Sleeping. Or not.

by threegirlpileup

I have never been able to resist taking pictures of my sleeping children. There’s something about seeing those vibrant little creatures at total rest, peacefully snuggled into one bed or another. And now that Maggie and Anna spend at least part of the night together, there are also the priceless pictures of the two of them piled up or wrapped around each other.

Like so many co-sleeping families, we have transitioned through many different sleep configurations. Our latest is that Maggie and Anna start the night out together, or rather Anna goes to sleep in their bed first, and then Maggie joins her later. Steve and I sleep together across the hall. At some point, Anna will wake up–sometimes as early as midnight (though that’s thankfully rare these days) and sometimes after 6 a.m. Steve goes and gets her and brings her to me, where she settles in to nurse and hopefully get some more sleep. Steve heads upstairs for a little quiet sleep before some segment of our family comes and wakes him for the day.

Lately, Maggie has instituted a “morning snuggle,” which consists of our reconvening in the big bed in our bedroom for a big family snuggle. Often, admittedly, with Anna jumping up and down on us. Sometimes the girls are eating their little dishes of vitamins, sometimes Steve is doing a few exercises, but there’s something about just a few minutes, with all of us together in bed together, that helps get our day started on the right footing.

Is there any arena that is more fraught for new parents than sleep? When Maggie was small, I remember interpreting her lack of any regular napping as a referendum on my parenting–if I were a better mother, of course I would know how to get my child to nap. Thankfully, I had a more typical napper the second time around, and could realize in retrospect that Maggie was just not a napper. Of course, Anna also taught me that sleep difficulties can take all shapes and sizes…though she was a napper and easy to get to bed at night (long a challenge with Maggie), it has taken her a long, long time to consolidate her nighttime sleep. And all gentle attempts, from nightweaning to sleeping with Daddy, utterly failed in making that happen any faster.

(Didn’t I say in my post about swimming that I keep re-learning to let things happen in their own time? My kids are such good teachers, and thankfully patient about repeating their lessons again and again.)

For now, I am caught…on the one hand, longing for the stretches of sleep that will make me more feel more human again. I remember the cloud lifting when Maggie started sleeping through the night. And that’s starting to happen, once in awhile, with Anna. At the same time, I treasure those moments when that little warm body snuggles into me, pats me, and says, “I love you, Mama” (or “I love you, nursie,” or just “MILK!”). Just another one of those contradictions of motherhood, I guess…we want them to grow but we want them to stay small, too.

Vilma McClure has a great essay in The Tao of Motherhood in which she talks about caring for your baby in the night. I love it because it’s the only thing I’ve read that doesn’t assume a zero-sum game, in which mother and baby are competing for attention or sleep. She says:

“Who, then, is the doer? Is it the infant who brings the mother through the veil of self-concern into limitlessness? Is it the mother, who chooses to hold sacred her infant’s needs and surrender herself? Or is it the One, which weaves them both through a spiraling path to wholeness?”