When I think of a mom who does “co-sleeping” with her kids, I picture a wild-eyed, frizzy-haired, make-up-less woman with a bandanna on her head. She sports a Mighty Ducks-style flying V of fellow breastfeeding, baby-wearing, touchy-feely types who flank her as she walks down the street.
Sometimes they sing. And then they approach the rival gang, Soccer Moms, with bleached hair helmets, manicures, and coiffed twins in BOB strollers. The music becomes more rock-and-roll. They dance fight.
But I don’t know where I get off being such an asshole about it. Just as racists swear by their black friends, I can assure you that I hang out with those beautiful make-up-less hippies AND those soccer moms (sometimes even at the same time, and no dance fighting occurs). And when I’m doing it, I’m never thinking about anyone as “those people.”
Just like I never think about the fact that I co-sleep.
BUT I DO.
And it totally freaks people out.
I should say, before you read further, that this is not an article preaching about co-sleeping. Not really. I don’t have anything to tell you about “the important primal connection” it has created between my sons and me. I don’t think leaving kids in cribs is cruel. I don’t even really enjoy it. After almost four years of co-sleeping with one son and then the other, I am SO ready to wake up without tiny feet in my ribs and drool in my hair. Santa is bringing them bunk beds this year. Ho-ho-ho FREEDOM!
However, I AM going to tell you WHY I do it. Because my point, and I do have one, has everything to do with that.
When I was pregnant with my first son, I obsessed over baby books. I didn’t really babysit much as a kid, I was never a baby-holder at family gatherings or parties, and I had zero ideas about what I was doing as a mom. Or pregnancy. Or childbirth. Or sleeping arrangements.
But boy, did I make some once I started reading. Firm, immovable opinions that were baby-rearing Gospel. Breast is best. Back to sleep. Skin-to-skin. Rear-facing car seats till they’re at least sixteen years old. No screen time until they’re fifty. Organic, GMO-free, fresh, local food of vast variety introduced through baby-led weaning beginning after six months. Swaddle. Spank. Enunciate. Coo. Burn the pacifier at the first sign of teeth…and so on.
And then I actually had the baby. And my 60+ hour-a-week job. And, you know, life.
I didn’t sleep for the first six weeks. At all, I think, though I guess I’d be dead if that were true. And neither did my son. I was up all night feeding him, watching to make sure he didn’t stop breathing, terrified I’d forget to take all the soft things out of his crib or that he’d manage to flip over by accident. I followed all the Rules. I asked other moms. I posted on message boards. They said NO CAFFEINE, it would kill him via my breast milk – but then I almost fell asleep on him numerous times during feedings. I began making my husband get up and stare at me. But he would fall asleep, too.
At Christmas that year, we had to sleep in a hotel while visiting family, and we couldn’t take the crib. I was AGAINST co-sleeping, way too dangerous, and besides – just because I wear bandannas sometimes doesn’t mean I’m one of THOSE freaks.
But my husband convinced me that making do for a little while was worth getting grounded by the family after all this post-baby insanity.
I researched the hell out of co-sleeping baskets, I conferred with my pediatrician, I prayed, I asked the Facebook village (through personal messages, I wasn’t going to let the rival gangs know I was thinking about doing it), I obsessed. Finally I found a small, firmly-padded basket with mesh around the sides to stick between my husband and me. “It’s only for a week,” I told myself, “he will live through this.”
The very first night in the hotel, weary from traveling, my husband and I crawled into the king-sized bed with my son in a basket between us. I fell asleep with his little breaths in my ear.
And a miracle happened.
We all slept eight hours.
I remember that I opened my eyes a couple of times, but could immediately hear my son’s breathing and went back to sleep. And he didn’t wake up to nurse. Maybe because he could hear me, too. Maybe because he was just ready to start sleeping through the night. Regardless, it happened.
And then it happened again. And again.
Life became easier. Work became feasible. Motherhood was enjoyable. Things were manageable. For the first time since he had been born.
And just like that, there was no clear path forward. I was officially improvising. Not on stage for a few audience laughs, not because I forgot a grocery list and had three hours before a dinner party – I was winging it with PARENTING. Going off the What to Expect script. Experimenting without Dr. Spock’s supervision. Ready to lose my Baby Center for the chance at hitting another miraculous revelation like co-sleeping.
And almost four years later, that’s where we are. And it’s MOSTLY awesome.
There are drawbacks. I don’t have a gang of moms to travel the streets with – I don’t know which I belong to. At some point I make each one frown. My kids co-sleep. I let them eat hot dogs. I make them eat vegetables. We stick iPhones in their hands at nice restaurants. For a year my oldest son only napped in the car. They don’t have schedules. We don’t disinfect everything. We are too snobby and grossed out to use public changing tables. We do vaccinate and use baby Orajel. I don’t carry a Mary Poppins bag full of baby shit. I do sometimes forget that used diapers are hidden in the van overnight. We lie to them so they’ll believe in magic for as long as possible. We tell them about some things they’re too young to understand, so they can start mulling them over. We don’t spank because we tried it, and it seemed silly and ineffective.
And we’re probably doing it wrong sometimes. But never again have I blocked a potential solution just so we can snap in time with “the village.” We try, we fail, we succeed, we keep trying new things.
To be clear, this isn’t a “let’s build each other up for our different but awesome choices as moms” article. You can say whatever you want in public, but I’ll never believe that some version of the rival gangs aren’t secretly dancing in your heads – we all think we have it all figured out, that’s why we do it the way we do.
Actually I just want to pose the possibility that we don’t need approval to make decisions about anything we do – maybe especially parenting. Maybe we don’t need a tribe to qualify our every move. Maybe we can keep an open mind, experiment, improvise and see what feels right and when as we go.
Maybe an app will teach them how to write letters better than I can. Maybe they’ll eat their organic vegetables if there are battered chicken nuggets on the plate, too. Maybe breastfeeding will stress me out so much that formula and a happy mom is “best.” Maybe I can figure that all out for myself without letting the stigma influence me too much.
Or maybe my kids are just screwed.