My baby girl’s head is close enough to kiss and I can feel her heartbeat against mine. Her head peacefully rests just under my collar bone and I never want to stop holding her this way. For the first time since she’s been born, I’m working at my desk and I’m at peace at the same time, because she’s right there and I know she’s safe and happy, her lips in a peaceful lopsided curve, her breath evenly inhaling and exhaling. My heart, which has been racing with anxiety, calms down and I can concentrate, kissing the downy head a few inches from my chin every few minutes. My baby’s in my beloved yellow baby carrier and she sleeps peacefully for two hours. This is amazing because little Anneka’s acid reflux kept her from sleeping for more than 30 minutes at a time for weeks during the day, and I marvel at her peace and contentment.
Another day, she’s having trouble settling down for a nap and I take her outside in the brilliant Colorado sunshine. She looks around thoughtfully and starts blinking in the bright light, eventually her head rests against me and she nods off, lulled to sleep by the rhythm of walking and the warmth of the sunshine. I want to walk for hours.
Late at night, I hear her baby cries and I force my eyelids open and stumble across the room, falling into her crib and almost falling down. I can’t take this anymore, I think. She’s awoken 3 times already and it’s only 11:30. I am even more exhausted because I wasn’t sleeping anyway. I was laying there wondering if she was still breathing. I pick up my little human whose cries sound as distressed as my heart feels and I lay down with her snuggled in my arms.
And I sleep. She nurses and sleeps as well. And I don’t get up until morning breaks through the window. She smiles up at me. This is how it should be, I think. Sleep. For both mother and baby. And nourishment for baby. And closeness. And peace.
I’m amazed, just two days after I sleep with her and hold her in the baby carrier, that she is a much calmer, happier baby, more content to lay on a blanket or in her swing by herself for longer stretches of time. “She is secure,” I think as I watch her new found chillness.
Shortly after this night, I get a cosleeper, so I can hold Anneka at night and put her in the cosleeper for an hour here and there if she gets restless or hot (which she sometimes does), and seems to need some space.
The baby trainers words on blogs haunt me, as do comments from strangers. “Your baby will still be sleeping with you when she’s 5.”
“So much work for you to hold her in the baby carrier while she naps! You should get her used to the crib.”
And from friends.
“She will never learn to sleep alone if she’s used to being next to you.”
But I don’t let fear of the future keep me from doing what feels right to me as a Mother now. And I cherish every minute of the closeness.
At about 4 months, Anneka’s naps in the Lille baby become less settled. Instead of sleeping for 2 hours, she sleeps for only 30 minutes, then peers out at me with curious eyes. I have to be increasingly quiet, too. Every word I say could wake her up; it used to be that the sound of my voice used to soothe her. Every dish rattle, everything anybody else said to me, woke her up. But her naps were even shorter in a crib or swing. “Here it comes.” I thought. “The dreaded transition.”
But to my surprise, the dreaded transition lasts less than a week. Each time Anneka napped in her crib, her naps get longer. Rather than stressing over trying to get her back to sleep when she wakes up after a very short sleep cycle, I just greet her warmly and hold her awhile. I think she decided a crib wasn’t a bad place to sleep since I was always around the corner. I loved it when I found her up doing a baby pushup, gazing around the room, content rather than panicky.
That brings me to one of the most beautiful things about “attachment parenting,” which could be called responsive or connective parenting. You respect your baby’s unique temperament and ability to grow to independence on her own. You realize that she will grow out of the precious time of dependency on your closeness all too quickly. I mourned the loss of the Lille baby nap and at the same time that I welcomed new spans of time in which to make a cup of tea, talk to other people, give Nate a hug, etc.
I find the same thing happening with her night time sleeping. Sometimes I wake to her tossing her head, trying to find an unmoving and cool place on which to lay it. It’s then that I pick her up and put her in the co-sleeper with a little kiss and an “I love you.” She sighs or makes a little noise and rests her head peacefully. I can tell she likes it.
But when she was 2 months? We needed each other. She needed the closeness of her mother’s heartbeat, and I needed to know she was still breathing. I missed her, this baby I had carried for 9 months, and without her, I would lay in the darkness waiting for her to cry with worry in my heart. It was almost a relief when she cried. I welcomed getting to pick her up.
We are too quick to wish our children into independence. In fact, I find many parenting styles that are pushed on parents today pressure them into pushing their children into it before the fourth trimester is up.
“She’ll be spoiled if you hold her too much.”
“She’ll never learn to sleep on her own if you don’t stop sleeping with her.”
“He’s 10 months and still getting up to nurse? Why don’t you make him stop?”
Then when they are teenagers, we want just the opposite. Parents look back with fondness on the days their children wanted to snuggle, wanted connection, longed for closeness.
In the touching book “The No Cry Sleep Solution,” Elizabeth Pantley asks you to ask yourself if you mind that your baby sleeps with you, gets up to nurse more often than the neighbor’s baby, needs to be held and soothed in a baby carrier an hour or three a day. Many times, she points out, the Mother finds the answer is no. She doesn’t mind. She just feels like she is a failing Mother if she doesn’t get her baby to sleep through the night at 4 months or self-soothe to sleep on his or her own.
In the examples I’ve given, I find that Anneka is ready for the next step almost before I’m ready, or, at least, one part of me. And I expect that’s the way it will always be. She’ll say, “Mom, I can do this.” And I’ll say, “Okay, if you’re sure.” And I’ll watch her grow into a beautiful, strong young woman, rooted in the security of love and unhurried nurturing, knowing she was always welcome closeby.