Apologies for the length of this one, it has been six-and-a-half years in the making, so there was quite a lot to cover.
I sometimes admit that we are a co-sleeping family, but it is always with guilt and worry. I wonder how I will be judged and am a little concerned that by telling the whole truth now, I might open myself up to criticism. Everyone has an opinion on co-sleeping, but here is the story of someone who was kind of on the fence about it, then it happened and so the story began.
Eighteen months after the arrival of my first, out popped my second, a beautiful little girl during the day, who turned into a demon at night. I think looking back, it was a habit of letting her sleep too much during the day, whilst I entertained a very active older sister, that then led to her almost nocturnal habits. As a Mum of two, post C-section, I was pretty tired anyway, so I started night feeding in bed and often found myself falling asleep mid-feed and then waking up to find her asleep next to me. This was OK in the early days, but it soon got harder and harder to return her to her cot. This was a habit I didn’t get into first time around as Dad had a long commute for work, I used to take my first to the feeding chair in another room so that she wouldn’t get woken up. But it was different by the time my second came along, so, the night time bed feeding continued, her feeds got longer and she spent more time in our bed. It soon got to a stage where she just screamed if returned to the cot; intense, heartbreaking screaming, that she could carry on doing for hours. She had stamina; I will give her that.
This would not have been an issue if she had been placated by being in our bed, but she eventually went on to barely sleep at night; she chose to scream instead of sleeping. Even carrying her and walking around didn’t settle her, in fact, some nights, nothing settled her. We were exhausted and she was in a spiral of a routine, in that she was exhausted from the nights, so she couldn’t be kept awake during the day, which then meant she was awake again the next night. After getting to the point where we thought that we could not carry on; she suddenly started to stay awake during the day, which then meant that she would sleep more at night. Unfortunately, she decided that her cot was not the ideal spot for sleeping and displayed a very strong preference for our bed. We were exhausted and just pleased that she slept, so she spent much of the night with us in our bed.
As we were struggling in a small two-bedroom house, her cot stayed in our room for over a year, which made it just too easy to give into her. When she eventually moved to the other room, she was not happy with this setup and the broken nights continued. When we moved, we had high hopes for her staying in her own bed all night, but this didn’t happen. Us being on another floor almost seemed to make things worse. She would go to sleep without issue, but wake up every night, wanting to come into our bed. I was a bit of winner on the middle of the night run as for some reason the cat, seemingly traumatised by this whole three-floor thing, would attack my ankles if I did the child run, so after much scarring of the ankles, poor Dad got the job …. Result!
We tried all sorts of sleep and settling techniques, without success, but mostly just wanted to sleep and found it easier to give into her. She is a stubborn one though, so was up for the fight and would have won most battles, if we had had the energy to fight.
She started school, so we thought things would change as she would be so tired, but no change. Every night around 1 or 2 a.m. she would call out and one of us would go to collect her. We tried sleeping with her in her own bed, until she went back to sleep, occasionally this worked, but usually she woke as soon as we tried to move back to our bed. We tried being tough and just saying no, but she cried so loud that she woke her sister and things were worse. We tried room sharing, but this just led to much chatting and giggling, then 2 children awake in the middle of the night. This made for a very grumpy sister the next day; she is not nice when she is grumpy, believe me!
...Eventually went on to barely sleep at night; she chose to scream instead of sleeping. Even carrying her and walking around didn’t settle her, in fact, some nights, nothing settled her.
We moved house, hopefully, the last move for a while; again, we had high hopes for a resolution to the issue. She made a promise to try, and so she did, but not for long. She started to spend one maybe two nights a month in her own bed all night, but still woke nearly every night, wanting to join us. By the time she reached 5, it had become the norm for us; we were almost doing the collection in our sleep. She wouldn’t walk into our room, but called out louder and louder until we went to her. Then 6 happened and things changed. She started to sleep through 1 or 2 days a week – woohoo, we felt amazing, we were finally getting a whole night’s sleep after six years. Eventually, she slept through every night. Weirdly I missed her, it was nice to wake up to a cuddle and snuggle every morning. But I didn’t miss the spinning, kicking, scratching, head butting and bed hogging.
I would love to be able to end it there, BUT suddenly after about two months of sleeping through, she started to appear at the end of our bed. She realised that all she needed to do was get out of bed, walk across the hall, climb in and settle herself in. Most nights we barely notice her arrival, but some nights she runs in, launches at least 4 toys across the bed, before climbing on and walking over to her space in the middle of us. If only, we then were able to sleep as a happy little trio, but oh no that would be such an idyllic scenario, that doesn’t exist. She spins to a horizontal position. Getting the foot end is the worst and usually ends in Dad leaving to sleep in her bed, or me receiving a swift kick to the kidneys. Head end means a firm nuzzling of said head into whatever area she comes into contact with, then she pushes and continues to push whilst asleep. It’s quite amazing how much she moves while being completely asleep, and how strong she is.
After much saving and deliberating; we decided to splash out on a mid-sleeper cabin bed. The bed arrived last week, she has promised that she is going to really try with this new bed. We trialled the mattress on night one (not the actual bed as that is feat of engineering in construction), no luck, she still appeared; her reason was, “I just wanted to snuggle!” She looked so adorable as she said it that I couldn’t do anything but smile. I am too weak! Night two was the same. Feat of construction completed (there may be another blog about that!), bed was ready for night three. The excitement levels reached an all-time high as they set up their 2nd under bed den; with the exuberant anticipation of an uninterrupted night’s sleep, we packed her off to bed.
I would so love to be able to end on a high note just there and say that all was resolved by the removal of the ‘creaky bed’. Sadly no, the saga continues. That same night, the highly anticipated uninterrupted night was shattered by the arrival of a small person, plus toys in the early hours. So, the next day, we as responsible parents, had the chat with her about trying to stay in her own bed. Dad went for the ‘bad cop’ option of ‘just stay in your own bed, whereas Mummy ‘good cop’ went for the ‘try to stay in your own bed, but if you are too scared then don’t feel bad about coming to see us’ approach. She happily went off to sleep in her own bed, no arguments about staying there for the night, she seemed to have taken on board our comments. But, 10 pm arrived and we heard crying; heartbreaking sobbing, real tears, the full-on distress of fear, or possibly illness. She seemed fine health wise and managed to shake her head and sob ‘no,’ when asked if she felt poorly.
The distress was horrible, I haven’t seen her like this since the early days of crying. She said she was scared, but would give nothing more than that away. I settled her into our bed to try and calm her….. mistake I know, but you should have seen her. She finally sobbed herself to sleep, so we agreed to let her stay. But in the middle of the night, she woke again in floods of tears and still couldn’t tell us why. Surely there is more to this than not wanting to stay in her bed, but who knows.
I guess as part of me enjoys the closeness and that the fact that she is still my little girl, there is a chance that I am being selfish. Maybe I should try harder to convince her not to join us at night; but I’ve not got the conviction in the fight. I keep telling myself she will grow out of it, but sometimes I think she just has an evil plan, to wear us down until she gets the bed all to herself!
“Is that it?” I hear you cry. Probably not the ending to this blog that you would have expected. An ideal conclusion would have been to list all the hints and tips for getting the little darlings to sleep, but maybe this is more a part of me asking, am I alone? If not, then you others out there take something away knowing you are not alone. We just need to agree that we do what we do to help them grow up in this scary world, if they need more support, then it’s our job to be there.
If I went wrong and have set up this course of events, then I just have to remember that there are no right or wrong paths, just paths we take. Hopefully, we all get to the same place in the end.