"Sleep-sharing babies get the message "I'm just as valuable to be next to at night as I am during the day. I belong to someone twenty-four hours a day." - Dr. William Sears, M.D.
One of my favorite things about my new family is sharing sleep. There is nothing better than sleeping baby snuggles. Western culture seems to insist that parents and babies should be separated, most especially at night. Mothers are encouraged to ignore their instincts and to focus on teaching their baby independence, as if it isn't a milestone that comes naturally. I sometimes imagine what life would be like for a mother who has to jump out of bed in the morning or in the middle of the night to comfort a crying baby.
At brightly living headquarters, our nights, and our mornings, do not look like this. They look leisurely, natural, lazy. I wake up to a sleeping Bee and I'm free to watch her. I take in all of the moments I'd miss if we were sleeping alone. Things like her laughing and smiling through dreams, or her stirring slightly and settling when she reaches out to touch me. I can see her chest rise with mine, our breathing patterns completely in sync, we are totally relaxed and secure in our attachment. She does not cry when she wakes, she smiles. We are each other's first sensory experience every day. I feel her warm body against mine, I hear her breathing, I smell her lavender washed hair from the previous night's bath, I see her. It's our only time to be completely together without interruption.
"When babies sleep with or near their parents, especially mom, they are not being spoiled, they are being made to feel secure and accepted." - Dr. Lendon Smith, M.D.
Aside from being a perfectly practical parenting tool, and from enabling me to spend an extra 3,000+ hours of skin to skin time with my sweet bee, the family bed also has granted me the peace of mind in knowing that my baby is safe and that her needs are met. It's a security that I've never felt as thankful for as I do now. Last week, while Bee was sleeping soundly, I noticed an episode of apnea where she stopped breathing in her sleep. It seemed like the whole room stood still while I leaned in close to listen. There was nothing. I placed my hand on her stomach and chest, still, nothing. No rising movements, no air moving in or out, no inhaling, no exhaling. I was terrified, but I waited a moment, thinking the pause may be normal. I counted to three, to five, to ten. Nothing. I shook her, and she startled awake taking in a very deep gasp of air. She looked pale.
I called her Doctor that morning and he us saw right away. He checked her throat for obstructions and did not see anything. He referred us to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist who saw us the next morning. He's ordered a sleep study to check for something called Central Sleep Apnea. We haven't had the sleep study yet, and we haven't had any changes in our sleeping pattern. I've continued to keep her close and sleep with her. I've thought back to the moment when she stopped breathing and there's a horrible rush of panic when I imagine what could have happened if I wasn't right there. If she was in a crib, in another room, not in my arms. What's worse is I can vaguely recall other moments in her life where I've felt like this has happened, but was quick to write it off as I was half asleep, or just overly paranoid. Last week, though, there was no mistaking it and no denying that it happened.
I will know more once the sleep study is completed, but on this day, Bee's first Thanksgiving, I feel obliged to write this entry. I feel obligated to share for other mothers who may second guess their instinct to keep their babies close. Who may be feeling the effects of a lack of sleep, or the constant nagging of well-meaning friends and family who are convincing them that their babies must learn to sleep on their own. I have so much to be thankful for in Bee. Her curiosity, bravery, introspective and exuberant nature, her health, our nursing relationship, and much more - but today there is nothing that I'm more thankful for than the family bed. Than the fact that I've listened to my instincts and kept her with me. Today, I feel confident in saying that if I hadn't, her cessation of breathing could have easily gone unnoticed and I'd have much less to be thankful for.