Is there anything sweeter than being snuggled up with your babies? Feeling their little bodies wiggle around in their sleep, listening to their every breath? It’s such a beautiful experience that I almost missed out on.
I had every intention of sharing our bedroom with our baby when our first baby was due in 2008. We had no plans to set up a nursery; I constantly joked that the newborn could sleep in a dresser drawer in our room - after all – it was bigger than my womb.
As a baby gift, my parents built an addition on our home to make room for a nursery. When I was 36 weeks pregnant, my sister came to visit bearing gifts – one gift was a crib, which her husband was kind enough to set up for us. At 41 weeks, my mother put all of the sheets and bumpers in the crib and showed me how to drop the sides. The rocking chair was set up, curtains were hung, clothes were neatly arranged in the dresser. The dresser, by the way, was a handmade gift from the Godparents-to-be. I looked at this nursery decorated with love and wondered how I would ever hear a baby crying for me so far away from where I sleep.
Our son was born at 42 1/2 weeks. A natural birth, the Bradley Method. My husband helped deliver alongside my midwife. At 8 lbs, 8 oz, he was a beautiful sight to see, to touch and to hold. He latched on the instant I brought him up to my breast; he seemed to know better than I did how this whole breastfeeding thing worked. I stared at him for an hour straight, this living breathing baby boy who was so healthy. Who only moments before was inside me, with me, completely dependant on my every breath, on my every heart beat. Yet here he was, now able to breathe without me, able to pump his own blood without my help. I held on tight, the fluid he had survived in for 42 1/2 weeks slowly drying on his soft olive-pink colored skin.
Because I went so far past due, my midwife pleaded with me to not attempt a home birth, so a birthing center it was. He was born at 12:44 am; I needed no sleep that night, just his perfect little body close to me and I was blissfully happy. But the nurse insisted I lay him down in a co-sleeper right next to my bed. I stared at him and wondered if he was okay with being six inches away from me, because I was not.
When we brought him home, my parents were there to help us once again as we set up the co-sleeper and attached it to our bed. While my parents are always supportive and never judgemental, I could sense their concern with our decision to have the baby in our room. They finished helping us and then left for home, leaving me and my husband alone for the first time with our newborn. It was days later before I realized their intent – they wanted us to be the parents WE wanted to be without THEIR influence, and so, they had left.
That first night, as we got ready for bed, our son neatly tucked into his own little bed attached to our big bed, something seemed not quite right. I woke up probably every 5 minutes to touch him, feel his chest to be sure he was breathing, nudge him a bit so he would move, listen to him snore…I’m pretty sure neither of us got any rest that night. The next morning, I had an appointment with a lactation consultant. When she called at 10 am to say she was on her way to my home, I told her we’d had no sleep and would probably need to reschedule. She assured me that it was best if she come and asked me to wait till she arrived to nurse.
She took one look at our co-sleeper attached to the bed and knew in an instant what I needed to hear. “Why don’t you lie down on your side with your baby and I’ll show you how to position him so you can both get some sleep?” she offered. She suggested I begin feeding with the baby between us. “Then roll him on top of you for a good burp and then over to the other side to finish as he falls asleep.” Sounded easy enough. She explained that a nursing mother is so in tune with her baby that it’s basically unheard of for a mom to roll on top of her baby. Dad, on the other hand, you can’t be too sure. This position would allow baby to fall asleep away from Dad and not be awakened by moving him from my side. It would allow me to hear and feel his breath. It would allow our bodies to touch, for me to share my warmth with him, for us to prolong our bond. And most importantly it would restore that sense of closeness that I – and my son - were missing the previous night.
We slept just fine that night, like three monkeys all snuggled up in the bed. By the time he was 2 weeks old, I had discontinued burping him at night because he would find the breast and nurse without waking me up. The co-sleeper remained attached to the bed for many months – I viewed it as a safe guard in case he ever tried to roll off the bed. It became a great place to store diapers and wipes. The crib, well, like so many pieces of home exercise equipment in other people’s homes, the crib has become a place to store clothes. I realize there are many people who put their babies in a crib in another room, but I could never. I can’t imagine taking a tiny little baby who spent every minute of the day with you for the last 9 months and sending him off on his own, away from all the familiar sounds of your heart beating and lungs breathing, away from your warmth and protection, and most importantly away from your love. As for safety, you cannot argue that there is anything safer for my babies than being mere inches away from the 2 people who are 100% committed to nurturing and protecting them.
While pregnant with my second baby who was due in 2010, we decided we’d need a bigger bed; so the co-sleeper was finally moved from its position as guard rail to a nice resting spot under the window. It still holds diapers and wipes within reach, but aside from a few restless hours that first night, it’s never held a baby again. The crib has never seen a baby; we don’t even call that room a nursery…it’s basically just an oversized walk-in closet at this point because all we do is keep toys and clothes in there.
Our son is now 28 months and he sleeps next to Dad. Next to our son is our 7 month old daughter – usually holding her brother’s hand. And I’m on the other side with her tiny feet tucked up in my belly and his little arm draped across my neck. Now we are 4 little monkeys all snuggled up in bed.
It works for our family, and we couldn’t imagine it any other way.