Once upon a time I could spread out like a king in my king-size. I would curl around the missus whenever the fancy took, lie in until the PM on weekends and generally be Lord of Bedfordshire. You see, for me, bed had always been a refuge – a safe haven into which I would retreat when the rigours of the world became too great. When all around me was chaos I knew that at the end of the day I would return to my feather-padded fortress of solitude and commune with the spirits of sleep. All that changed in the autumn of 2010 – along with most other things in my life.
It went like this: Our daughter, Ava, was born. Then some stuff happened. Then Kendal said “We’re a bedsharing family,” – vocal confirmation that the discussion we’d been having for several months would in fact become a reality. And so the fortress fell, resigned to 15-Tog legend, whispered guiltily by other ousted fathers. Yes, we sleep with our baby; have done for nigh on two years now. And despite my colourfully imagined losses and sarcastic moans whenever someone mentions it, I would not change it for the world.
Put simply, the highlight of each day is cuddling up in bed with our sleepy warm cherub. The bliss I experience through bed sharing is indescribable – as joyful and eventful as the journey that got us here.
Kendal, of course, did all the research. When it comes to any baby/lifestyle/decorating decisions, my wife will attack the subject with vehemence, scouring the internet, inhaling books and questioning those in the know, Gestapo fashion. And so, with a newly-born Ava held tightly to her chest, Kendal pointed out (with a smirk) that although the mother is instantly attuned to the baby’s movements and is completely aware of it in bed, it can take up to six months for the father to adjust. Fearing the next half year sleeping on the sofa, she then went on to ease my worries by playing piggy in the middle – namely, she would sleep between me and Ava until my inferior male brain caught up and wouldn’t confuse Ava’s little sleeping form with an extra pillow, fold her in half, and stuff her under my head.
So there we were; book-ending Kendal with Ava protected on the far side by a bed guard. It was designed to stop her rolling out of bed, out of the bedroom door, along the landing, down the stairs, out of the front door and into the street where she would invariably join the circus. Apparently (so I am told) my awareness of our new little sleeping buddy kicked in quick, and I would often wake in the middle of the night to gently rock Kendal, whispering “there, there baby.” In no time at all I had passed the test and for the first time in several years I could lie in bed and peer into the eyes of another woman.
To begin with, the amount of sleep Kendal and I managed to get varied – I got a full, uninterrupted eight hours each night, whereas Kendal averaged two or three. Looking back, it’s difficult not to feel a pang of guilt, and certainly at the time I pitied Kendal’s disrupted slumber. It was those lovely boobies, however, now constantly within Ava’s reach, that caused the lack of sleep. Ava was a baby that certainly ‘got milk’, and fed near-constantly from Kendal, especially when her breasts were so accessible.
Fortunately everything quickly stabilised, to the point where Ava will now happily sleep all on her own prior to us joining her in bed. The issue of Ava’s increasing size has not been an issue at all, thanks to the clever positioning of an open-sided cot, lashed to the side of the bed, into which she will (sometimes) gravitate during sleep, leaving Kendal and I (sometimes) with the bed proper.
For a time we toyed with the idea of creating a super-bed – two king-size mattresses laid out together on the floor of the bedroom. It’s something many bedsharing families ultimately invest in, particularly those with an increasing number of offspring, and its not difficult to see why. Ava might only be two feet tall and weigh as much as one of my legs, but when stretched out in crepuscular comfort, she don't half take up a lot of space, guv. She has a tendency of lieing perpendicular to Kendal and I, jabbing her little tootsies into our ribs and being difficult to shift (her nocturnal weight apparently ten times what it normally is). Considering Kendal has designs on at least four more little Mosley-Chalks joining us in the family bed, I think I better start shopping around for mattresses.
Of course, there were and still are nay-sayers. “It’s not safe,” declared some, “you’ll roll onto her and crush her!” This causes the grumpy old Darwinian in me to grumble and emphatically point out that bedsharing is nothing new. Human evolution has done pretty well for itself over the past 20 million years, which is about 19,999,450 years longer than the cot has existed. Occupying the same space as our children while sleeping is as natural as the need to breathe air and ingest nutrition. “But,” continue those same people, still clinging to ideals formulated during the Victorian era – a time when one's children were of less importance than one's hat, “how do you both… you know?”
“What?” I ask.
“You know, how do you… have sex?”
I immediately break open my Big Boy’s Book of Human Anatomy and point to the crude yet strangely erotic drawing on page 64. “We know how you have sex,” they say, “but how do you do it if your baby is sleeping in the same bed?” At which point the anatomy book is put away and the Kama Sutra (pocket edition) is produced. If you are unable to conceive of having ‘mummy and daddy time’ anywhere other than your bed, then I pity you and will not be responding to that swinging party invitation. Also, sex is not restricted to the hours between 9pm and 6am when your Little might be sleeping soundly in the bed. “Sky rockets in flight, BOOM – afternoon delight.”
But this isn’t for us. We don’t sleep with Ava just to hear the random things she says first thing in the morning; we bedshare for her. The list of benefits is as long as the reasons are obvious. The connection created between mother and baby and (more importantly for we of the Y-chromosome) father and baby by sleeping together is immeasurable. Sure, I could wax lyrical about the scientific explanations, citing circadian rhythms and parent/infant synchrony ad infinitum, but the glaring fact is that any time spent in close physical proximity to your child (be it while conscious or not) is going to strengthen your bond.
Only the other evening Ava, while sleeping next to Kendal, reached out a tentative hand and gently touched her Mama’s face. Once satisfied she was there, our still sleeping Little rolled into Kendal’s arms and stayed there for the rest of the night. For Ava bed sharing is certainty, security and the constant loving embrace of family – and in our case, a family so completely in tune that we will find one another even in our sleep.
(Yes, that's a dribble spot on the pillow)