The end of the family bed

March 9, 2015

The night after Dot was born, I was holding her, half asleep, and looked down at her face to see her little mouth gaping open, full of blood. It was part dream, part hallucination, and when I jerked fully awake, I could see she was fine. Perfectly fine. No blood, no calamity, just steady breathing and the little open mouth of a newborn baby sleeping on her mama’s chest. Those first few months, I was overwhelmed by love and happiness. I also saw death behind every corner, lurking at the bottom of staircases, in cars, on the other side of the door. What made this worse was that I knew, as most parents who’ve lost children know, how little I could control. I anxiously read parenting books and breathed a sigh of relief every time we passed another month where SIDS tends to be more likely.

It is perhaps fitting, perhaps some sort of lesson the universe is trying to teach me, that Dot was precociously mobile, active, and seems to be completely without fear. From the moment she could roll over, she began exploring the world and I began trying to restrain my protective instincts so that I didn’t instill my own fears into her wee little self. She hit the playgrounds at a run as soon as she was one. She went down the frighteningly tall metal slide at our favorite park before she was two, and wanted to do it again and again. Inside, she climbed the shelves, the table, the counters, the cat tree, and it felt like life was a continuous discussion about “safe choices” for approximately two years.

But there was always bedtime, at the end of each day, when my adventurer would transform into a snuggling and clinging sleepy girl. We’d read stories and then she would fall asleep in the middle of our family bed. We hadn’t intended to have a family bed. Before Dot was born, I thought that people who did that were at best indulgent and at worst, misguided. But both N and I found we needed to be able to reach out and feel her breathing throughout the night, and keeping her in the bed with us felt right.

As anyone who frowns on co-sleeping would probably tell you, this set up a long-term pattern of sleep behavior. Other parents put their kids to bed and then stayed up to talk, catch up, watch a bit of television, finish the dishes. We pretty much all went to bed at once. N and I missed the intimacy of our own bed (not just the sex, but the spooning and snuggling) and being able to have adult bedtimes. Last week, I mentioned that Dot would probably sleep in her own bed if we had the sort of dog that would sleep with her, and I could actually hear N thinking that maybe we should get a dog even though we are no where near ready for dog ownership.

But it is sweet, too, so sweet. I think many people don’t understand that, how lovely it can be to wake up with a small body half-way sprawled over your own, or to hear a sleepy “mama” or “dada” right before she snuggles into you, pulling your arm around her. Hearing her whisper stories at night as she drifts off, listening to her dreams in the morning. Perhaps it is indulgent, but I think we were indulging ourselves more than anyone, and I think we’d earned the right to do that.

Last night, Dot fell asleep in her own bed and slept there all night. It was her idea. She chose a stack of picture books and decided to read them by herself. Then we dimmed the lights and she and I played our “describing game,” where we take turns describing people, things, and animals and then guessing what they are. Then I gave her a hug and kiss and went to sit in the bedroom we used to share, listening anxiously to make sure she was okay. She tossed and turned for a few minutes and mentioned that it was hard, going to sleep. I told her that it had only been a few minutes and that she didn’t need to rush. And then silence descended and when I peeked in she was asleep.

N came home late, curled around me in the bed and whispered, “Wow! Wow.”

This morning she woke at six, and ran into our bed, burrowing right into the middle and telling us how awake she was. I don’t know if this is going to be a pattern yet, but it feels like it’s time, like she’s ready. We’re pouring on the praise. I’m happy and also a bit melancholy – she moves fast, so nighttime is sometimes the only time I get to cuddle with her, to pretend that I’m keeping her warm and safe, to hold on to the part of her that will always be my baby. I’m bad at letting go of things, but I’m putting that longing away, in the back of my mind, so that I can leave more space for the part of me that is just so amazed at how she’s growing up.

Also, wow. Wow.



  1. I love this post for so many reasons, not least because we have found ourselves smack in the middle of a family bed and I have all kinds of mixed feelings about it. I miss the things you mention–adult time–but I keep thinking of how temporary, how fleeting these days (and nights) really are. And yes, those sleepy snuggles are so sweet. And yet! The idea of my daughter going to bed on her own is kind of awesome.

  2. I have no experience with family beds (obviously), but it does seem that Dot is growing up. 🙂 So good to see a post from you in my reader!

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