‘The Sleep thieves’, that’s what we call them, those tiny wriggly creatures that sneak into our bed in the dead of night. They come with central heating, making you sweat even on the coldest night. Limbs flay and hit you when you least expect it, in the most awkward of places. In truth, we had gone a while without a visit. The baby and toddler years behind us, the youngest usually preferring her own space anyway. This week, however, the stinking colds hit. Nothing serious, just mucus waking them up and making them irritable, only settling with a cuddle from Mum. As I lay awake, inevitably unable to sleep, I stared at her beautiful (snotty) face and smiled. Not quite realising, up until now, that, in a way, I had missed these late-night visits.
Pre babies, I was anti co-sleeping. I went on a course with a woman that would best be described as ‘an earth mother’, whatever that means. She breastfed her kids for years, only ever co-slept, and never put them in a buggy or pram. I hold my hands up and admit I was pretty horrified. I knew better than to question her, but as she spoke of her wonderful parenting vibes a tonne of questions whizzed around my own head. When do you ever get the chance to have sex? How do you sleep with all the kids in your bed? Don’t you ever want time for you?
By the time I was pregnant I realised that life was suddenly about keeping this little person, growing inside me, safe. I was less bothered about my own space, and more paranoid about how I was to be a good mother. I read up on co-sleeping, finding mixed opinions. Wasn’t it dangerous? What if I smothered her? A million reasons why you, apparently, shouldn’t. So, to begin with, I didn’t. S came out screaming. She screamed and screamed and would only be pacified if she was in my arms. I didn’t sleep that first night, just held her in my arms while sitting dead straight. The following night I tried the Moses basket. As close to me as I could get it, yet she continued to scream.
My first weeks of Motherhood were a sleep deprived nightmare. She had reflux and colic; she wouldn’t settle. If she did settle, I was completely paranoid about her vomiting in her sleep and choking to death. I definitely couldn’t ‘embrace this stage’ as everyone kept telling me to do. Eventually there were tears, from me, wondering why on earth I wasn’t doing it right, why everyone else could get sleep and I couldn’t. Enough was enough. Tentatively we began co-sleeping; me wrapping my body around hers, fearful my husband might squash her. It took time, but eventually we slept. She rested peacefully in the spot she had always wanted to be. I learned to sleep statue still, cocooning her to keep her safe. My co-sleeping fears eventually diminished.
Some people claim you are setting yourself up, that you are creating bad habits, but I didn’t find that. Eventually, she grew out of it, returning to her own bed, which is where she has stayed. When we became parents for the second time, we continued with our co-sleeping journey, but for a much shorter time, she didn’t need us so much, preferred her own space, unless she was ill.
My eldest is eight now, and I am already starting to glimpse the beginnings of teenage-dom, more mood swings, more playground politics. Now, I look back at those co-sleeping years and I can see, in a way, how easy they were. My children sleeping by my side, safe. I knew where they were, I knew they were fine. I know that there will be a time, in the not too distant future, when I don’t know where they are, that I can’t be sure that they are safe. Then, I will wish they were sleeping by my side once more.