I wake abruptly to the sound of my toddler crying across the hall, no doubt from a bad dream, only to realize I've slept with the baby in the bed again. I do not condone this, or at least I didn't think I did. But sleep. (Is that a complete sentence? Yes, why yes it is.)
I'd been walking around like a zombie for weeks, living in the painful reality that you cannot put a price on caffeine and rest. Both were in short supply until recently, because as is always the case, desperate times call for desperate measures.
At three days old, Ellis was sleeping for four to five consecutive hours each night. I swore I'd hit the jackpot. My oldest, Lincoln used to wake constantly to nurse. I joked with my husband that Lincoln was our eater and Ellis would be our sleeper. Actually it was more like wishful thinking than a joke.
The morning of Ellis' first appointment with his pediatrician, I woke up feeling rested and energized, took the longest shower, and was owning life. Until, that is, the pediatrician explained in no uncertain terms that Ellis was losing too much weight too fast.
"How often are you feeding at night?"
I looked at her like a kid caught cheating on a midterm. She could tell probably, from my rested eyes and cheery disposition, that life in our home was going far too well. We were just a little too coherent. Too awake. The painful prescription? A strict two-hour nursing schedule (yes, through the night) and a follow-up appointment in a week. I legit wanted to die. Not only did I have the worst-ever homework, there would be a test.
I'd forgotten this part. Maybe on purpose? For far too long, I've been spoiled by a two year old who sleeps through the night uninterrupted and can actually (get this) read an alarm clock. I'd grown accustomed to the occasional midnight interruption to turn on the bathroom light so he could go potty, and the even more rare request for juice or milk. But waking every two hours? I know I used to do it but for the life of me, I don't remember those days. In hindsight, maybe I willed myself to forget because it's so very hard.
Of course I did it (turns out the health of your kid is a really good motivator), and thankfully, he gained the weight, but admittedly, we had a little help.
"If it's the only way you can get some sleep, put that baby in the bed!"
This is my mother's advice when she hears my tired, strung out voice over the phone. Musa and I agreed we wouldn't cosleep this time around. It's not exactly the safest thing to do and once you get your kid in your bed, getting them out is near impossible until they're old enough to reason, which is at least an eternity away. But every now and then I go all crunchy mom. Several years ago I I read an article titled, "Why West African Babies Don't Cry." Since my husband's family is from West Africa, my interest was immediately piqued. (Highly recommended read if you're interested). Spoiler alert - apparently the secret to these fuss-free African babies is three-fold: round the clock nursing, baby wearing 24/7 and cosleeping.
I couldn't help but wonder whether anything apart from cosleeping was forcing my child into a routine that makes no sense; goes against all of his instincts, even. I carried him in utero for 40 weeks. He's been lulled to sleep by the sound of my heartbeat more times than I can count. Upon his highly anticipated arrival into the world, how is it that the first order of business is getting him settled in his own bed entirely alone? Is it any wonder he cries? Does our Western culture have it all wrong?
Probably. It could also be that I just need a reason because, well, sleep.
The clock on my phone reads 3:45a and this kid is snuggled up to me in the cutest position - his hands clutched together like a rabbit holding a carrot, his long body curled toward me like a limp string bean. He is a healthy 10 pounds 12 ounces these days and he sleeps in our bed every.single.night. Musa pretends not to notice. I pretend it's not a big deal and it won't annoy me later (it will). But here's the thing: he sleeps better in or bed. Put him in the bassinet and he wakes every two hours out of habit. Put him in the bed and he'll sleep for five, sometimes six. (Those African mothers seriously know what they're talking about). So there's pretty much no debate to be had. I am getting sleep and as long as he continues to gain weight this is the way it must be. I've accepted this as a necessary evil that must be tolerated for at least the next six months because ... (by now you should be catching on) sleep.
I'll admit that before I had kids I was one of "those" people. You know, the ones who have a long list of things they'll never do like use a pacifier or give their kids a nightlight. Then I actually had a kid and all caution got thrown to the wind. I quickly learned that you don't get extra credit for following all the parenting best practices in the baby books. Who writes those things anyway? Sometimes you just need to surivive (goodbye conventional wisdom, hello what works).
I try to freeze time on early mornings like this where Ellis is snuggled up to me simply because we belong to each other. I watch him smile in his sleep at seemingly nothing at all. I remind myself that this kid will have years and years to sleep in his own bed, but these are moments I won't get back. So I've given myself permission to do it wrong, especially if it means I am fully present, fully here when the clock strikes 3:45a. Because, love. Oh, and (you guessed it) sleep.