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The Family Bed is Not Just For Babies

June 6, 2011

The Family Bed is Not Just For Babies

Genny White

Last week found me hustling in to our home with groceries in tow at a killer sprint to get a meal on the table and the groceries put away before the bewitching hour when the  Man of the house comes home. I am met at the door by son # 1 with game boy in hand. Hello Mother, he says how was your day? Let me give you a hand with those groceries, are there any more in the car? He asks. “No,” I answer depositing my burden down on the living room floor, for the adolescent man child to gather up and take to the kitchen.

“Have you seen your brother yet?” I ask.

“Yeah,” is his response, with “Zing Chirp” resonating from the hand held electronic game? “I saw him come home from school.”

We’ll where is he,” I ask.

“I don’t know. Do you want me to put these groceries away?”

“No, I comment. “I was thinking what a nice center piece they would make left on the kitchen table. OF course I want you to put them away.” I move to the back of the house and go into my bedroom and low what should appear to my eyes but son # 2,  Johnny Thunder with his signature beanie, lying on my meticulously made bed.

“What are you doing on my bed,” I ask. I can feel the indignation arising in my soul. ”

Sleeping,” he says groggily.

“We’ll don’t you have your own bed?”

“Yeah, I do,” he says, “but your’s is bigger, it is softer and has more comfy. I like yours better.”

Lots of things are going through my mind — the decorum of my duly appointed master bedroom has been defiled, has he no respect? I quickly put on the breaks and remember the logic of John Irving in The World According to Garp; Irving writes that it is quite possible that the adolescent needs the parent even more than the infant. I reason to myself, I can see where my son is. I can see what he is doing, and he is in my bed in my home not in somebody else’s bed at someone else’s home.

“Isaiah,” I say.

“Yes Mommies,” he replies.

“Carry out the trash,” I say, “and don’t forget to put fresh trash liners in. Up the ever-increasing bean sprout jumps. I have to ask myself how did I arrive, here to have an adolescent in my bed. He is just following in the steps of his sisters.

It all started 24 years ago when I was pregnant while living in a duplex in Rockport, MA. Phillip and I were expecting our first child, and we were wondering where we would put our soon-to-be-born baby to sleep. We read what Bill Sears had to say about the family bed, and I was intrigued with the nurturing aspects offered by shared sleeping, Phillip was interested in the cost savings offered by this arrangement now with the financial obligation of securing a crib drooped so we agreed and moved forward with our decision to sleep with our baby. Julia was born prematurely and by caesarean section. I was too heavily sedated in the first days to sleep with Julia, but Phillip was in love with his baby girl and as he slept in the recliner the hospital provided to be by our bedside. Phillip would scoop little Julia up in his arms and gently swaddle her with blankets and then plop himself down on the recliner with Julia resting under his chin. Nurses would come in to perform there perfunctory checks. Some would turn a blind eye to this man sleeping with his child but there was at least one Nurse Ratchet who scolded Phillip sternly on the dangers of sleeping with a baby. Phillip, in his character-like style, diffused the situation with humor as he arose to put his baby back into the isolate, he said, “I was just trying to be like one of those teddy bears you have in the nursery the ones with the beating heart. ” He slid back under the blanket on the recliner. The door closed.

One, Mississippi, two Mississippi three Mississippi — the door was closed and Ratchet was gone. Up Phillip sprang and gathering his baby girl in his arms; he and Julia settled down to their most amenable sleeping arrangement. Eventually, I was to go home and for a while Julia slept right on my chest on top of my own beating heart until she was so big that she began crushing by chest, and then she switched to sleeping in the crook of my arm. This is how the sleeping in the bed had all began. Prior to reading on the subject of shared sleep my only understanding of the family bed had arisen from my own family’s history. My Grandmother told a story that when she was a toddler that she and her sisters and parents bed down together in the same bed when one night her father who at that time was known to get soused, stumbled home drunk one night and fell across the bed diagonally such that with his big timber legs and ox-like shoulders his wife and children were forsaken to sleep on the floor. In the morning when he awoke he had his proverbial moment of reckoning seeing my grandmother as a toddler laying on the cold floor along side his wife and other children.  This broke the man and he never had another drink.

Research has demonstrated that sleeping with your baby is safe with the caveat that you are not drinking alcohol or using drugs. These are contraindications for shared sleep, otherwise it is safe. And I know that this arrangement did save one of my four children’s lives. Isaiah was only just a few weeks old when on one November morning in Costa Mesa, CA, in the twilight of the morning before the sun came up, I awakened to the most eerie silence: Isaiah, the babe in my arms, was not breathing, and I sat up and glancing down at my child, viewing him from the moon beans of light pouring in from the window, did I see him not moving and second by second becoming more blue. I grabbed that child and with wild and swift movements did take him to the bathroom floor. I knew that I would need a hard surface to begin compressions and mouth to mouth.  As my mind raced, I reasoned I would give a couple of breaths and then scream to my husband to call 911. I threw him down and as his back hit the floor, only then did he  stir and start to breathe on his own again.  His color did improve and later that day as the sun came up, and we were on the road driving to our pediatrician. What did he have to say?

“Genny, I am so glad that you were sleeping with him.”

We have found that the family bed is not just for babies. When one thinks about the critical concept of rest one must hold on to the principal that where ever, however one gets the best rest is the place where one should sleep. When our children have been ill or injured they have returned to the family bed.  One of our daughters at 6 was attacked by an Alaskan Husky and underwent two plastic surgeries.  She returned back into our bed during her recovery.  We were amazed at the quality and speed of her recovery.

I also recall quite visibly in the days that followed our second daughter’s death. I stepped out of the house for some fresh air trying to find my solace in the storm. I could not take the anger, the rage, the unquenchable sorrow all around me at the violence and suddenness of her death. I retreated from this storm for a stroll in the cold night’s air, as I returned home I came in to my living room where I found the sofa had been opened into a bed and there my three children lay 21, 15 and 13, with arms around each other they lay head to head sleeping on that bed. I quietly removed my shoes and slid in under the covers with my brood. “Goodnight, Momma,” my eldest daughter did say. There we slept the whole night through. As we rested, though our souls were fractured, we reached out to each other,  touching and connecting, healing ourselves during this most horrible ordeal — back in our family bed.

Some may wonder and ask me about why I am interested in co-sleeping and sharing the family bed about my husband’s and my intimacy? We’ll I ask you to use the same creativity and imagination that landed you in the parents to be category in the first place. There are sofas and there are guest bedrooms, in the summer there are tents outside. In winter there are playrooms and  nurseries, if your children aren’t sleeping there.

Parenting is all about keeping your child alive and around,  to become the next generation. It is about being there, nurturing and taking care of your children. The Family Bed is a very fine spot to start. While others are wondering how to get there adult kids out of their home, I am stuck wondering how I am going to get mine out of my bed. On second thought, however, I would rather him find his need for nurture here rather than some where else.

“Isaiah don’t forget to carry out the trash.”

“Yes, Mom.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 4, 2013 5:25 pm

    Enjoyed this! We still welcome our five year old into our bed in the morning for snuggles before the day starts or after a nightmare, etc. so many parents positively refuse to let their kids in their bed; we co-slept off and on and it worked great for all of us. Those will be some of my most heart warming memories!

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