Your friend tells you that her six-month-old baby has been sleeping through the night for months.
She describes her routine.
7pm lights out. Drowsy but awake. Door closed. Monitor on. Self-soothing. Baby asleep. Adult time.
Your ten-month-old baby doesn’t sleep through the night.
You don’t follow a schedule. But you have a rhythm. A flow. A choose-your-own-adventure series of choices…depending on how your day has gone.
It may be…a bath with Dad.
Yet, no matter how your rhythm begins, the ending is always the same. You turn out the lights. You lay down with your baby and you nurse him to sleep.
You lay in the darkness beside him and watch the rise and fall of his chest.
You breathe a sigh of relief.
This is one of your favourite parts of the day, but it feels bittersweet. As your baby rests, you miss him…even though he’s right there.
You try to stay awake in your oxytocin-filled slumber.
You reach for your phone. 8:13pm. Not bad, you think to yourself. Although you realise that your friend’s baby has been asleep for over an hour by now.
You wait twenty minutes before moving as your baby drifts from lighter to deeper sleep. You extract your now numb arm from under your baby’s neck.
He rouses. You freeze. Phew…it was a false alarm. He rolls over. He’s still asleep.
You ninja-roll out of bed and quietly tiptoe out of the room. You prop the door open with a pillow. You readjust your nursing top.
Your husband has just finished cleaning the kitchen. You appreciate him; now more than ever. He is literally your entire village. Your anchor. Your safe space.
You collapse into his arms, which feel so big now compared to the tiny arms that fill your days. He holds you tight and you relax. But you know your baby may rouse at the end of this sleep cycle…he won’t wake up, he won’t nurse, but he’ll reach for you in his dreams. To him, you and he are one, not two. His sixth sense will notice if you’re missing.
This is your new normal and although you’ve made new mum friends, you feel alone on this journey.
The sleep talk at meet-ups makes you feel uneasy. Cry it out. Controlled crying. Spaced soothing. Something about a chair method?
These sleep training strategies seem completely foreign to you. Your perspective has shifted so much that even the thought of your baby sleeping in another room makes you feel anxious.
But all the other babies are sleeping through the night. All the other mothers had the “guts to do it”.
You ask yourself, are you failing as a mother? Will your baby ever be able to sleep alone? Will he ever fall asleep without nursing? Are you creating bad habits? Are your choices going to destroy your marriage? Will your family think you’re strange when they realise that you bedshare?
You feel the tug-of-war between your old life and this new life that nobody came close to explaining what it would really be like; how intense a baby’s need for his mother truly is, how boundless motherhood would feel.
Your twenty minutes are up. You sneak back into your family bed and nuzzle into your baby boy. Your husband joins you. And all your doubts melt away. The most important people in your world are beside you. You’re content. You’re happy. You’re exhausted, but you’re exactly where you need to be.
And in that moment, you realise that this, this is the most important work of your life.
You thought you cared about a career and you still do, but it doesn’t come close to this. Because nobody, not a single soul on the planet, can be who YOU are to YOUR baby. He needs you. And you need him. You’re in this together; fumbling and stumbling, laughing and crying in your perfect imperfection.
Others may question your style of parenting, but to you, this isn’t a style. You’re not attempting to fit a stereotype. You’re not an attachment parenting poster child. You’re simply honouring your baby’s needs, and you’re striving to meet yours at the same time. You’re integrating with a new being. You’re learning how to let your guard down and allow this little creature to be wholly dependent on you; an unfamiliar feeling after being so fiercely independent yourself for so long.
And so, you consciously choose to breastsleep. Why? Because this is how babies and mothers evolved to BE at nighttime; the idea of being with you child aligns with your values so much more than the notion of doing to your child.
You learn about biologically normal infant sleep. You reject the mainstream myth that babies need sleep training. 3am doesn’t scare you anymore.
Regardless of what adults may think they WANT that doesn’t change what babies NEED.
Because no matter how a sleep training method is marketed – whether it claims to be “gentle” or not – it’s just a variation on refusing to be responsive to a baby’s communication. The simple fact is that intentionally ignoring a baby isn’t a good idea.
And so, you choose to accept that raising a tiny human is anything but convenient. You choose to believe that your baby’s need for emotional connection is just as valid as any physical need. In the messiness of nighttime parenting your baby is teaching you the meaning of presence. He’s softening your heart and quietening your mind. He’s slowing you down. He’s training you for the toddler years ahead. He knows the skills you’ll need and they don’t include conditional love and unreliable responsiveness.
You appreciate that shared sleep isn’t for everyone. You would never judge another mother for her choices – she is doing the best she can with the information, support and resources she has – but you are disillusioned by a society that normalises harmful parenting practices. So, you stop comparing yourself to others.
You stop measuring your baby against a system you know is flawed.
You wish you could speak your mind when friends and family tell you they believe it’s time for you to sleep train. You wish you could shout from the rooftops that our culture is completely off-track. You wish you could tell them that you get more sleep together, than you ever would apart. But, in this moment your priority is your child. And you’re safeguarding your choices. You’re protecting your mental and emotional health. And so, you and your baby continue to light the path for one another.
But, maybe, one day, when you blink and your son is six-years-old you’ll write a blog post about your experience. When he’s sleeping through the night. When he falls asleep talking about dinosaurs. When you have your nights again, but still choose to sleep by his side. When he wraps his arms around you and tells you he’ll hug you until you fall asleep when you’re not well.
Maybe then, when you’re strong and sleep training is no longer a threat to your world, you’ll help new mothers to feel confident in their choices. Maybe then, you’ll look back with pride and won’t regret a single moment you spent rocking or singing or nursing or hugging your child to sleep. Maybe then, when you’re a little more rested and a little less weary, you’ll wish you could go back and have just one more night where you didn’t sleep all that much, but you’re heart swelled a little bigger, your intuition roared a little louder, and your soul found her home.