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.
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.