I am no longer a co-sleeping parent, at least not with our toddler.
Except, she’s still in my bed as I write this, snuggled close to me, her right hand wedged under my leg.
You see, we are on vacation, my daughter and I. And my husband, her father, is at home because he had to go back to work.
There’s a perfectly good bed here she could sleep in. She didn’t want to.
I didn’t push it. I know these snuggles won’t last much longer. Nor will the kicks to the ribs or the side of the head in the middle of the night. I’m willing to take what I can get.
At this point on our vacation, I am co-sleeping with my daughter, not the other way around.
Let’s be serious, the person getting the most comfort out of this co-sleeping relationship right now, on this vacation, is me ― the mama.
I am comforted by the sweet sound of her tiny snoring and the rise and fall of her little chest that I can feel each time I gently rest my hand on her.
I am comforted by the smell of her toddler-ness ― you know it, that indescribable mixture of baby skin, shampoo and sweat.
I am comforted by the tiny little sigh she lets out about two hours after she falls asleep, alerting me that she has dozed off soundly and has let the “worries” of her toddler day slip aside.
I am comforted by her small hands that she cups around my face when she rolls over in the middle of the night to face me, saying nothing and not even opening her eyes (yes, this REALLY happens!).
I am comforted by the little wiggle of her toes that I feel underneath the blankets with me, or against my leg as she snuggles closer to me during the night (or, maybe as I snuggle closer to her).
I am comforted by the fact that, when I am there with her at night, she still needs me to get her a drink from her water bottle, that is right next to her on the night stand.
She still needs me. I am comforted by the fact that she needs my reassurances when she is startled by the oddness of toddler dreams, about pizza with no toppings or the cat that is most definitely not on the stairs.
She still needs me.
I am comforted by the fact that when she wakes up in the morning, pops up like a little flash of a light bulb with a chirp of “it’s time to wake up mama!”, she wants me to help her to the bathroom and to change her clothes.
She still needs me.
We didn’t always co-sleep. I didn’t ever actually intend on co-sleeping even. When my daughter was just shy of three weeks old, her daddy deployed for an eight-month tour, leaving me alone as a first-time mother who knew she eventually had to head back to work full time. Co-sleeping was the last thing I wanted to do. I thought it would be horrible for my own sleep, which I knew very much that I needed.
So, just after daddy deployed, our little daughter was sleeping (not through the night mind you…) in her own bed, in her own bedroom ― with mama keeping a watchful eye through an elaborate baby monitoring system.
And this was our life for about the first year. It worked for us. Sure, there were nights when she was going through feeding clusters, where it was easier to nurse her in my bed with me, and not have her sleeping in her crib. And I didn’t mind that, not one little bit. But overall, she was in her own bed.
Then, at about 7 months, she got horribly sick. It seemed like “just another cold” at first, but her coughing progressed pretty rapidly and got to the point where breathing was incredibly difficult for her and very scary for me.
Medicines and homeopathic remedies were not working quickly and I made the decision that I could not sleep in a different room and be sure that she was OK.
And so our co-sleeping journey began. And her illness didn’t let up and when it did, it came back often. Imagine, for those of you who have not lived through this, giving nebulizer treatments to someone who isn’t even a year old.
I wanted to give her every bit of cuddling and comfort that I could, and that extended into our nighttime routines. We were still nursing and that nursing and nighttime nurturing, as well as my watchful eye ― that happened through our co-sleeping.
And it remained that way even after her dad returned, partially because that was our new “normal” but also because her illnesses weren’t subsiding and both of us now agreed, co-sleeping was the best option.
And then when she turned two, and she was getting bigger but our bed was not, we decided to work with her to move her back into her bedroom and her own bed.
It wasn’t a process that took a long time, though part of it had one of us (mama and daddy alternating nights) on an air mattress on the floor next to her bed.
And it wasn’t perfect either. Some nights she ended up back in our bed. Sometimes she lasted until 2am or 4am. Some nights it was all night long. But gradually, eventually, she was in her own room and she was not upset, and we weren’t waking up with bruises!
Do not get me wrong, I loved the amount of time we did co-sleep and, despite concerns from some parents and parenting experts, knowing what I know now about the benefits of co-sleeping, I would do it again from the beginning, in a heartbeat!
We experienced many of the benefits of co-sleeping in our short time doing it. Our daughter rarely woke or startled in the night, unless she needed to nurse. We also saw the emotional benefits that sites like Dr. Sears tout, we had a less anxious and more independent kiddo on our hands, even early on ― and to this day. It seems like that would be just the opposite, right? Well, that’s not been our experience!
There are risks, of course, that need to be addressed to co-sleep safely. We took those measures into consideration and made every possible choice to make this a safe sleeping environment, even though we hadn’t planned for it originally.
Let me pause here and say, very clearly, I am neither stating parents SHOULD or SHOULD NOT co-sleep. I got over the parent-shaming thing a long time ago and I am not participating in any of that nonsense here. So if you came here to read some parent-bashing, go elsewhere.
I am a firm believer that we, this village of mamas and papas, are doing our level best to raise our kids and we need to support each other in doing so.
That said, I’m just sharing my experience.
And my experience on this vacation has been traumatic ― for me. Not her. She’s fine. She would have been totally, 100%, hunky dory, if I had encouraged her more to sleep in her own “special” bed while on vacation.
I gotta be honest with you. I didn’t want to.
I know she isn’t going to need me in all these same ways for very much longer. Sure, sure, she’ll still need me. She’s only a toddler for Pete’s sake, but you know. I mean, she won’t need me the SAME.
So, I’m back to co-sleeping. And I only have six more days to enjoy the snuggles and the cuddles and the baby breath on my face and the knee in my back and the hand slap to the face.
So, I’m going to relish it for a bit longer. For six more wonderful nights, I’m going to be comforted by my toddler in my bed next to me.
Because, let’s face it: I still need her.