Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
In her essay, Conniff recounts the blissful feeling of being "completely in sync with each baby relaxing in what (her) midwife called "armpit nirvana," head tucked up against (mom) all night long." She remembers the months she and her husband spent sleeping in bed with their three infant daughters as "among the very sweetest of (her) life," and goes on to raise concerns that the campaign may cause undue mental stress on parents who choose the extremely common, and many would argue safe, practice of sleeping with their babies.
If I were going to pen a similar piece on my family's early sleep history, I might call it, "Confessions of a Much More Highly Reluctant Co-Sleeper." I never planned to sleep with my children as infants; I really didn't think of myself as the family bed type.
So each and every evening after my oldest was born, I would nurse and rock him to night time sleep in his freshly decorated nursery using a beautiful antique maple chair my husband and I had purchased expressly for this purpose. Then, when I was confident his little, but ever-alert, eyes would not spring back open the second he unlatched, I would place him carefully on his back (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics) into his sleigh-style crib replete with a Noah's Ark themed bumper (now a public health no-no -- the excess bedding, not the paired animals).
Each night, we prayed it would be different; that our little guy would make it through 'til morning. But on a good night, my husband and I might get four to five hours of uninterrupted shut-eye before we'd hear the inevitable wail of our newborn boy across the hall. We'd both wake up with a jolt and spend a few minutes arguing about whose turn it was to fetch the baby, no more than 15 feet away. Then, whoever lost our dreary-eyed, horizontal version of rock, paper, scissors, would get up and bring our son to our room for the rest of the night.
But unlike Conniff, and so many other parents I've known who appear to enjoy co-sleeping with their infants, neither my husband nor I were ever able to fully relax with our tiny child in the bed. The baby (or maybe it was me), sweating and snoring in my armpit, never felt much like Nirvana. And between my son's outrageously frequent nursing sessions, and the vague anxiety that I might roll over and smother him, I'm pretty sure I rarely settled into anything resembling a deep stage of sleep.
Yes, I guess you could say I was worried, well before any public health billboards or radio ads, that all the terrible things the "Sleep Safe, Sleep Well" campaign cautions about might actually happen to us. And yet still, more often than not, the fear that my snoozing son would be awake for hours if I tried to transfer him from our bed back to the crib meant my son enjoyed his 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. feedings up close and personal in bed with me.
That's the weird thing about parenting -- it all just feels like one big risk-assessment. And we parents often make decisions and justify actions that feel right, and often easier, to us at the time. Even ones that seem to fly in the face of logic or medical-establishment advice.
I still do this all the time. For example, I can't remember the last time any of my kids ate the full daily-recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. But I get exhausted espousing the benefits of navel oranges and Brussels sprouts and convince myself instead that the syrupy strawberries my middle son piles on top of his frozen yogurt should count as two servings. I have allowed my 12-year-old daughter to sit in the front seat with me on occasion--she's almost as tall as I am, after all. But I'm pretty sure she still just shy of the 80 lb. minimum that's recommended for riding shotgun.
And even though I don't know what the AAP has to say about screen time limits for my age children, I am fairly confident my kids are exceeding it every day this summer before noon.
Nope, the article I am going to someday write will have to go a lot further than sleeping confessions.
Instead, it will need to be called "Confessions of a Mom who is willing to roll the recommended-kid-health-and-safety dice" a lot more often than she should probably admit.