I thought I’d given birth to a Kung Fu master, but Gooru’s movements weren’t practiced kicks and jabs, they were inherent distress signals. On Gooru’s first night at home, his sixth night in the world, I nursed him to sleep and placed him on his back in the cot at the foot of our grown-up/soon-to-be family bed. The silence and stillness lasted long enough for my husband and I to climb into bed, and then Gooru began his arm circles and leg kicks: a newborn baby not highly trained in martial arts, but highly in tune with his needs.
For the five nights spent in hospital after he was born (common practice here in France), Gooru slept in my arms in the hospital bed. I slept during the day when my husband visited and could hold Gooru himself. I tried to get him in the baby box, honestly! And on the first night I sent him to the nursery, just so he could be watched for an hour (no more!) whilst I changed and rested. The nursery nurse brought a red-faced, howling Gooru back minutes later, saying “Gooru is angry!” On reflection, I realised that in her French accent she had simply dropped the ‘h’ sound from ‘hungry.’ “Gooru is hungry,” made a lot more sense. Anyway, I figured he could at least have a snugly welcome in hospital and then it would be straight to the comfy, cosy cot on arrival home.
“We’ll never sleep if he keeps doing that. Let’s just put him in our bed tonight.”
“Maybe he’s just hungry?”
“Isn’t it dangerous? I don’t want anything to happen to him.”
“Me neither. He can sleep in between us. Duvet no higher than our knees. Try not to move in your sleep.”
Solemnly we brought Gooru into our bed, as though we were breaking a sacred law.
But where is this law about keeping a newborn baby separated from his parents and in a cot written? Everywhere. From bad habit, to downright dangerous, I saw it everywhere. From family to friends to our very own paediatrician, I heard it everywhere. But we kept at co-sleeping, because Gooru, ever our teacher, spoke a little louder than the naysayers. He was teaching us to be mindful of his need for safe sleep, and mindful of our own needs to care for him.
Soon I began to find online communities of mothers and fathers whose babies were saying the same thing: “Do not put me down! I need to hear your heart beating. I need to feel your chest rising and falling. I need to know I’m safe.”
But were we doing it right? Was it safe enough? Doubt still crept in. I knew that surely a cave momma wouldn’t have put her brand-new darling in a separate tunnel, but the wisdom of how to sleep close to a baby was still shrouded from me, lost through millennia and buried beneath everything else I’d “learned” about from the “experts” on infant care.
So when I stumbled upon James McKenna and his Notre Dame sleep lab, I could breathe a sigh of relief. The good old Fighting Irish had set up co-sleeping experiments documenting all the physiological benefits of co-sleeping (bed sharing), weighing risks without fear-mongering, and giving safe guidelines.
Another on board with helping mommas achieve sweet dreams is Notre Dame professor Darcia Narvaez. I was pleased to see her response to the Daily Mail’s sensationalist article (do they have any other type though, really?) which offered tired momma’s the oh-so-helpful advice of leaving their loved ones to cry when they wake.
Gooru’s needs are ever-changing. He slept: on my chest, in the crook of my arm, at my breast. Now he nurses and squirms away to his cot, which is attached to our bed as a sidecar, as he settles into sleep. Does he ever keep me up at night? Well, yes, but gas, teething, fevers, and growth spurts are for a post on patience, not on sleep. Night-night for now.
Our bed is not a squash nor a squeeze!