With arms outstretched...

Compartment 14B

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2009-01-15 - 7:35 p.m.

This week, in preparation for moving the furniture out of the upstairs so we can have new carpet put in, and with the fact weíll be moving in a few months in mind, I sold our Armís Reach co-sleeper. This is not the end of co-sleeping in our house though, no, no, no. Rather, after hunting high and low for a co-sleeper, we ended up with our son exactly where our daughter was in her first year-and-a-half of life: right smack dab in between us in our bed.

Oh sure, I had all kinds of intentions of using the co-sleeper. I thought it made great sense, to have this little sidecar on our bed. But the fact is, good old fashioned, baby-in-the-bed co-sleeping works well for us. And frankly, the co-sleeper was not as I imagined it to be.

See, hereís the thing, I was picturing something that was essentially a walled-in extension of our mattress, level with our mattress, that would allow me to just put my arm out and skootch my darling, squalling little bundle over towards me to feed him, then gently ease him back again when heíd fallen back to sleep. But I guess the liability that would be involved with creating such a thing was too daunting, so instead there still had to be a short barrier between the co-sleeper and the bed. This makes sense when looking at it from an I-donít-want-to-get-sued-when-someone-leaves-their-kid-unattended (and someone will) and-said-kid-manages-to-squirm-out-of-the-co-sleeper-and-onto-the-mattress-and-then-falls-off-the-bed perspective, but from my point of view, if I have to basically sit up, lean over, and take the baby out of the thing, I might as well just have a bassinette. And since my c-section incision completely disallowed performing anything requiring core body strength for a good few weeks, the manoeuvre required to extract Biscuit from the co-sleeper was beyond me, so he ended up between J and I. And that, of course, was where he stayed, because it would take a colder heart than mine to kick him out of such a cozy little nest.

But hereís the thing. I LOVE having him there. I loved having his sister there. People say that if you let a child in bed with you you never get them out. To those people I say, you want to get them out? Really? And deny you and them the comfort and delight of a warm adjacent body? I feel kind of sorry for those people, that they canít take the pleasure I can from this experience.

I co-sleep for a number of reasons. I think that, evolutionarily speaking, we are meant to sleep with our kids. Humans are the only mammals that sleep apart from their young and then itís only in certain societies and a very recent phenomenon on the grand scale of evolution. Studies have shown that children, even when supplied with all the other basic necessities of life, will fail to thrive and even sometimes die in the absence of physical contact with others. Baby monkeys will choose a soft surrogate-mother doll with no food over a wire one that dispenses food. We have a basic need for physical contact and affection. But mostly? I co-sleep because it is one of the best feelings in the world, to have my baby nestled into my side. When heís hungry he stirs and we both curl towards each other, his feet on my thighs, his knees tucked into my belly: weíre like two half-hearts of differing sizes, with me, the larger, curled partway around him.

Oh, I know that co-sleeping isnít for everyone. Not only do you have to want to do it Ė and face it, some people just donít and thatís fine because different strokes for different folks and all that) but there has to be the right combination of sleeping styles in both parents and baby. Weíre very lucky because neither J nor I sleep so lightly that weíre kept up by our babies, but we donít sleep so heavily that thereís a danger of rolling onto them and smooshing them. Plus, sleeping protectively tucked into the upside-down L formed by body and my arm pretty much guarantees that I would automatically fend off a wayward roll, even if J were inclined to do so in his sleep, which he is not. Both Grommet and now Biscuit slept/sleep quite soundly themselves, with a minimal amount of squirming unless a boob is wanted. When itís dark, they donít want to play, they want to sleep. They both sleep until around 7:00 am most days.

So, we make a pallet on our bed of a waterproof pad such as a changing pad or a hospital-style chuck, covered with a folded towel to allow for air circulation, covered with a receiving blanket to provide a smooth surface. This both defines the babyís space and provides a tactile cue for the boundary which should not be crossed in oneís sleep, plus it has saved our bed from diaper blowouts, spit up, and out-and-out vomiting when a bug unexpectedly sneaks up on the wee mites. I sleep on the boundary of this pallet, with a body pillow tilting me slightly towards the baby. When I roll on my side to nurse this pillow gives me a little extra comfort and back support.

This all may sound complicated, but oh, it is so worth it, and not just because, for the mother of a young baby, I get an obscene amount of sleep. (Seriously, I am sometimes groggy from too much sleep. Yeah, I know you hate be now.) When J is up and gone early for the 5:00 am shift, and itís still and cool in the house and Biscuit and I are curled towards each other like a fat shrimp in a question mark, and his fuzzy little head is tucked under my armÖ itís one of the best parts of my motherhood experience. And I feel so, well, this may sound funny from a non-religious person, but so blessed to have these times.

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