When G was a newborn, I remember one time wishing passionately that someone would steal him and then give him back a bit later when he was about ten and could talk and sleep like a normal person. I got this idea from a midday movie that I was watching in between breastfeeding and crying.
Nobody tells you just how difficult it can be to adjust. OK that’s not exactly true. They do. You spend your whole pregnancy listening to people warning you to get enough sleep and make the most of your freedom and so on. We weren’t complete idiots. We didn’t think we could park our baby in the nursery and keep life exactly as it was. But the extent of the change and the relentlessness of the life that ensued were still somewhat of a shock.
I wouldn’t call myself a control freak. But that whole newborn phase highlighted for me just how inflexible I could really be and how unwilling I was to accept that you really can’t make a baby do what you want. The baby has you over a barrel. The baby cries and wakes you up whenever it wants. The baby has serious power over the household and you have none. Because you love the baby so very much – everything else just goes out the window. That scared the hell out of me. First the intensity of the love and then the shame that came with not enjoying the ride as much as I wanted to.
Combine a lack of innate baby-skills with a dogged determination to get some kind of control back into your life and most people end up with some kind of baby sleep-manual in their hands. Maybe it helped. Or maybe G was just always going to sleep when he needed to. I’m not advocating one way or the other at all. I’m just explaining how it happened that I didn’t ever share our bed with G when he was a baby. Sure he occasionally slept in my arms as I was holding him and whatnot, but I never actually tucked him in beside me and went to sleep.
At first this was for the usual anxious reason: I thought I’d squash him. But as time went on and we etched out our routines, certain things seemed to work and once they worked I felt afraid to upset the balance we had created. Basically the book said he’d sleep better in his own bed. And so he did.
Glenn and I are both really bad tired people. I swear we actually need twice the amount of sleep that other people can function on. I’m not even joking. So you can imagine how ragged we were in the beginning when waking five or six times a night is not unusual. I worried about giving up the sleep we had regained. I told myself that I would be a better mother if I was rested and that he was safe. And I felt I was. Everyone was getting happier. I officially loved life again. In your face, motherhood! We were successfully raising a child and things were working out beautifully. I was proud of what people assured us was a baby who slept well. There’s a lot of talk about it among new parents and I considered ours to be a reasonable but hard won, success story.
I can’t tell you exactly when Glenn started napping with G. He has always been the more relaxed of the two of us. Didn’t read baby manuals. Didn’t plan outings with military precision. Liked to just ‘see what happens’ (this last one still drives me crazy). He mentioned casually one day that they’d had their nap together while I was at work. And that they had fallen asleep holding hands. It was the holding hands bit that got me. I pictured the two of them, thick as thieves, in the lovely big bed. I thought to myself – I want some of that.
Fast forward to today – G and I now have this thing on Friday nights when Glenn works late, we sleep in the big bed together all night. It’s not always the best sleep for me, to be honest. G tends to sleep with one arm around my neck in a loving choke-hold and often snores or coughs directly into my face. Sometimes he wakes me up at 3am and asks for an extensive back rub.
But I love it. I think there’s a part of me that feels sad that I’ve cottoned on so late to the joys of co-sleeping. A part of me that feels foolish to have fretted over my friends who were getting no sleep because they weren’t strong enough to kick their three kids out of the bed. The strength clearly lies not in keeping them out, but in letting them climb in. Not every night, but sometimes. It reminds me that everything about our lives together, the good and the heinous, is so temporary and special. This is obvious of course, but I forget that even the coughs in the face need to be savoured at this point, where G is still young enough to let us hold him this close.
Oh and this is just a story – it’s not in any way advice. Don’t ever take parenting advice from me – I bribe our child with Mentos.