It’s my guilty secret. I feel like I have to stand up and announce it like I’m at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – I’m Gemma and I co-sleep with my children, sometimes with both of them (shush!)
It was never meant to be this way. With my son (now five) we did everything we were supposed to. He started off in a Moses basket but didn’t really like it, so we then moved him into a cot next to our bed. But at 16 weeks, it all changed. He got a cough and cold, and being the panicky first time mum that I was (and already sleep deprived at that stage), I stayed up all night with him next to me in our bed. Now, as you would expect with a cough, it didn’t get better overnight, so the next night he was back in with us. Obviously we made sure we took all of the right precautions to make it safe for him.
I think he did go back into his cot after a few days, but I had already experienced that heartwarming rush of having him sleeping next to me, and I wanted more! In my head I remembered all I’d been told – I would be making a rod for my back. What continued from then was good intentions – he would go off to sleep in his cot, but inevitably would end up in the bed with us. Even when we moved house, and he had his own bedroom, this pattern continued. We did try various ‘sleep training’ things – white noise, various cuddly things, gradual retreat and eventually moved him into a single bed.
I could never bring myself to do controlled crying, even though many many people advocated it. I came to the realisation that the co-sleeping was more than just meeting my son’s needs. In fact, I wasn’t sure that he even wanted to really sleep with us, perhaps it had just become a habit he was used to?
It was about me, and meeting my emotional needs. I’ve never hidden the fact that I struggle with motherhood. In my head I’ve never lived up to the ‘perfect mum’ stereotype, and parenting in the first year was a big shock! (even though looking back, we had it damn easy!) So for me, sleeping next to my son made me feel forgiven for everything I had not been good enough during the day. I felt like a better mum because he wanted to be with me. Realising this was the easy part, resolving it has been much more difficult. When I was pregnant with my daughter, my son was starting to sleep for longer periods my himself. Which didn’t stop me sleeping on his floor just in case.
In the latter stages of my pregnancy I told everyone – no more co-sleeping, my daughter would be sleeping in her cot whether she liked it or not. Well, you can guess what happened. That first night in the hospital, when I knew that we both needed to sleep, I had her in the bed with me. We got home, Moses basket prepared, and discovered that she would only sleep on her front. So I had the inner conflict of letting her sleep on my chest (with me sat upright) or on her front in the cot, which I knew went against all the recommendations.
Fast forward two and a half years, and she doesn’t even go to sleep in her room! Deep down I know it’s not what good for any of us, but when it gets to bedtime, I just can’t face being apart from her. Especially now she’s well and truly in the midst of terrible twos and I feel like I’m constantly telling her off (for just being a typical two year old). I’m in such a vicious cycle of not sleeping well, and then being tired and irritable with the both of them, and then making it up by letting them sleep in the big bed.
So what’s next? Well we’ve managed to put off decorating my daughter’s room and having a firm push on her sleeping in there for six months so far. I know I need to make the change, perhaps when she’s at school too?!
If you are considering co-sleeping, please follow the guidelines and stay safe.