Desperate times call for desperate measures: last night, we tried co-sleeping. Now, I realise co-sleeping is not drastic to a lot of people, but I’ve just never felt comfortable with it — I worry enough about safety and suffocation and suchlike as it is, without bringing my baby into my bed while I lie unconscious next to her. But we’ve reached that point of needing sleep desperately and, encouraged by some other mums, I decided to give co-sleeping a go. Well, not true co-sleeping, but E2′s cot turns into a co-sleeper, so M set it all up against the single bed that’s in her room. Once reconciled to the idea truly had high hopes that this would be revolutionary, and I prepared for a night of blissful, semi-conscious bonding and renewal.
I have to say, it was not a resounding success. I fed her downstairs until just after 1am, as usual, and took her up and laid her asleep in her cot. I then came back down to turn the lights and telly off, and get washed and changed for bed. …except, is that safe? She’s not in an enclosed cot… she could wake up, crawl onto my bed, and then fall off the edge… I decided not to worry about it this time — she was solidly asleep and I wouldn’t be long away from her. Still, it made me uncomfortable and I wasn’t sure what the correct co-sleeping protocol was in such a situation.
At 1.30, I went in and got in bed. She was sleeping soundly in her cot, her body limp, her arms outstretched, her breath rhythmic and relaxed. Lying next to her in the dark, I became aware of how right this felt, to be next to her in the stillness of the night, to share the intimacy of sleep. Everything felt right and peaceful as I fell asleep.
Thirty minutes later, she woke and called for me. No bother, I thought. I am getting used to this pattern of being woken almost as soon as I fall asleep, but this time was so much better — I didn’t have to get up or out of bed at all. I turned on my side, pulled her to me, and began to feed her. She gulped the milk with gusto and snuggled into me. Bliss! I laid my head on the pillow and drifted in and out of semi-consciousness while she fed.
After 20 minutes, she finished, came off the breast, and relaxed into sleep. I woke, reached to adjust my nightclothes, and realised my arm was asleep — I’d laid it under my head at a bad angle. My hip was asleep as well, from holding my body at the right angle so she could feed. No matter — even with these small inconveniences, she’d filled herself in 2o minutes instead of the usual hour and a few pins-and-needles seemed a good trade off to me.
Except… she was now asleep in my bed, not the co-sleeper. This wasn’t what I’d meant to happen. Not quite sure what to do, I gently lifted her from my mattress to hers. She hardly stirred. Good. I leaned back into my bed. The mattress creaked and the duvet rustled and she woke with a start: eyes wide, head up, mouth open and she screamed. Shhhh… shhh… shhhh… She wasn’t having it. I patted and jiggled her. Shhhh… shhh… shhhh… Nope, not a hope. I would have to latch her on, so I unbuttoned my nightshirt again. But this time I would be a bit clever, and I kept her on her mattress, and moved myself closer to her instead.
With my hips on my mattress, my right elbow and shoulder on her mattress, I pulled the pillows so they stradled the two and tried to settle in to feed. She latched on hungrily but, as she did, the two mattresses began to sink unevenly under my weight and I found myself lying in a sort of ditch between the two beds. It was really very uncomfortable, but she was latched nicely and I hoped she’d go back to sleep in short order, so I sat tight. My arm and hip started tingling again almost immediately.
Now that was an uncomfortable feed. Again, she took about 20 minutes but, even though I tried to shuffle about gently into a better position, I never got comfortable, so I never slept. I have always hated the agonising boredom of sitting in the quiet darkness, overtired but wide-awake, and I usually read to keep my mind occupied. But lying in that position — rigid, pinned down, stuck — I couldn’t reach my book and wouldn’t have been able to hold it up anyway. I watched the clock in the semi-darkness, minutes ticking away slowly as if Time wasn’t all that bothered to about punctuality tonight.
At last, she came off again and rolled onto her back. I prised myself from the gully between the mattresses and settled into my bed. The pillows rustled as I pulled them back onto my mattress and… she woke up, just like before: wide-eyed and crying in an instant. I’d had enough. I sat upright, put the pillow behind my back properly, grabbed the Boppy cushion and, hauling her up onto it, fed her the way I know and like: upright, comfortable, on one bed. When she was finished, it was 3.30am. I laid her down and finally — finally — she was out for good.
She woke me for another feed at 6am. I didn’t even attempt a lying-down feed this time, just sat up and plopped her straight on the Boppy. I realised that I didn’t even know how a lying-down feed would have worked now, as I’d need to feed her from the left breast this time and she was lying on my right. So, the ideal of being able to just pull her gently to me and feed with both of only semi-conscious wouldn’t work. I sat in the dark and tried to figure out if there was some way of lying on my right side and feeding her from my left breast, but I couldn’t mentally contort myself into a position that worked, and my visions of falling asleep and smothering her horrified me enough that I had to quickly change the subject.
When she finished an hour later, I realised I needed the loo, but now that the cot was pushed against the bed as a co-sleeper, even just getting out of bed was a challenge. I pulled the duvet back gently and s-l-o-w-l-y scooched toward the footboard. The mere sound of my bedclothes rustling over the sheets woke her, and raised her head complained and loudly. Oh! I sat at the foot of the bed and held my head in my hands. It was nearing 7.30am, I’d had less than 3 hours’ sleep, and I couldn’t even go and have a pee! In that moment, I realised something significant: half the problem is that this child is simply so incredibly sensitive to her environment. She needs completely silence and darkness in order to sleep, and with a toddler in the house as well, I can hardly ever provide that. So she never gets to nap. And, of course, that messes her night sleeping as well. I have no idea how to both care for E1 and provide E2 with the tranquility she needs to get into a workable routine. I also realised that by having the cot as a co-sleeper, I had lost the use of it for naptimes, as I can’t put her in it and walk away because she could work her way to the bed-edge. Even less chance of getting her to nap.
She settled again eventually, I got to the loo, went downstairs and raged at my husband that co-sleeping was an utter disaster, and went back up to bed. Quietly… quietly… quietly… I crept into bed. She flinched, pinched up her face, then relaxed. She woke me again at 9.30, and we got up for the day. I’d had just under 5 hours of sleep, broken over 3 segments.
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