Thursday, September 30, 2010

Co-sleeping

Last night was a momentous milestone in our small household: my baby, who has never slept for more then a few hours without me beside him, spent half the night in his own crib, in his own room. While it was on one hand a nice treat to have some unhindered sleeping time, I am still not sure whether to celebrate or mourn. I think the occasion calls for both.

When my little one was born I had no intention of having him sleep in our bed. Quite the opposite in fact, I had a nice little co-sleeper purchased on a bargain off Craigslist for him and it was set up within a few hours of bringing him home from the hospital. I can still picture clearly the moment when Matt and I laid our newborn in his tiny little bed and stared adoringly down at him sleeping peacefully....for all of 20 seconds. He informed us right away that he had no intention of sleeping all by himself in his separate compartment when even a 2 day old knows it is way more snug and cozy to sleep curled up next to mommy and her warm milk. We had a lot to learn as new parents.

The first thing I learned was that having my baby in bed with me was one of the most beautiful and natural arrangements for us as a mommy and baby pair. Everyone got more sleep, the bonding experience of shared sleep is beyond description, and I got to satisfy my new mother paranoia at a moments notice by gently checking the sleeping form beside me. Some of my most cherished motherhood moments have come from those quiet moments in bed with my little one, sleeping curled between my two boys, or waking up to a sweet baby smile nestled against me.

As the baby has grown, however, the shared sleep set-up has resulted in less sleep for everyone. Instead of gradually decreasing his night waking as he got bigger, my little one went the opposite direction and began waking up more frequently, to nurse and receive comfort from mom. Many a gentle attempt was made to encourage him to sleep longer and nurse less at night, but the habit has persisted and my husband and I reached the point of needing to take bigger steps as the fatigue accumulated from almost 11 months of interrupted sleep became overwhelming.

Through a complex 4 phase process which required a lot of trial and error to perfect, we have succeeded (at least for these two nights) in moving him into his crib for naps and to start out the night. As Matt and I went to bed last night alone in our own room for the first time in almost a year, all I could think about was my baby sleeping alone (and of course in my mind he was cold and frightened) and how many things change as your child grows.

For now I am happy to continue to welcome the baby into my bed in the middle of the night when he wakes, though I know as time passes that will be less and less. As I reflect back on our months of co-sleeping I am so thankful that my baby forced co-sleeping on us, and more thankful for the support of my husband to go along with it, even at times when he felt crowded in so many other areas of his life as well. I wouldn't trade those nights for anything.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of motherhood that I am learning is that nothing stays the same forever, and those things about being a mom that are sometimes inconvenient and seem so difficult, are also those things that form my most treasured memories and make mommyhood the most amazing journey of my life. Tonight I mourn the loss, celebrate the sleep and look forward to the wonderful years of motherhood ahead that will be full of so many moments of celebration mixed with just a tinge of mourning.

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