Friday, January 09, 2009

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

So, I'm not supposed to say anything about it, because Husband fears the jinx (and who am I kidding? So do I, but not enough to keep my big yap shut about it), but the child? The one who's been wedged in between Husband and me all night, every night for the past....912 nights (sorry for the pause; had to do some math)? Yeah, that one.

He's been sleeping in his own bed, in a whole other room, no less, for the past week (well, almost a week. Okay, three nights. Well, two and a half nights because last night he pee'd through his diaper and ended up wedging himself between Husband and me again. But still---falling asleep in his big boy bed, and for two nights, staying asleep pretty much the whole night and waking up with a big fat smile on his face. Heaven, I tell you. Sort of.

Co-sleeping for me was, like breast feeding, one of those elements of parenthood I idealized as a non-parent. OF COURSE I was going to breast feed and OF COURSE I was going to co-sleep (the emphatic nature of my beliefs stemmed mainly from the fact that that is how Husband was raised, rather than any deep-seeded Earth Mother persona I had cultivated for myself prior to having met him). So "knowing" those things about myself helped create a parenting compass for myself as Ethan was busy gestating, and of course, as all mothers-to-be do, I idealized the experience. How wonderful it would be to have my newborn next to me all night, thriving on my warmth and breast milk, and me basking in the sound of his quiet breathing and baby smell. Sigh.

As with breast feeding (and just about everything else related to motherhood, I was soon to find), co-sleeping presented its share of challenges and anxieties. First of all, rather than bringing home a robust 8-lb'er, Husband & I were the proud recipients of a 5-lb NICU graduate whose entire swaddled body still fit pretty much in the crook of an arm and whose head could rest comfortably in Husband's palm.

"No way in hell is he going to be in bed with us!!!" I remember kvetching, "He'll get lost in the sheets! He's too tiny!" I fretted, utterly horrified at the thought that he would get tangled in sheets and suffocate during the night. Nevermind that we had already read up on Dr. Sears' guidelines for safe co-sleeping (which, when followed correctly can actually make co-sleeping as safe or safer than crib sleeping). Nevermind that logically I knew he'd be fine with us and that any blankets we had on the bed never came up higher than our waists. The first few weeks of life with a newborn (especially a NICU graduate) are not the most logic-infused times, I'm sure we can agree on that.

Add to that the fact that I was reeling in complete terror of Ethan, with his tininess and his screaming and his squishy soft spot and his constant NNNNEEEEEEEEEDDDDDD, by bed time, I had shut down. The depression that oozed from my pores wanted him as far from me as possible. At the time, that meant in the pack n' play next to our bed. So that's where he slept for most of the night early on, until Husband's co-sleeping gene kicked in sometime in the early morning and Ethan joined him, not me, in bed.

I developed a habit of...ugh....ignoring Ethan when he woke up unless it was time to feed him. I let Husband get him and that led to Ethan finding his way into our bed. I can't even express how much I want a "do over" for that time--to be able to embrace the idea and squelch the depression that manifested itself in an outward appearance of night-time indifference towards my own child.

But in time, as the depression lifted and Ethan got less frightening to me, I started waking in the morning and pulling him towards me, so I could get some of that baby smell and soft breathing I'd been day-dreaming of all those months on bed rest. Pictures of us curled up together and sleeping are now among some of my favorite pictures and sweetest memories, although at the time, I know I was fraught with anxiety and exhaustion--somehow my mind smooths over those wrinkles and it all just looks peaceful.

That's not to say that co-sleeping became a magical, happy realm of perfection--Ethan didn't sleep through the night until he was two years old. For a time, we were up every single hour, either trying to comfort tears or just repositioning in a way that woke up the whole family. As Ethan grew, he took up more space and we invested in a king-sized family bed. And what do you know? The little bugger kept growing. And had a penchant for sleeping horizontally across the bed. If only they made a "room-sized" bed. Husband and I spent many nights of the past two and a half years relegated to the edges of our sides of the bed, as our baby dug toes and feet under one of our backs and hands and arms under the other. If anyone was in need of an aerial shot of an uppercase "H", we were completely practiced and prepared.

There were many times that co-sleeping was simply the lesser of two evils; often I tried to convince Husband that "it was time". Ethan needed to go to his crib, or later, his big boy bed. As a matter of fact, we bought Ethan's big boy bed almost a year and a half ago, when it dawned on us after several attempts to get him into a crib that the idea of a crib made no sense to him. He was a bed baby, and the only way he was going to leave our bed was to go to his own bed. I recall sitting on the mattress set we picked out for him at the store, crying (coo-coo! coo-coo!) that he was growing up to fast, and then when Husband recommended that we get the higher-end mattress so he could take it with him when he moved out of the house someday, I just about went apoplectic. The idea of our baby moving out of the house was too much. If Husband was trying to get me to draw-out the co-sleeping in an attempt to keep him "our baby", it totally worked.

Because co-sleeping, while at times frustrating and ironically exhausting, has been an amazing experience for our family. On some levels, it probably would have been easier to read and re-read Ferber's book on sleep training and sure, we probably could have been sleeping through the night far sooner and Husband and I could have basking in our own intimacy, spooning away the night, among other things (I knew my last therapist might have a tough time understanding me when the first thing she asked upon learning that we co-slept with Ethan was, "How do you have sex??!!").

But those two and a half years of snuggling (or fighting for mattress space) with Ethan has made us, in part, who we are as a family. Not that I think co-sleeping has made us better parents than other parents who choose not to co-sleep, or anything judge-y like that. But I think it made ME a better parent than I would have been otherwise. I needed that time from night 'til morning to really realize the permanence of motherhood, the selflessness (which is not the same as martyrdom, I've learned) of motherhood, in a way I don't think I personally would have been able to process had I not shared so much of my space, for so long, with my child. And honestly, I've discovered few things in life that feel as fulfilling as waking to that "Happy to see you, Mama!" smile, and feeling the warmth and security of my child's presence next to me all night long.

But sometime last week, the discussions started again, and while in times past, we've put Ethan to bed in his room and one of us has slept there with him to soothe him through his wake ups, this time, he stayed in bed, on his own, all night. A miracle.

The first night, Husband and I tossed and turned, each one waking in turn to sit up, look at the monitor to be sure the little green light was on and eagerly anticipating the wails of the evicted bedmate. Those wails never came. Even still, Husband and I stayed on our respective sides of the bed, the vacancy between us unbridgeable. By 7am, we rolled towards one another, opened our eyes in unison and said almost at once, "I have to go check on him." While at two and a half, Ethan is well out of the SIDS range, we feared perhaps he was pioneering some toddler version of it, or had somehow managed to unlock his windows, climb out and head to the park in the middle of the night (not really, but being silly is far preferable to thinking of the bad things that might actually happen).

But no--there he was, all alive and breathing, sound asleep. Until my big old foot creaked a floor board and he sat up, looked at me and smiled. The big "happy to see you, Mama!" smile that let me know he wasn't sullen or angry at us for moving him to his big boy bed.

I'm finding as I travel this path of motherhood, and I think I've said this before, that "milestones" are rarely about just the child. Moving Ethan to his big boy bed has been a long time coming; long enough that the majority of people raise their eyebrows when they hear in conversation that we are co-sleepers. I've long since lost any self-consciousness or apprehension about it, as it has woven it's way into my identity as a parent. And here I find myself, peeling that little piece of myself away as my child moves closer to his own independence. A few nights in, and Husband and I have started moving legs and arms into that vacant space in the middle of the bed, and for the first time in almost three years, we can find each other rather than newborn, infant or toddler, in the space between. It is as big of a step for Husband and me as it is for Ethan. We're growing up.


Becca said...

Such a sweet post! We coslept a few nights with Wesley and it was exhausting. I was petrified the whole time too of smothering him. I am glad it was such a wonderful experience for you guys! I am familiar with the "H" formation from nights when Charlie has been sick or scared! Too funny.

Sarah said...

I lurve cosleeping. I literally cannot imagine how it would be to put a teeny little baby in its own bed. But I may be super codependent.

My fave thing about sleeping with Jack right now is that around 2 or 3, he gets really hot (no matter what the temperature of the room), and I take him out of his sleepsack, and he has sweaty little toes.

But, I envy your ability to sleep in any position you choose, and I also miss snuggling with Harry.

An excellent post.

AJU5's Mom said...

We coslept until AJU5 decided a sideways position was best (which meant we got no sleep for her constant kicking and headbutting us). But there are times I miss it. We have the SIDS fears here too whenever she sleeps for more than 4 or 5 hours at once. But I found 9like you have) that checking on them wakes them up!

Hopefully Ethan will continue to sleep well so you and husband can have the bed to yourselves for at least 9 more months...

Emi said...

As usual, just a jewel of a post...Nice to hear there is light at the end of the tunnel and that the wrinkles get smoothed out in hindsight. I'll start working on them now...:-)

Anonymous said...

i loved this post. it's so true too about co-sleeping - the wonderfulness of snuggling up with your baby is totally mixed in with the kicks and worry and all of that. glad that ethan is sleeping in his bed though, that IS a big step!
- kita

Lindsay Margenau said...

What a beautiful post Sarah! I absolutely agree, co-sleeping with Evelyn is so wonderful that - despite the criticisms and concerns of family members - I absolutely wouldn't give it up for the world. I love how you described it making you a mother, that is so so true.