You're probably familiar with the concept of parenting vows: the things we all swear aloud we will never do to our kids, and the promises we make that we’ll always follow. You know what these resolutions look like: "I'll never bottle-feed my kids," "I'll never give them processed foods," "I'll never yell at my kids when they're lashing out at each other like feral cats in a Walgreen's." But the one section of the manual all parents should read is the clause about parenting karma: “Whatever thou sayest aloud in judgement shall come back to haunteth thee tenfold.” In other words, you can make all the parenting vows you want, but you'll probably break them sooner or later.
I made a lot of vows before I became a parent that later came back to bite me in the ass. But the one that really kicked the legs out from under my high horse was "I will never let my kids sleep in my bed."
I knew some friends who co-slept with their children. When they told me they bed-shared, I just felt bad that they weren’t strong or smart enough to put a stop to it. "Poor dear weaklings," I thought. "They only co-slept because they had some sort of attachment issues and didn’t want their darlings to grow up to be strong, independent, functioning members of society. I'm so glad I'm stronger and smarter than they were."
Of course, almost immediately after my kids got old enough, we co-slept almost every night. Today, I not only feel no guilt about sharing a bed with my kids, I think that co-sleeping might actually have saved my marriage.
Before we had kids, my husband and I agreed that co-sleeping was not only dangerous for the child (in fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends against parents bed-sharing with small infants), but also for the marriage itself. After all, how could you possibly find time to have sex when you had a minor child rooming with you?
Then we actually had a baby, and life changed pretty damn quickly. Because my husband had a full-time job, I was up all night breastfeeding my baby, and I became something of a control freak: not only was I pulling the graveyard shift seven nights a week, but I was the one home all day with this new little thing. I was the one pushing all the buttons and figuring out the magical sequences that seemed to keep her happy. He had no idea what each cry meant, but I sure did.
“I don’t have postpartum, you freaking asshole," I yelled. "I’m just exhausted!”
I quickly started resenting my husband, because I felt I was the only one whose life had changed as a result of having this baby. After all, I was the one staying up at night with her: she wasn’t sleeping more than 30 minutes at a time at night, and her feedings lasted at least an hour each.
Still, even though co-sleeping might have helped to calm her down, I kept putting her in her crib every single night. I had read the AAP's guidelines on co-sleeping, and I wasn’t some baby murderer who was about to let my infant in my bed. I was also sure my husband would riot if I brought her into our bed: since the baby was born, I had no interest in sex, and had basically put up a "no trespassing" sign for my vagina. A baby in the bed would only have compounded the issue.
After a few weeks of half-hour bursts of sleep, I started to crack. For the first time in my life, I started having anxiety attacks. Every night around sunset I would get this creepy-crawly feeling. My chest felt tight and I was so panicky that I wanted to crawl out of my own skin for seemingly no reason at all. I knew that exhaustion was just part of newborn life, but come sunset I would start to feel a cloud descend over me, and I would just burst into tears.
What finally sent me over the edge is when my husband came home one day from work. I hadn’t moved from the recliner all day: I’d been up all night with her, and that day I just sat in the chair and held her so she would sleep. I binged Netflix, I was sweaty and hungry, and I honestly don’t think I even got up to pee that day.
He noticed that I hadn’t moved, and he very casually said, “I think you have postpartum depression.”
I lost it.
“I don’t have postpartum, you freaking asshole," I yelled. "I’m just exhausted!” He made a face, threw his hands in the air, and went in the kitchen to make a sandwich.
I’d put so much pressure on myself not to let our daughter share our bed, because I thought it would wreck my marriage. But in reality, I was wrecking my marriage by trying to function on little snippets of sleep.
I’d had it. I’d spent long enough being the only person whose life had to change. Now, he was going to see what it was like to deal with a screaming newborn 24/7. So that night, instead of sleeping on the floor of her nursery, I brought our little girl to bed with us. I propped up my pillow, grabbed the remote and settled in to nurse her, all the while thinking I’d show him who was boss and bracing myself for a fight.
But my husband didn't get upset. Instead, he kissed our baby’s cheek, laid his head on my arm and asked what we were watching. I cautiously turned on National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and I waited for him to tell me to go put the baby down in her crib. But he didn’t. Instead, we were laughing along with Clark Griswold.
That night was the first time I’d really relaxed since my baby had been born. But I still felt a little self-conscious as I laid her down next to me after the movie was over. I waited to gauge my husband’s reaction when he realized I wasn’t putting her in her crib for the night.
He just laid there staring at her, then he said “She’s just so perfect. Thanks for being such a good mom.” He kissed my forehead and rolled over to go to sleep.
I was stunned. I’d put so much pressure on myself not to let our daughter share our bed, because I thought it would wreck my marriage. But in reality, I was wrecking my marriage by trying to function on little snippets of sleep.
I woke up one morning with both boobs out in a puddle of milk, but I’d slept all night. She had just helped herself to the tap that night.
Pretty soon, sharing our bed became the norm for our little one. I found out that there were actually safe ways to share a bed with our baby, such as removing all the blankets in bed and installing a bed rail so she wasn't sleeping in the middle of us. My husband could still curl up next to me, and he wasn’t worried about rolling over on her. I had a sixth sense about where she was, and I found myself waking up if she even held her breath for a second, so I wasn't worried about hurting her, either.
I still woke up to nurse her at night, but when she was around 6 months old she managed to figure out how to pull my boob right out of my shirt. I woke up one morning with both boobs out in a puddle of milk, but I’d slept all night. She had just helped herself to the tap that night, and I'd had no idea.
When my daughter was around 8 months old, my husband and I briefly discussed transitioning her to her crib. We tried it for two nights, but after the third night she was crying for longer and longer periods. She worked herself up so bad she threw up, so my husband decided to put her back into our bed.
When she turned a year old, I once again checked in with my husband and he said maybe we should try again to transition her. We did try to move her to her crib, but the first night was rough, especially because she was cutting teeth and had started having febrile seizures at night. He said we should let her be. After all, kids don't stay little forever, and since my husband was traveling a lot for work, nighttime was when he got those extra snuggles in.
Co-sleeping with our kids ended up being just what we needed to bring us closer together.
As far as our sex life went, I think co-sleeping might have in fact saved it as well. Before we allowed her in our bed full-time, I was always so exhausted and worried she was going to wake up that just the thought of sex straight up angered me. Once we made peace with the co-sleeping, however, we ramped things up sexually. While we didn't have sex in our bed because of our daughter, we did discover that contrary to popular belief, sex isn’t reserved just for the master suite. In fact, it can get pretty fun to take the show on the road. We were forced to get creative, and our sex life was more experimental than it had been in years.
Clearly, things worked out okay on the sex front, because the second I quit nursing my first baby, I found myself pregnant with her sister. We worried about having two in the bed, but we figured out a system. We converted our toddler’s daybed into a king-sized bed, and my husband would lay with her at night until she fell asleep. He’d sneak back into our room where I was already laying down with the baby, and if the toddler needed us in the night she could either come in our bed and snuggle up on Dad’s side, or he would walk her back and snuggle up in her bed.
It wasn’t a perfect system, but it sure worked for us. We’d spent too many nights at opposite ends of the same bed, with nothing in between us but resentment. Turns out that co-sleeping with our kids ended up being just what we needed in our bed to bring us closer together.