I have a secret. It is something I don’t really talk about, especially to other parents. If the topic ever comes up, I try my best to find ways to spin the situation to avoid judgmental glares. I downplay it and laugh it off. My secret: I still co-sleep with my 5-year-old daughter.
It is my fault. I created this habit. Until my daughter was about 22 months, she went to bed in her crib by herself, no problem. We were so lucky. Most parents would do anything to have a toddler that was so easy-going in that way. But then one day everything changed.
My daughter was born with a serious congenital heart defect and had undergone two open-heart surgeries by the time she was 8 months old. Our family has been through some extremely scary times together because of this. We watched our newborn baby girl be immediately intubated and whisked off to the NICU, minutes after being born. We witnessed her at hours old being transferred by ambulance to a cardiac intensive care unit in another state. We sat with her every day during her 66 day hospital stay. We cried together as she was taken into major surgery, wondering what the outcome would be. Twice. At 18 months old, we stood by as emergency room doctors prepared her for transfer by helicopter to a children’s hospital when she had severe pneumonia. We watched. We worried. We waited so many times, hoping everything would be okay. That she would be okay.
When our daughter was 22 months old, we found ourselves preparing yet again for her to go through another cardiac procedure. We did not know what exactly the procedure would be this time, but we knew that, in all likelihood, it would be another open-heart surgery. A third surgery and she was not even 2 years old. It wasn’t fair! It was at this time that I made a realization that life is short. I longed to cuddle my baby girl as she slept. To make the most of our time together. If, God forbid, anything happened during her next procedure I would have regretted not spending every possible moment with her. That is when we started co-sleeping.
Thankfully the procedure was successful and the doctors were able to delay the need for her third open-heart surgery. Now almost four years later she is still doing well, although we do know that another surgery looms sometime in our future.
Even though life went back to “normal” as we know it after that last medical intervention, we continued the co-sleeping arrangement. There are many times that I feel the social pressure to have our daughter sleep in her own room in the beautiful “big girl” bed we bought her last summer. We have attempted many, many times to make the transition, but with no success. The process is exhausting and emotional, often resulting in tears. And, in the end, we almost always end up giving in during the wee hours of the night anyway.
But, here’s the thing. I don’t want to stop co-sleeping. I love it as much as my daughter does. We both sleep so much more soundly when we are together. We wake up happier, and I believe it even has a positive impact on her behavior for the day. I think we both feel a sense of calm being near one another.
I truly believe that when she is ready, the transition will be easy. I do not expect to be co-sleeping with a teenager. When the time is right, she will move back into her “big girl” bed.
For now I feel that if this is what we are both comfortable with, we will continue. It is so very true that time is fleeting and our children will only be young once. I will cherish this time that I get to fall asleep to the soft, steady sound of her breathing. I will treasure the mornings waking up next to her sweet, little face. I will not take for granted this precious time we have together. Because, life is short.