I co-slept with my son the first night he was born; in the hospital, skin-to-skin, both of us exhausted and figuring one another out. It didn't take me long to realize the many benefits of co-sleeping. My body was able to assist my son's body in regulating its temperature, we were both able to sleep easier and for longer and breastfeeding (especially at night) was much simpler. I didn't know, though, that there were things I would learn about myself when I co-slept with my kid; things that would help me figure out what motherhood meant to me, how I was going to shape motherhood to fit my life (and visa versa) and how to adjust to this completely new, yet somehow still the same, existence.
Some of these things, of course, I knew about myself already. For example, I didn't need to co-sleep with my son to know how much I loved sleep. I mean, I've known that since always. Still, co-sleeping either taught me knew things about myself or reminded me of certain aspects of myself that I may have forgotten; especially in those initial months of motherhood when everything is a blur and you're exhausted and losing your sense of self can be pretty easy.
While motherhood is so very much about learning the quirks and personality traits and needs and wants of another human being (and assisting them, protecting them and nourishing them), it also involves continually learning about yourself. I'd argue that you can't be the best mother (or parent) you could possibly be, if you weren't constantly looking inwards and evaluating who you are as a human being. Motherhood facilitates self-exploration, for a multitude of reasons, and co-sleeping is one of the ways you end up learning just as much about yourself, as you do about your baby. So, with that in mind, here's what you might realize when you're falling asleep next to your little:
How Patient You Can Be
Parenthood is going to test your patience regardless, but I'd argue that sharing your sleeping area with a tiny little human will put your tolerance to the absolute test. I like my sleep space, you guys; so when tiny little hands and feet and knees and elbows end up digging into places they shouldn't dig, you learn to keep your cool really quick. If you have things to do, but your kid needs sleep and will only sleep next to and/or on you, you learn to slow down and wait and relax. You might count the minutes, but you do it patiently. It's honestly a pretty valuable exercise, as I no longer get irritated if someone is late for a work meeting. Win?
How Little Room You Really Need In Order To Sleep
I used to spread my arms and legs and take up half (usually more) of the bed and enjoy my space with unabashed freedom. Now? Well, now I sleep teetered on the corner of my bed whenever our toddler decides he doesn't want to sleep in his anymore (usually around 3 in the morning, every morning). I can balance my unconscious body on a tiny little corner and still get some sleep, while my kid gets to be the one to spread his arms and legs and take up half (usually more) of the bed. It's pretty miraculous.
How Anxious You Can Become About Something So Simple As Sleep
We co-slept out of necessity, ant not necessarily choice. I mean, yes; it was a choice. However, my son had problems regulating his body temperature after he was born, and it was our doctors and nurses that suggested co-sleeping that first night in the hospital (skin-to-skin) so that my body could help his body stabilize. From then on, we co-slept.
Turns out, the ability to lay next to my son every night helped keep me from losing my mind, too. I was very scared and anxious that my son would go to sleep, but never wake up. I spent more than a few nights simply staring at my son's chest, willing it to rise and fall according to the rhythm I had come to learn, and when it didn't follow that exact rhythm I would panic. At least, when I was co-sleeping, I could panic from the comfort of my bed and be next to my son so I could actually feel him breathing as he slept.
How Much You're Affected By Touch
I've always been a very affectionate person, so the importance of human contact and touch has never been lost on me. Still, I didn't realize how truly powerful it is until I had my son and started co-sleeping with him. Not only did skin-to-skin contact able my body to help my son's body stabilize and regulate itself, it also made me feel closer and more connected to the being I had been growing in my body for more than 40 weeks.
It is difficult to explain, but a simple touch (a tiny hand wrapped around my finger, a little body pressed up against mine, my son breastfeeding in the middle of the night, my hand on the entirety of his abdomen) made me feel connected to my son in a way I couldn't have possibly fathomed I would feel.
How Important Sleep Truly Is...
It's not that I'm against "crying it out" for some fictitious "moral reason." I know that, when done correctly, it's extremely efficient and in no way torturous. It's just that, well, I like my sleep, you guys. I could have tried my hand at "crying it out," but that requires dedication and staying up for (potentially) hours at a time and, well, I'm just not about it.
Co-sleeping was easier for myself and my son and my entire family, and we were getting a great night's sleep at a very, very early age. Night feedings were easier; falling asleep was easier; staying asleep was easier; waking up in the morning to feed my son immediately was way easier. I mean, it just worked, mostly because I was able to get the sleep I desperately needed (and, you know, my kid was able to sleep, too).
...And How Much Of It You're Willing To Sacrifice
Then again, there were plenty of nights when sleep was pretty difficult to come by, especially as my son got older. Now, as a toddler, he kicks and punches and squirms and moves around and it can make getting a decent night's sleep pretty damn impossible. Still, I'm not willing to kick him out of our bed at three in the morning (or whenever he comes meandering into our room, half-asleep) because this is our "thing." He has been co-sleeping since he was a baby and adjustments take time to get used to. I'm willing to put up with a few crummy nights of sleep if that means my son gets better ones, and especially if it means he'll be feeling safe and secure and comforted next to mom and dad, in bed.
How Creative You Can Be
When you're co-sleeping, creativity is key. Whether it's making sure your bed is safe to co-sleep (while remaining comfortable) or it's finding a position you can sleep in while balancing your body on the edge of the bed (actually, it's possible), you'll figure out a way to get a bunch of bodies in a bed that's probably just designed for two.
How Resilient You Can Be
Look, tiny little baby and/or toddler fists hurt, you guys. Tiny little punches and kick to the body do, in fact, take their toll. I now know that if my writing career ever goes down the toilet, I could probably make it as a successful boxer (or the guy in the ring that the boxer practices on).
How Much Personal Space Matters To You
I have always been a pretty independent person and, even when in relationships or living with other people, needed and demanded and appreciate my personal space. Having a child only made that necessity all the more obvious. Feeling touched out is a very real thing, and I have experienced plenty of moments when I'll gladly take the couch so my partner and son can share the bed, just because I need space to be left alone.
How Little You Care About What Other People Think
Chances are, unless you surround yourself with completely like-minded people who believe exactly what you believe and parent exactly the way you parent, you're going to hear some interesting responses when you tell people you co-sleep with your kid. I've heard people feign concern, tell me I'm going to kill my kid, tell me a horrific story about a friend's cousin's sister's baby who died; I mean, I've heard it all.
I've also learned how to tune it all out. While I appreciate people voicing concern (sometimes), most people are worried because they've heard and bought into myths about co-sleeping that are, for the most part, false. When you know that what you're doing is best for you and your baby and your unique family situation, not caring about what everyone else thinks becomes pretty easy.
How Often You Take The Time To Appreciate The Little Things
While there's no denying that co-sleeping comes with a set of challenges, it has also given me so many simple, little moments with my son that I will never take for granted. The lazy moments when he just wants to lay in bed and cuddle; the mornings when I would smell the top of his head as the sun shined through our bedroom window; the late-night breastfeeding sessions when we were both half-asleep. Co-sleeping made all that possible and I, for one, am pretty thankful for the times when I was able to just lay with my kid and appreciate the little things.