By: Rebecca Cooney (originally published in 2014)
The term “co-sleeper” is a horrible misnomer. “Co-“ is your garden variety Latin prefix connoting “with” or “together”. “Jointly”. So one would assume that co-sleeping might be this idyllic symbiotic arrangement, the yin and yang of parent and child in rosy-cheeked slumber. Tendrils of lotus-scented musk wafting from a classical painting with “repose” in the title. But, as anyone who has ever slept “with” a child in their bed knows, this is hardly the case. There is no “together”. There are probably points during the night where the two inhabitants of the bed manage technically to be asleep at the same time. Dualing banjos of REM comprising short bursts of cholinergic and glutamatergic firing in the pedunculopontine nucleus. But the rest of the time is what most sleep researchers would just refer to as a crappy night’s sleep. Not to be confused with “junk sleep” that occurs when your teenager passes out cradling her iPhone 5C waiting for one more text from whatever his name is. That comes later. No, in the early years, your child saws logs perpendicular to you while you worry about pivot tables in Excel. A little sigh here and there. An arm flung over the head. A foot in the small of your back. Co-sleeping is an endurance test of Parent vs. Child. Does your melatonin-ambien-antihistamine cocktail have what it takes to get you through a night on your 1/8 of the mattress?
Co-sleeping was not my idea. The first mistake was to get rid of the crib for the big boy bed when my son was 2. There was really no reason to, but I had heard some other families had been making the transition with new siblings. And, when I think back, it really was just an excuse to go to IKEA. Now his closet-sized room is filled with a disproportionately large unstained pine bunkbed, the upper bunk of which serves as a place for me to fling the giant bags of laundry when I have houseguests. Of which there are admittedly few as a 4-year-old roommate with boundary issues and a predilection toward bedwetting isn’t exactly a draw.
For the last two years I have tried intermittently to lay the smack down. To be the disciplinarian that I thought I would be. A firm, but benevolent dictator, who, with one nod and small wave of the hand, induces the baby person to get into bed. Almost as if it had occurred to him. I have hoped for a scene like the childhood Proust in his bed—warm, snug, listening to the tinkle of his mother’s laughter from another room. I have to admit I’ve only actually read one of Proust’s books, but I don’t recall any poignant sleep-training memories.
There are, however, approximately 6 books on children and sleeping on my bookshelf. Alright, that’s a slight exaggeration. I think there are 4. Now, I have to go look because I feel like I’m using hyperbole when it’s really not even necessary. I think we have a modicum of trust here between us. Shoot. OK, there’s actually just one that I can spot easily, Weissbluth’s classic “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child”, and it’s very appropriately wedged between Tom Robbins and Chuck Klosterman. So what does the good Doctor Weissbluth have to say about sleep and “preschool children”? Words, words, words, and something about missed naps and SLEEP LOST FOREVER. My sleep or his sleep? Flip the page and then there’s the extreme guilt-inducing notion that failure of a method is the failure of the resolve of the parent. Yes, my resolve failed when I slept on a yoga mat on the wood floor for two weeks trying to get him to stay put. Yes, my resolve failed when I let him fall asleep in my bed and then carried his deadweight to his room once he fell asleep. Yes, my resolve failed when the bedroom door banged open and a small shadowman appeared rubbing his eyes, indignantly lumbering in. What do you expect from me, Dr. Weissbluth? I can only endure so much.
There’s a quote from Lord Byron that, “Prolonged endurance tames the bold”. But it does not necessarily make your kid willingly sleep in his own bed. Though he probably said that after smoking some opium and getting ready for bed. Tonight, however, has a tameness to it. As the latest storm whirls its way toward us, it is oddly quiet. Our usually busy street is still and poised for the next dump of snow and freezing rain or a messy mix as the weatherman called it. Soon, I will take a scalding hot shower, toweling off and lotioning up as quickly as I can, picking up my crumpled Old Navy pajama pants and waffle knit shirt from the bathroom floor. And then on cat feet, I will pad into my bedroom and slide into my warm bed next to my child. To co-sleep.
Rebecca Cooney is a mom to a 4-year-old man baby and, in her spare time, the North American editor of The Lancet. You can follow her on Twitter: @BekRx