the culture of sleep…

I was very well read during pregnancy. Living in a remote village gave me a lot of time to think about my body, my pregnancy and my baby. Without a community of women around me to share their stories I took to the internet and read pregnancy books online, I read academic articles, I read mommy-blogs, I lifted the information off the pages and swallowed it whole gorging myself on the words – desperate to connect with what was happening to me. And I did. I read the debates on all the topics and over the coming days, weeks, months and years I’m sure I will revisit the debates time and time again and I muddle my way through the days and nights with Bo.

I always knew that co-sleeping was something that I would dabble in. The thought of separating myself from my baby after her birth never sat right with me, I couldn’t imagine us being apart after spending so long together. But western culture can breed fear, can mark something that seems so natural. During my reading the SIDS warnings and the tragic tales that I read about co-sleeping instilled a fear in me…  started to doubt myself. I started to doubt my own instincts. But then I saw outlandish ads like the one below – and I started to question the government, indeed societies motives. How could something as natural as sleeping next to your child be so dammned by western society? Then I read more.

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There are many cultures all around the world, in fact most (if not all) of the Eastern world – where co-sleeping is not only the norm, but it is the done thing. To not sleep with your baby would seem an odd and cruel punishment for both mother and child. In Indonesia where my husband is from the household shifts after a child is born. The father moves to the couch, the living room or the front porch to give space to the mother and child. To ensure night-time safety and bonding through the darkest, quietest hours of the day where mother and infant exist together in a beautiful circle of sleep, wakeful moments and tender touch that nurtures both.

There is a group of small communities in Japan where it is local custom to treat new mothers as if they too had just been born for the very first month of motherhood. Instead of tending fields, labouring and working from dawn to dusk the first month after birth is spent swaddled in blankets, babe in arms. The mother is expected to do nothing more than breathe, sleep, nurse and recover. Women tend on her, give her strength and love and tenderness… much as mothers do to their newborn children. The culture has a deep respect for the work of bringing a child into the world and the woman who nurtured, grew and birthed the miracle of life is honoured, loved and nurtured back.

Every woman should be given the respect, love and tenderness that allows them to be a newborn mother. To be swaddled with their child. To recover. To allow both mother and child to stay intertwined.

After the birth of baby Bo I spent three nights in hospital. Each of those nights Bo slept in the single hospital bed, in my arms, against my skin. It wasn’t planned. It was what naturally occurred for us. I couldn’t bear to have her anywhere except against my body. And we slept like that, calmly, quietly and without fear… as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Now I find that we are so in tune, Bo and I, that I wake moments before she does in the middle of the night. I nurse her calmly and our night times have no tears or screams or noises apart from the gentle murmurs of her sleeping and the stories I whisper to her in the dark of the night. I trust myself as her mother to protect her, to nourish her and to nurture her. I can smell her sweet milky breath on my skin and feel her little fingers as they grasp at my skin finding comfort in my touch. In the dim light I watch her dark eyelashes as her eyes get heavy and she drifts into sleep.

The co-sleeping debate is rife with fear and loss and tragedy in our Western world and pro co-sleeping articles often cause huge uproar. I have no judgement for mothers who choose to sleep their baby by a routine, in a cot, in a separate room, but instead I celebrate them for their conviction and their patience. At the end of the day we all do what works for OUR family, what works for OUR children and what comes naturally to US.

But for my growing family, this is what is right for us, it is one of the first cultural decisions we have made and in many ways it was probably the easiest… woven into our lives so naturally, in the little room in the back of my mothers home, is a little bit of the culture we left behind when we arrived back on Australian shores.

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  • March 19, 2012 - 2:18 pm

    Elise - Some of my most beautiful moments with my baby girl have been while co-sleeping. I find it totally natural too, more natural than taking her to a cold crib…
    I get the ‘you’re creating bad habits’ comment so often… But I know that Molly will move into her own space when she is ready.
    High five us for doing what feels right for us!ReplyCancel

  • May 25, 2012 - 8:46 am

    If only there was a birth-plan for life after birth. « Inked in Colour - […] chose to co-sleep in the hospital. It wasn’t a conscious choice, it was just what happened naturally because we […]ReplyCancel

  • June 2, 2012 - 3:11 pm

    This village life. « Inked in Colour - […] is her optimal tummy-sleep position at all times. This is bringing up a whole new debacle in our co-sleeping adventure. One I am determined to […]ReplyCancel

  • June 8, 2012 - 5:49 pm

    mia - great blog! i also accompany my baby boy (now 13months old) at night until he falls alseep on my bed, breastfeeding and telling stories etc including hypnoparenting session just as he’s falling asleep. then i move him to his crib for safety reasons, so i can get out of the bedroom and have dinner, watch tv, hang out with hubby. normally i would wake up near dawn just moments before my son starts to fuss. i’d nurse him on my bed and co-sleep with him and hubby until morning, he goes back to sleep immediately after feeding. btw, love your photos 🙂ReplyCancel

  • July 4, 2012 - 6:42 am

    » Little feet. Gigantic Shoes. Inked in Colour - […] making her already awful catnapping, worse) in her porta-cot 75% of the time. We have always been a co-sleeping family, it was a cultural decision we made right from the very beginning. She slept with me in the little […]ReplyCancel

  • July 20, 2012 - 11:19 pm

    No or Co-sleep? - Momista Beginnings | Momista Beginnings - […] I came across a blog, Inked in Colour, that I enjoyed reading very much. The mother behind the posts is living her days in a village in Indonesia.  It’s interesting to see how another mother is doing, facing many of the same new realities that I now face, but in a village in another country.  I was drawn particularly to her post, “the culture of sleep…” for many reasons.  I absolutely relate to her sentiments on this issue and I felt so relieved to read words that I couldn’t come up with better, myself.  Her sharing her personal views and experiences made me feel so much more at peace with my decision to co-sleep and after reading what she had to say, I left my computer feeling more confident and more accepted, I guess.  Here are a few excerpts from her post that I found to be engaging. Click them to read her full post. “I always knew that co-sleeping was something that I would dabble in. The thought of separatin… […]ReplyCancel

  • November 24, 2012 - 9:37 am

    How we (mostly) conquered sleeplessness… | Inked in Colour - […] a great sleeper. But you guys know that already, because I’ve gone on and on and on about it. Here, here and here, and probably here too  – just to name a […]ReplyCancel

  • January 16, 2013 - 5:13 am

    Raising the bilingual child. | Inked in Colour - […] things.In many ways the Indonesian culture is a big part of her life still. Babywearing and co-sleeping are veyr important elements of Indonesian parenting that we (I) have always incorporated into our […]ReplyCancel

  • January 17, 2013 - 4:28 pm

    Dearest Dragon - Great blog!!! i now co-sleep with my daughter. My husband was against it at first, cause of SIDS and what not but now we co-sleep and i absolutely love it! i know what you mean also by ‘creating bad habits’ but you know what, when she grows up she will not want to co-sleep, she will not want to be held, she will not want to be cuddled.. etc etc.. so.. i am milking it. she will move when she is ready i think!
    love the blog btw..ReplyCancel

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