“Cosleeping scientific studies negative effects.”
I typed it into Google, chewed my lip and reviewed the results.
A few weeks prior, my once-wonderful sleeper refused to sleep unless she was strapped to me or next to me in our bed. In the night she would sometimes reach out frantically in her sleep, feel my body or face and instantly relax. I knew from her cues and from whatever motherly intuition I’d gained over the previous 6 months that cosleeping was what she needed at that point in her development.
The problem was this: years before that writhing, pink ball of life-changing flesh was placed on my chest one morning in July, I had drawn the line on only one thing. We would not cosleep.
Looking through the clouded lens of the last seven months, I honestly don’t remember why I was so dead-set against it. I hadn’t really said “never” to anything else—everything I dared to say aloud was followed up with “but of course it could change once she’s here.” Maybe it was an attempt to claim control over an outcome that was completely foreign to me. Perhaps I was just fulfilling my role as the stereotypical non-parent who talks in certainties about things she doesn’t understand.
Either way, as babies are known to do, she flipped the proverbial tables on any and all plans. At six months, my little monster clung tighter and tighter and cosleeping just sort of flowed naturally from there. And what surprised me most of all was that I even kind of liked it.
Back to my Google search. The results fell into two categories: heavily emotional or heavily fearful, plenty of smugness but no citations nor context to be found. I had known what the results would say, because I’d read it all before; but somewhere in between the lines of text, perhaps next to the ads for bassinets and sleep consultants, I hoped to find something I had yet to come across.
I wanted permission to continue cosleeping and to continue moving forward with intuition (read: whatever the hell worked in the moment). I wanted someone to tell me, “what you’re doing is 100% right. It’s exactly what you should be doing. Your child will not suffer any ill effects and she will not be sleeping in your bed the night before her high school graduation.”
In short, not only did I want someone to tell me that I was doing the right thing in the present, I wanted that person to look into the future and tell me that my actions were free of negative consequences.
I wanted to be absolved of the responsibility of difficult decisions.
The fact was, of course, that no one could actually give me what I was looking for. Even with the assurances from anonymous online attachment parents, the tepid approval of my daughter’s pediatrician, and the noncommittal “whatever works!” from the other sleep-deprived parents I asked about it, no one could tell me what was right for me or my daughter. The decisions were my husband’s and mine alone; good or bad, the consequences were ours to bear.
There are as many experiences of parenthood as there are parents, and outside of the obvious stuff like neglect or abuse, there simply is no one script that we can all follow to ensure success, however defined.
As with many of the other parts of adulthood, I just don’t feel qualified to be the one making such important decisions. I often wonder when Amelia’s real mother is coming to pick her up. Some days I feel like a 16-year-old in the body and house of a real live adult. Other days I suspect that I missed out on some class that other parents took---a class about being confident and principled in your parenting choices. Even when the other parents say they’re winging it, something in my head tells me that they are just being nice and that I am winging it the most. I don’t know how to feel confident. I don’t know how to know that I’m doing the right thing or at least an acceptable thing.
It’s probably clear by this point that I’ve never been a confident or decisive person. Parenthood in particular has presented a unique challenge to me in that the ground is constantly shifting and will continue to shift every second of every day. Since neither parenthood nor my confidence will change in the immediate future, I realized that the only thing to do was what many others have done before me: embrace the art of winging it. Fake it til I make it. Cosleep one day; sleep train the next. Wean one day and un-wean the next. Babywear one day; use the exersaucer the next.
Having a child is deep, painful, beautiful, visceral. It simply wouldn’t have the same magic if we knew the outcome of every decision or if we knew the people our children would become as a result of our actions. It’s terrifying to realize that the only people responsible for making decisions, both large and small, are me and my husband. It’s terrifying to let go of the control we think we have and launch headfirst into the unknown. But life is full of leaps, and to avoid them is to avoid the very chaos that makes life worth living.
So for the time being, until my daughter grows older and I get to relish the fruits of our haphazard labor, I’m working against everything in my nature to embrace the chaos and the insecurity.
Even if that means faking it.
Guest post written by Caitlin Abrams. Caitlin is a twenty-almost-thirty-something living in New England with her husband, infant daughter, and needy Husky mix. She writes about life stuff on her blog Caitlin, etc. and about mom stuff on A Good Enough Mother, with some crossover in between. When she isn't making silly noises to keep her daughter from screaming, she enjoys taking pictures, worrying about stuff she can't control, napping alone, being warm, and applying too much chapstick.
Photo by Kandice Breinholt Photography.