Sleep and my daughter Annie don’t exactly go together. Since that first night in the hospital when all the other newborns slept their deep postpartum slumber, Annie has asserted her right to insomnia. She was an infant who wanted to be held all the time and I, the original softy, was unwilling and unable to let her cry herself to sleep.
As Annie never slept for more than two consecutive hours until well into her third year of life, Bill and I resorted to the family bed. Ah, the family bed -- many feel ambivalent about the concept. Many families practice, but few admit it. Our society stresses the view that everybody needs “privacy” from day one. People quietly wonder about the “S” word, concerned about how parents will ever find the space to procreate again.
Bill and I read up on family bed philosophy. Some claimed it to be a panacea for all childhood ills: fewer crib deaths; more family closeness; fewer nightmares; an emotionally stable child. One book even stated that children who slept in a family bed were less likely to be promiscuous later in life. However calming and outrageous the claims, I grew to believe in the family bed less from the theoretical point of view than the practical. I’m a grown up, self-reliant, and I don’t like to sleep alone. Why should a small child? And as the mother of a sleepless infant, I needed my sleep.
So the family bed it was. How delicious to have Annie’s teeny body warm and comforting between us. When she’d wake I’d nurse her, and she’d drop off again within a matter of moments. The black circles beneath my eyes faded to lovely shade of violet. “How fresh you look!” people told me, and though my mirror told me they were lying through their teeth out of kindness, I chose to believe them.
All was well until the inevitable happened. Annie began to grow.
“We need more space,” Bill and I told each other. Twice we tried to knuckle down and let her cry herself to sleep in her bassinet. Two months old with a will of iron, forty minutes later she was still howling. “Forget it,” I said, weeping myself. Back into our bed she came. All was well.
But, we’ve found, the family bed is not without drawbacks.
I am aware of the magical expansion properties of small creatures. Long ago, when I was young and single without an allergic husband, I owned a cat. The animal always began the night as a proper ball at the foot of the bed. But as the hours progressed, an insistent lump traveled from my feet to the crook of my knees, forcing my legs to slide sideways. Then something warm made its way to the concave of my belly, or pressed hard against my back. The little warm thing swelled. A leg, two legs, stretched out. My sleeping body accommodated. Finally I’d wake, squeezed into the tiny crack between the bed and the wall. Sprawled in the middle was the cat. A loud purr vibrated through her body, a look of utter victory gleamed from her tiny face.
Now, finally, Annie begins each night in her own room. But at two or three a.m., a small form appears at my side. Wordless and groggy with sleep, she holds up her arms. I pick her up and roll her over me into the middle, next to Bill’s sleeping form. He grunts once or twice as she kicks him in the kidneys. She rolls and turns for a minute or two. I put the covers over her, she kicks them off. Then all is well, she sleeps, we sleep.