One of the biggest struggles I had as a new mom was the guilt that washed over me when my child slept in my bed. I didn’t bed share because I thought it would strengthen our bond and I avoided it for a time because I was paranoid about SIDS, but I did it because I was psychosis-level tired, and I was fresh out of freaks to give about it. The thing is, for all the negativity around the practice, I bed-shared with my parent as a kid and I don't think anyone would begrudge me my reason for doing so.
Sleeping next to my mother helped me feel safe and secure in a time when I felt powerless and afraid.
People were so damned nosey about my kid’s sleeping habits. That seemed to be the measure of whether she was a “good” baby or not. She didn’t go around murdering kittens or plotting world domination. The sleep deprivation wasn’t her idea of torture tactics. She was a baby, for crying out loud. I thought the way she came barreling out of my vagina was by far the rudest thing she’d done to date, but no one asked about that. All anyone asked about was whether or not she was sleeping.
For the most part I hid our arrangement. I’d say “yeah she’s sleeping OK,” then finished the thought in my head “when she’s in our bed.” I even lied to her pediatrician after my first confession of bed-sharing took a judgey turn. Our old school baby doc told me I was setting her up for a lifetime of attachment issues, and he had hilarious ideas for getting her to sleep. “Just lay her down when she’s sleepy but not asleep,” he said. Been there. Tried that. That quack was whack. I told him he was more than welcome to come over around 3 a.m. and give that a whirl, but he never did take me up on it. From then on I lied about where my baby slept.
I quietly shared a sleeping space with my baby, and it was like having Oprah run my bedtime. You get some sleep! And you get some sleep! Everybody's getting sleep! I followed Dr Sear's safe co-sleeping guidelines which, unlike the American Academy of Pediatrics, don't stress the risk of accidental death due to bed-sharing), but it was still my dirty little secret.
My mother-in-law cooed that her baby slept through the night at the advanced age of 48 hours old. How nice for her. She also never got stretch marks or morning sickness, so there was really nothing left for us to talk about. My mom told me I slept in my own crib as a baby as well. I just assumed that my baby was broken, but the hospital nurse said they had a no-return policy.
I tried every few weeks to get my little cherub to sleep in her bed, but to no avail. We tried all the books, routines and essential oils the world had to offer. But all she wanted was me and my boobs. She gets that from her dad.
When she was about six months old, I was talking to my mom, and I sheepishly admitted my terrible crime. She shrugged it off and said to let her be. “You slept with me too, and you turned out fine.”
I was confused by this statement. I’d always heard tell that I loved my crib as an infant, and that I always slept better in my own bed. Was my tee-totaling mom hitting the hooch?
Then she reminded me of the time I was 9 years old and lost my dad. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, but our little family life was incredibly rich. My mom and dad were soul mates, and they adored my brother and me to the moon and back. One of my favorite family memories is how my mom would beg my dad to take us driving in the rain. Still to this day the smell of grass and wet asphalt that comes with a summer rain reminds me of him.
One day Dad took us all to breakfast. He had the morning off work, and after they dropped me off at school, he and my mom and little brother all spent the day together until he got called in. I remember he gave me an extra dollar for lunch that day in case I wanted to buy a fruit punch from the vending machine, and he cheekily told me not to tell Mom. I never saw him again.
At 9 years old, I crawled in bed next to my remaining parent, and I didn’t leave her bed for a full year.
He’d gotten called into work, and an accident took his life. Daddy’s girl doesn't begin to describe the love I had for that man. He was my world, and in an instant he was gone.
I remember people explaining what happened at my grandmother’s house later that day, but their voices were muffled. After I heard that my daddy was gone, the world crashed in on me, and I couldn’t hear anything else. I never wanted to go home that night. Going home to a house without my dad made it much too real.
When we walked in the door I looked over at the couch — the last place I’d seen him in the house — and I swore I saw him laying there sleeping. The weight of it all hit me so hard I couldn’t breathe. I tried to sleep that night, but I couldn’t. At 9 years old, I crawled in bed next to my remaining parent, and I didn’t leave her bed for a full year.
It’s been more than 20 years since I lost my dad, and I’m only recently able to talk about him without feeling a stabbing pain in my heart. For years after his death, I had vivid dreams where he wasn’t really gone. He was always away, but trying desperately to get back to me, and while I loved the feeling that my dad was still with me, it was also incredibly terrifying and heartbreaking all at once when I woke up. Sleeping next to my mother helped me feel safe and secure in a time when I felt powerless and afraid.
I realized that my own baby not only felt powerless and afraid, but she actually was powerless. No wonder she was afraid. For all she knew there were saber tooth tigers stalking her through the crib slats. She relied on me not only for nourishment and protection, but for love and security. Her feelings were just as valid as mine.
So I let her sleep peacefully with me, and when my second child came along, I followed her lead. She didn’t need to be in my bed as much as her older sister, but when she did there was no question. I looked her new pediatrician right in the eye and told her my baby slept wherever she felt safe. Fortunately our new doctor was completely supportive and helped me find information about how to share my bed safely with my baby.
My girls are now 8 and 5, and they know they’re welcome in my bed any time they need. My oldest rarely comes in anymore, and my youngest usually only comes after a late night bathroom trip, or if she gets scared. They’re perfectly wonderful, healthy independent little ladies. So I can confidently say I didn’t screw them up or kill them by sharing my bed with them.
And to this day, when I visit my mom, I’ll often go into her room at night and snuggle up. And we are all just perfectly fine.
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