He'd Sleep Well, Usually Without Any Fuss
I knew that brand new babies would wake up pretty often to eat, but I guess in my head I assumed that once they got a little bigger and heartier they'd get it together and just sleep through the night. One more reason why in hindsight, I really wish I'd finished reading that sleep book (and maybe picked up a few others on the topic).
If He Did Fuss, I Could Handle It Because I'm In Charge
Normal, Put-Together Past Me: “I'm the mom, so I set the rules. He’ll just need to adjust.”
Hormonal Postpartum Softie Me: “Nooooooooo! OMG OMG stop crying baby OK OK I didn't mean it come snuggle with Mama forever and ever! *kiss*”
He'd Seamlessly Transition From Bassinet To Crib
Hahahahahaha, Past Me was adorable. Not only did she assume her child would sleep in the bassinet thingy, but she also assumed that he would then would be totally cool going into the bigger crib after that.
Yeah, no. None of that happened. He slept in his bassinet once, and it took me weeks to get him to even nap in his crib. He has yet to spend a full night in there, and he's just days from his second birthday.
Sleep Training? What Sleep Training?
Since I stupidly, stupidly assumed I wouldn't have to actually try to get him to sleep, I never actually planned for it. I fully own that Past Me was ridiculous. I just thought it would happen, sometime before he became huge and thrash-y in our shared bed. Don't worry, I've been punished: I'm now beginning to sleep train a toddler. It's, uh. It's not going well.
I'd Be Able To Plan My Day Around His Consistent, Independent Naptimes
The thing about young babies who don't sleep independently at night, is that they also tend not to sleep independently during the day. So for the majority of his first year, I either had to go around getting things done while he napped on me in a wrap or ring sling, or cuddle in bed with him doing things on my phone while he snoozed on my chest.
We’d Wake Up To A Crying Baby Every Morning
I had never seen what morning is like for bed-sharing families, so I assumed that all babies 1) slept in cribs, and 2) alerted their parents that they were awake by crying. So I assumed that after independently sleeping through the night in our own beds, my new baby would become my new alarm clock.
And he has, but in a much cuter, happier way than I ever expected. Waking up to a happy, smiling baby has definitely been the most pleasant surprise of all.