I never imagined that I’d be co-sleeping when my kids were 9 and 6. Back when I was pregnant with Cate, The Plan was to co-sleep for 3 months and then transition her to a crib. But like so many of the plans that were in place before there was an actual baby to contend with, this one went quickly by the wayside. The crib was never used for anything but storage, and Cate slept with us until she decided to move to her own bed at about 2-1/2.
And then there was Anna. We never even set up the crib for Anna, and she slept with us from the beginning. A much more intensely attached child than her older sister, she not only slept in the bed with us, she generally slept in full body contact with me. And unlike her sister, who responded to nightweaning like a pro and was sleeping nice long nights by the time she was two, Anna woke and nursed at night for years. And years. And then once she was done nursing, she kept waking up at night. It’s only now, at 6, that she consistently sleeps through the night.
At various times we have encouraged Anna to start out the night sleeping with her sister, in the room that they share. For a while they shared a double bed, but Anna’s gymnastics made it hard for Cate to sleep. So we got a bunk bed for their bedroom, giving Cate a little bit more of her own space. I’d put Anna to sleep in her bed, but she never stayed there for the whole night. She was still waking up at night, but we just kept limping through with broken sleep for all of us. Steve and I enjoyed getting to crawl into bed together again, and we tried to keep the faith that one of these years Anna would eventually sleep through the night.
And then there was Christmas a couple of years back. At my brother’s house, Anna and Cate and I all slept together in one big bed. Miraculously, night after night, my terrible sleeper slept through the night. Although there were other contributing factors, I think that being snuggled all night between Mama and big sister made a big difference.
So we changed our plan. Anna started out the night sleeping with me (which she preferred anyway), and suddenly she was sleeping so. much. better. I think the transition of waking up in her room and then coming to our room had been waking her up so thoroughly that she often never got entirely back to sleep. But when she was right there with me, I could reach out and pat her when she stirred, and she’d often go right back to sleep. I missed the time with Steve but we both figured it was more important that I was getting some good sleep, so that I would actually be pleasant to be around when we were able to be together.
At this point, Cate was still happily sleeping in her top bunk. When Steve went out of town, we would have “sleepovers” all together in my bed, but as a rule she slept in her room alone. I’m honestly not sure when that shifted, but eventually it became clear that she would much prefer to sleep with Anna and me. And I saw no reason to discourage her, since whether she was there or not, I was going to have Anna with me. There is also something especially sweet about the nighttime snuggles with Cate, who is getting to be such a big girl. While I sometimes feel overwhelmed by Anna’s ongoing need to have me right there with her all night long, these moments with Cate feel so precious, as I know it won’t be long before she’s heading out into the world and feeling much too big for such things.
We sleep with Anna in the middle, who now happily sleeps all night long between the two of us. Well, mostly between. Sometimes one or the other of us finds ourself UNDER Anna. But Cate can sometimes return that favor.
So now our bedtime routine is to crawl into bed all together, reading a favorite book. Lately we’ve been loving the Nancy Drew series, which makes everyone excited to get into bed, but not so excited to turn off the light and go to sleep–every chapter ends with a thrilling cliffhanger. For better or worse, there are kisses and wrangling and snuggles and kicking and antics and all measure of sister madness. And eventually, there is sleep.
In the middle of the night, if Anna stirs, she will usually murmur “Mama…” And while the tone of this word was once frantic, it’s now so peaceful, as if to say, “Sweet mama, you’re here, I’m okay,” before she reaches out an arm for me, finds me there, and goes back to sleep.
As a mother, I am constantly reminded of all the ways in which I am a work in progress. I struggle with my short temper, and I wish I were more organized. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my various responsibilities. But this, I can do. I can crawl into bed with these two girls and just be there. Which I think makes us all breathe a little easier.