Bonding at Bedtime
This ad I saw recently has been eating away at me. A wonderful story we recently published in our first issue of Rethinking Everything PARENT by Dayna Martin on her family bed has spurred me to chime in.
I was a well educated, well researched soon-to-be-mom at age 30, planning for a home birth, a 6 month leave of absence and then a paid nanny, and … are you ready? … a fantasy Skinner box for my baby. What’s that? Many of you have heard of a man named B.F. Skinner, the founder of behavioral psychology. When I was in college his theories were all the rage. Skinner had developed a climate controlled, stimulating cage of sorts for his daughter that offered up music, sites, regular feedings … all without any human interaction! What a miracle! Since I considered myself to be one of the academically enlightened, I was going to do the same!
My home birth doctor (midwifery was illegal in my state and I could only find one doctor who was willing to come to my home for my birth) listened to my plans for a Skinner box during one of my prenatal visits. As gently as he could muster (he must have been shocked and outraged), he responded with, “Barbara, your baby does not need a Skinner box. In fact your baby does not even need a crib. Your baby needs your arms to hold him, your voice to sing to him, your bed to share with him.” Huh? But doctor, you’re messing up all my plans.
When my son was born, peacefully and lovingly at home, my (academic) world shattered. I knew I would never go back to a job, I knew that everything I thought I knew was about to be challenged. My son never slept in a crib.
As each of my children came into our lives, they shared our family bed. For years I slept like a sardine, with children and husband smashed to my sides, my arms in a straight line over my head. Our times in bed with each other were among the most profoundly bonding times we shared. For years my son fell asleep holding on to his dad’s ear. For 11 years of breastfeeding I lost virtually no sleep because it was so easy and natural to nurse a child who slept right next to me. Our mornings were glorious, waking and cuddling and laughing and reading and planning our breakfasts and days together. Our nighttimes were easy with nary a traumatic ‘bedtime’ for anyone, as we headed for bed together, cuddling and reading and rehashing the day, drifting off to restful sleep in the comfort of each other’s arms. Who would say no to this?
More and more parents I know are recognizing the value of and planning for the family bed. Also academically inclined and an antepartum, labor and delivery, and postpartum nurse, I went with the current research and medical recommendations when my children were born. Unfortunately, the medical research that was/is accepted was/is oftentimes based in the ‘worst case scenario’ rather than actual evidence. Co-sleeping was one of the many ways that my children helped to change my perspective, plans, and actions according to what was natural and nurturing versus the fear-based, academically UNsupported norm. My first child slept on either my or my husband’s chest or in our arms because there was no other way he would sleep! It was a must for us. We weren’t rethinking really. We were getting by. As with all second children, our daughter benefitted from our increased comfort of going with the flow. While we no longer worried that they would sleep with us forever or that we were ‘giving in’ to bad habits, we still worried about SIDS. My enlightening birth experiences caused me to seek a new employer during my maternity leave with my daughter. I sought nursing work in which I could facilitate and support births in a more holistic, natural, family-focused way. Why couldn’t everyone have the hands-off hospital birth I had? (Homebirth hadn’t even entered my thoughts to that point.) That was when I discovered the evidence-based research on co-sleeping. This hospital made it part of our jobs as nurses to review protocols and analyze research. We re-wrote standard practice to reflect evidence-based research! We educated people on how to co-sleep safely and helped new parents to recognize the value of sharing sleep with their newborns. I remember telling each and every couple in my childbirth preparation classes about co-sleeping and joking that their adult child wouldn’t throw their keys on the nightstand and hop into bed with them. It was a great way to break the ice and help parents to focus on the moment rather than borrowing trouble with assumptions of the future.
Both of our children transitioned to bedrooms with varying degrees of comfort. They would come and go from our bed, sleep in the playroom together, or set up mattresses on the floor in our room. We are the closest to a family bed now than we’ve ever been, really. You see, for the last year and a half, we’ve lived in a motorhome. The allotted bed space fit our full-size home mattress perfectly but the mattress doesn’t fit all of us very well. The kids wanted their own space so my husband built two 6 1/2 foot long bunks into the closet area. So we have a family bedroom. Our kids sleep 18″ to my left in our room. They have curtains to create their own ‘rooms’ as desired. My daughter does quite often while my son uses the curtain only rarely. I love waking in the night to my daughter’s sleep-talking, to help a sleepy child to the bathroom, soothe a bad dream, or cuddle. Our bed is piled in the mornings with all of us and our pup as we wake slowly and discuss the day ahead. Our desire to be together is functional in this small space but I often question the necessity of the traditional desire for a large home and how the space is allotted. When we were in a big home, we still used only slightly more than our current living space.
Now I must go research this Skinner box. It sounds horrifying! Oh, how far we can come with rethinking.
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