My husband and I have always had a strict “no babies in our room” rule. Ever since the night we got home from the hospital with our daughter, she slept in a crib in her own room. Sure, I had to get out of bed a bunch in those early weeks to breastfeed her in the night, but it was fine. For us, a part of respecting our marriage is to have this boundary: Mummy and Daddy’s bed is ours.
We skated along beautifully with this routine for 2-and-a-half years. We’d cuddle and read stories in our bed in the evenings. I’d take the toddler to her room and plop her in her crib for a blissful night sleep. Done. Then, one day, it stopped.
As I heaved her in, my now-pregnant belly making the process more laborious, she said, “No!” and launched herself back into my arms. To her rocking chair we went. When she was finally asleep in my arms, I tiptoed across the room and tried again. “NO!!!!!” she screamed, jerking herself awake. Finally after midnight, I had a successful arms-to-crib transfer.
The next night, we weren’t so lucky. Just as I had settled in to catch up on my cheesy reality TV shows, our bedroom door creaked open and she toddled in with, “Hi, Mummy.” It took me a second to realise that the only way she could have gotten there was to have climbed out of her crib. Crap!
Our plan of keeping her in her crib until her third birthday, and having the new baby in a bassinet the first few months, was over. The next morning, we ventured out to procure her a big-girl bed.
It was impossible to experience this sequence of events without noting my bulging midsection and her timely realisation that a baby sibling was on its way. Just a week earlier, she’d started crying out of nowhere in the car. We finally connected it to the fact that my husband’s hand was resting on my stomach.
To make up for the cruelty of bringing a new sister into her life, we went all out making the “big girl bed” special. A fortune in Pottery Barn bedding and decor later, her room was transformed into a magical place that any little girl would be thrilled to call hers.
Well, any little girl except ours. Two months later, we’re still struggling. While she loves her room by day, the nights are tough. Getting her to fall asleep in her bed takes hours. Around 3 a.m. daily, I’m jolted awake as she climbs up over my body into the middle of our bed, having left her own for the comfort of ours.
For weeks, I panicked. Everything we’d done to set up a sleep schedule was out the window. Over two years of gentle methods that truly worked, with plenty of sleep for the whole family, was ending. Soon, we’d be adding a newborn I plan to breastfeed, and the thought, I’ll never sleep again, played over and over in my mind.
I cried, vented to friends, reached out to sleep consultants, and polled every mum group I’m in. Advice varied from embracing the bed-share until the end of time to padlocking her door and letting her scream all night. None of it was a good fit for us.
My husband and I tried completely eliminating sugar and shortening her naps. We promised all sorts of rewards should she stay the whole night in her bed. He held my shoulders as I wept about all the coming change and how this unwelcome 3 a.m. guest was going to annihilate any promise I have of ever shutting my eyes again.
And as we searched for answers, on she went in her pattern — sleeping several hours in her own bed, relocating in the early morning to ours, and falling instantly back to sleep, only to wake when I did in the morning.
Last week, we ventured out on a rare date night. I waddled into our favourite Greek restaurant, ordered a seltzer, and all of a sudden was taken over by an epiphany. I didn’t even plan the words as they came out, but I told my husband a version of the following:
Our daughter is only 2. We might have a new baby coming in a matter of weeks, but she is still a baby herself. What she’s doing isn’t naughty or intentionally stress-inducing. She’s barely awake when she wanders in and climbs into our bed. It is the actualisation of a wordless need that she has right now, something she can’t express to us in any other way.
Curling up in between her parents to finish out the night is a way to feel close to us in a time when her little mind isn’t sure how things will be with the new baby. (While two is a hard age to gauge comprehension, she’s made it clear she knows there is a “baby sissy” coming soon).
How long is she going to need us like this? Soon she’ll be 3 and then 4… one day she’ll turn from me when I reach for a hug. At a certain point, the thought of sleeping with her parents will be a hard “no.” Why push her away? Why force something to change when it isn’t really a problem? I’m such a planner, and this is against the way I had always seen things, but it isn’t bad, per se, it’s just different. I’m not okay with it happening forever, but for now is fine.
Suddenly, it was like I could breathe again. I didn’t feel so panicked about this new pattern and instead found a new way of looking at it. We are all sleeping. It might not be a straight-through-the-night sleep, but it’s a decent collection of hours.
He agreed, and on we go. It’s been about a month of the late-night bed-hopping routine and I’ve actually come to enjoy waking to the whispers of “Mummy. Mummy. I ready!” in my ear. I know that when the baby comes, things will change yet again. And I’m now accepting that I won’t know what those changes will be until she’s here. Who knows, maybe with all the chaos of breastfeeding and middle-of-the-night crying, both the toddler and my husband will jump ship and end up in her room with him on the trundle beneath her?
Whatever happens next, I’m armed with a new perspective. It seems this obsessively over-planning, highly organised Virgo has learned to bend a bit. If there was ever a place for that to happen, at home with the kids is the best one I can think of.