Three kids and numerous gray hairs ago, I was a new mom. I was emotionally and physically pained from a traumatic delivery, terrified of falling asleep with my tiny infant, emotionally incapable of putting her down for more than a moment without feeling tidal waves of mom guilt, I was petrified of returning to work, but — mostly — I was exhausted. I was the kind of tired that makes jetlag seem like a yawn. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t sleep.
I remember the pediatrician telling my husband and I that within a month, our tiny daughter should begin sleeping better. That timeframe sounded like a death sentence. How could someone live on so little sleep?
Little did I realize that I was my own worst enemy. I had read articles and watched news clips warning against cosleeping. I was convinced that keeping myself awake during my every-90-minute nighttime nursing sessions would keep my daughter safe. I didn’t process, amidst the mom guilt and first-time-mom anxiety, that there were alternatives. My mother, my friends… they all gave me advice but I silenced it all with my self-inflicted guilt and fear.
Then, I began sleepwalking, having “baby in peril” dreams so vivid that one night I awoke to find myself tearing a hole in my foam pillow because I “had to rescue my baby from inside the pillow.” Was this really safer than cosleeping? Was this really healthy?
It wasn’t until my second child — 20.5 months later — that I realized how harmful I’d been to myself. I learned to cosleep just to feed then pop baby back into his own sidecar bed. I learned that I could put baby down to prepare meals, I learned germs aren’t the scariest things, and that a healthy baby can handle a stuffy nose and a sticky todder hug. I learned to calm down, to lower my impossible standards. I learned that baby needs me to be healthy and happy so I could be a good caretaker. However, I had to learn this on my own. I had to learn it through living it.
As much as I’d love to save every new parent from the pains and mistakes I experienced, I know my advice would be shunned. Parenting is a learning curve. It’s messy and beautiful and flawed and humbling. We’re all learning our way through it, navigating the ever-changing terrain.
All I can do is be a listening ear, a source of support, and an honest cohort to my fellow parents. No glazing over the unglamorous with false perfection. No pretending, no romanticizing… just candor. We’re in this together!