Five minutes before I had to leave for work, my daughter woke, crying, likely because she didn’t find me next to her. I am always in a hurry in the morning. Yet, although I didn’t have much time, I went into the bedroom; my husband waved me away, but I wanted to nurse her to see if she’d go back to sleep.
Normally, I would have been keeping one eye on my watch, worried I’d miss my bus, but today I had a realization. My daughter was going to miss me while I was at work, just as I miss her. This moment was a gift.
She won’t always need me. She won’t always miss cuddling with me or cry when I leave for work. But here and now she does.
These are not epiphanies, I know, but my grasp on them are deeper than before. See, like most new parents, my partner and I have different approaches and disagree at times, primarily about how she goes to sleep. These disagreements weren’t always there. In the beginning, she would only fall asleep if we rocked her and patted her on the back (not lightly either), and then would stay asleep longest while on our shoulder or chests. So we took turns sleeping with her in our reclining sofa.
Neither of us questioned this routine. Put her in a crib to cry? If my husband considered this, he never hinted. It wasn’t a case of Dr. Ferber in a crib one corner of a dark room, screaming to no response and Dr. Sears in another part of the room, being nursed to sleep in a giant family bed. Although it may have felt like this at times. Overall, we were/are pragmatic, and doing what we thought was best for her. I mean, when I was pregnant, I had always imagined her going to sleep in the crib or cosleeper we bought. The circumstances and her strong personality just didn’t fit. I often tell my husband, if she slept through the night, or went to bed easily, she’d be the perfect child, and perfection doesn’t exist.
Weeks and months passed, and she goes to sleep more easily, in our bed and not on our shoulders, but still likes being rocked if she is having a hard time falling asleep. With teething and her ambitions, it’s no surprise to me she is a toss-n-turner. Experts in the field often say when a baby is about to make leaps, their sleep is interrupted, and my little simcha has been doing cartwheels.
But, her sleep is still a topic. It’s still something one of us is trying to deal with each night. We have tried, at my husband’s request, getting her to sleep parts of the night in a crib. It doesn’t make her sleep through the night or fall asleep on her own, but it does give her a place to wind down until she tells me she’s ready to be nursed to sleep (yes, she cues me).
And then yesterday in the car, she was crying, wanting to fall asleep but wanting or needing to nurse to do so. And the remark was made that this was a “sleep association”. Yes, nursing is. But must that automatically have a negative connotation? Must my daughter who is so independent during the day also be fully independent at night? Should the “association” of sleep and nursing equate crutch? Can it not signify love, comfort, cuddling and our relationship ushering her into dream time? Why shouldn’t she want her mom there? I’m happy to “parent” her to sleep, as some put it. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, I miss the days of sleeping through the night (although I didn’t have that during pregnancy either). But there were days when I gladly gave up sleep to a good novel, movie, concert, or all-nighter. Why shouldn’t I do the same for her? Should I worry she will need me to sneak into her dorm room to nurse her to sleep then too?
It seems to me that the concept of sleep associations is only negative when a child needs us, as if reliance on others for something like sleep is a bad skill and a sign of weakness because it impedes my life. It makes me wonder if this was a big concern for early man. It’s laughable to imagine the scenarios. Of course not. It’s only in cultures like ours. I don’t criticize anyone who places their child in a crib, or even let’s them cry a tiny bit. Everyone has their own values. But I also want to be understood as someone who is choosing to do this for benefits I see, not simply because I couldn’t find a better solution.
So, I choose instead to see these moments as gifts. As extra time I get to be there for her, because I won’t always have that option. My daughter will sleep through the night unassisted, just like I did, eventually. I’m not in a hurry.