Wednesday, July 30, 2008

you're so going to regret that you asked

Last night, Cal slept in his own bed. It was the little pine bed we got him from Ikea a few weeks ago, and we've had it made up and ready to go for a while now, at various times enticing him with its colorful animal sheets and Baby Bear exclusivity ("This is a little bed! It's only for Cal! Mommy and Daddy are too big for this bed! But it's just right for Cal!") He has taken naps in his bed, mostly by accident, and we've been reading bedtime stories in his bed just to set the stage. But last night, after the story, he just stayed there. And fell asleep. And slept all night. Except for the parts of the night when he rolled out of the bed onto the floor. (Note to self: put cushions by the bed.) But other than that, it was solid gold, baby! Ye gods, he's out our bed and into his own!

This seems like as good a time as any to talk about how Cal ended up in our bed in the first place.

Let me say first that before Cal was born, and really, even after, I never subscribed to any particular parenting philosophy. I hadn't read the books, I hadn't done any research, and frankly, thought the whole idea of having some overarching "approach" to parenting struck me as pretty pretentious and annoying. Hearing about moms who were so damn fervent about organics and plastics and co-sleeping and baby wearing and selective vaccination--as though there were only one way to live, dammit, and if you didn't fall in line, you were a BAD, BAD PERSON--was enough to make me itch. I didn't think much about how I wanted to approach raising my kid, but figured that a reasonable mix of common sense and mindfulness of AAP recommendations would keep us all safe and sane. But aside from the obvious, I don't think there's any absolute right way. I still don't. It's whatever works for you and your family, you know? Who am I to tell others what to do? It's like those vegetarians that come up to you when you're eating a hot dog and get all earnest, looking in your eyes and asking, "DO YOU KNOW WHAT'S IN THAT?" Yes, I do, because I live in THE WORLD, now go away and let me eat my nitrates and pig lips in peace.

I will also say right here that I thought the idea of co-sleeping was for hippies. I never really thought explicitly about it, but before Cal was born, I just kind of presumed that we'd have him circ'ed (circumcised, you know), we'd breastfeed for a few months, he'd sleep in the Pack 'n' Play in our room for the first few weeks, move onward to his beautiful new crib, and that's just how it would be. That was what I knew, and it seemed to work fine, so that was what we were going to do.

I know some of you out there are parents too, so I hope you don't think I'm just stating the obvious when I say that you can never predict how things are going to be until after your kid(s) are born.* Joe and I had planned to circ, for example, though it was kind of a coin-toss. I was on the fence (given that per the AAP there is no established medical benefit to circumcision--population-based studies about HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa aside), and Joe was sort of leaning towards getting the circ, and I was like, "Whatever, you decide." But then Cal was born. And he was perfect. And both of us figured, hey, why tempt fate? Why have a medical procedure that he doesn't actually need? There's no real reason. So we decided not to circ. And it's never been an issue.

Ditto with the sleeping. We had Cal in his little crib for the first week or so, but gradually, he found his way into our bed, which is where he stayed for the next three years. It wasn't quite what we were planning, but it was the best for us, especially for those first few years, for a couple of reasons.

You have to remember that when Cal was born, I was just starting my anesthesia residency. He was born at the end of my third week of first year, actually. It is a challenge to be a working mother in any capacity, obviously, but when you're a junior resident and you've just had a baby, those challenges are amplified. I was working long hours, sometimes spending 30 hours away from my newborn at a time, I was very tired, I was extremely stressed out, I was breastfeeding when I was home, pumping when I was not. All these basically sum up the essential reasons that we decided (perhaps decided is too strong a word--allowed? conceded?) to co-sleep.

I don't want to squick out anyone who knows me in person, especially the guys, but Cal loved breastfeeding. (BOOBS! BOOBS! OK, now I got that out of the way. OK, one more...BOOBS! All right, now I'm really done.) We never ever had a problem with breastfeeding. He took to it right away, breastfed all night whenever I was home, it made him happy, and I loved it too because it was such a nice way to bond with him. Before I had Cal, I thought I would be breastfeeding for three months, maybe six. I honestly didn't think I would be able to keep it up--I even rented a pump because I didn't think that I would be pumping long enough to make the investment of purchasing my own worth the price. But I ended up breastfeeding for a lot longer than that. Again, if you had told pre-Cal me that I would be breastfeeding a kid who could walk and talk, I would have been, frankly, HORRIFIED (as I know many people are by that picture), but I ended up pumping for a full year, and breastfeeding for more than two.

But anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. My point is that I was working a lot, and I was breastfeeding whenever I could, which basically meant all night. When you breastfeed, there's no, "Oh, it's Daddy's turn to get up to warm up the bottle," it's all on the Mom. I mean, obviously. But I was tired. I needed my sleep. If I did not get enough rest, I would basically be a disaster at work the next morning (more so than usual, anyway) and getting up two, three, four times a night to walk to the crib, pick up Cal, sit in a chair, put him back down...that would not have worked for me at all. But once we got the hang of co-sleeping, we could do this whole night routine and I would barely have to wake up at all. There was no getting up, no crying (from anyone), and all of us got to sleep through the night and be alert the next morning. This was very important for me at that point in my life, and in my training.

(I know this is the part where people are going to say, "There's no reason that he should have been getting up that many times a night! That's not good! You should read this book! Or this other book! You should have just left him alone, he wasn't hungry, he just needed to learn to XYZ! Blah!" And let me tell, you, I know those thing. Remember, I spent two years as a Pediatrics resident basically telling weary new parents the exact same thing. But you know what, when it came to my own kid, and my own evenings and nights, I DIDN'T CARE. It wasn't bothering me, it made him happy, we were catching up on things that we were missing during the day, whatever. It worked for us.)

The other part of it, and this may be even more of a factor than the breastfeeding thing, is that I really missed my kid. I was working a lot. Those early months, when Cal was really young, I might come home from work, see him for an hour or two, and then it would be time for him to go to bed. There were some nights where, apart from bedtime, Joe or I would barely see Cal at all. And call this softness or coddling or inability to separate or whatever, but the idea of spending 14 hours a day away from my kid, only to deliberately sequester him in another room for another 8 hours while his parents are home and he clearly wants to be close to us...well, that just didn't feel good to me. In fact, it felt bad.

I can think of many reasons that it would have been beneficial for him to be in his own room in his own bed from a young age too (and again, these were the reasons that I would give to my own patients are parents when they asked me at the Peds Clinic way back when I was such a TOTAL EXPERT despite the fact that I had absolutely no practical experience as a parent myself at the time), but having him close to us was the best solution we had at the time. It was nice. I spent enough time away from Cal during the day. It was nice to be near him at night, even if we were sleeping through most of it. I don't think I'm alone on this, either. If you start asking around (I asked mostly other residents who had, since those were the only people I ever talked to, apparently), and many of them, more than you'd think, also co-sleep with their kids for similar reasons. One of them actually told me that I was one of the few people she admitted this fact to, because she was embarrassed that it conveyed some sort of emotional weakness on her part, and besides, she was sick of getting lectured about it. I was like, girl, I feel you.

Of course, we took the necessary precautions. No one wants a smushed baby or a face-down-in-the-pillow baby, so when he was very young, we made provisions for an adequate no-smother zone, and learned to sleep around him instead of, you know, on top of him. As he got bigger and gradually learned to move around more, this became less of an issue, and then he just got a regular old pillow like everyone else.

This is just our story, of course, so not to draw sweeping generalizations about anything or anyone, but I think it worked really well. Cal is just great. I know lots of working parents (again, mostly other residents) who worry, get jealous, that their kid(s) spend more time with and are more attached to their primary daytimes caretakers than they are to their own parents. I don't know if it's the nighttime closeness or what, but honestly, I never worried about this. Additionally, the few times Cal's been sick (one time in particular I remember he had roseola) I knew really quickly, because I woke up in the middle of the night and felt him sleeping next to me, glowing hot like a little light bulb. That was comforting to me, to know like that, and I was able to see for myself that he was doing fine and tell his nanny the next morning, as opposed to getting a call in the middle of my work day and freaking out. He's curious, independent, outgoing, can be a little clingy at times in unfamiliar situations, but I think that's just his personality, and certainly preferable to running headfirst into oncoming traffic, you know? I'm not saying that getting to smell your kid's head little fuzzy head at 3am is the be-all and end-all of parenthood, but when you spend so much time away from that head, it's just nice to be able to snuggle up and night and let him do the same.

But we weren't planning on doing this forever. We weren't even necessarily going to wait for him to tell us when he was ready. Cal is three now, and he's big. He weighs 36 pounds, and he kicks. Sometimes he flails around like a pinwheel in his sleep, ends up upside-down, sideways, draped across your face. It was getting less comfortable for us, and probably also less comfortable for him. We have a Queen-sized mattress, but you'd be surprised at how small that can feel with three people in it, one of which sleeps like one of those chalk outline murder victims, limbs cocked everywhere. So when we moved (fresh start, we figured), we got the big boy bed. Cal picked it out. We made it look nice. We put all his animals along the headboard. We moved it into our room, alongside (but separate) from our bed, to ease the transition. And last night, we all slept well. Cal, as I mentioned, rolled out of bed a couple of times (the bed is only, like, six inches off the ground), probably not used to having a smaller mattress without the usual Mommy/Daddy bumpers along the side, but I'm sure he'll get used to that too.

So anyway, that's the story. I'm not telling you to do it. I'm not saying that's what we're going to do the next time around. It's just what we did with Cal. And now we're on to the next thing.

(* I will not concede on vaccines, though. Cal is fully vaccinated. I do not believe in thumbing my nose at one of the great advances in modern medicine. Sorry if this stirs the pot, but really, I feel strongly about this.)


  1. Anonymous1:22 AM

    You are an awesome, intelligent, and caring mother. :)

  2. Dear Michelle, I'm in med school and have a 5 day old baby, and can relate to so many things you say in this post. Thank you so much for writing this.

  3. Anonymous4:17 PM

    But... if you cosleep every night, when do you have sex?

    1. Anonymous4:21 AM

      During the day? During the night but not in bed? How boring must your sex life be to honestly answer that question? She got pregnant again...

  4. Anonymous4:21 AM

    * Ask. Not answer.