Bed-Sharing in Havana, Cuba

By Isabel Cristina (El Toque)

Photo: J&I

HAVANA TIMES – The best thing about being a parent is that you learn things alongside your children. This learning process means many things. First of all, it has to do with the Greek maxim: “know yourself”. In this journey of accompaniment, growing together and self-awareness, you lose your fronts, correct yourself, overthrow absolute truths, believe in life more than ever and change.

When Oliver was seven months old, I wrote an article about sleeping, in which I described the little one’s sleeping habits. At that time, I dedicated a paragraph to co-sleeping as a controversial practice, but it’s something that more and more parents are adopting, which was affiliated with this trend that is called “attachment parenting”. Here is that paragraph:

“Ever since I was pregnant, I’ve been receiving advice and stories of co-sleeping experiences within the family. We have read and analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of this practice adopted by more “modern” parents. It’s important for us that the baby has his space. It’s important for us to keep our bed, to keep this symbolic space that identifies us in our intimacy. Everyday dynamics leave us with very few spaces for intimacy, and not only in the sexual sense.

“This is why the bed has become an essential private space in our lives. In our bed lie our hushed conversations about serious issues, discreet talks about our work, whispering, silliness, our dreams, nightmares, grievances, complaints, plans for the future and all of those big and small things that define us as life partners, independently of the baby.”

Today, six months after having written this article, we are adopting co-sleeping as one of the most beautiful experiences of our maternityl/paternity. In spite of being such a widely-discussed practice in Western culture, by both families as well as the scientific community, it’s being promoted by the world’s main health organizations such as the WHO and UNICEF, which are recommending and promoting its benefits.

There are many articles available about how safe co-sleeping helps regulate the body’s temperature, weight gain and prevent Sudden infant death syndrome. As well as giving babies greater security and comfort, helping parents to get a good night’s rest and encouraging longer breastfeeding during the night.

While we resisted in the beginning, even after researching and studying its benefits, we had to start co-sleeping out of necessity. I was always a detractor of co-sleeping and we agreed to throw it out of the window. We didn’t like this practice and we would do it in the most traditional way. Us in the bed and the baby in the cot.

In the beginning, we were forced to sleep with Oliver because he began walking at ten months and, looking for more space, we moved rooms. It took us a long time to get all our stuff sorted out. Amidst that great chaos and the impossibility of putting up a cot in the new space, we spent a week in the same bed. We slept really badly in those first few days, because even though we were used to co-sleeping in the last hour of the baby’s sleep, we had never slept an entire night together. After sharing a bed for seven days, we tried to put our son back in his cot. It was impossible.

Oliver is now thirteen months old and we’ve been practicing co-sleeping ever since he was ten months. He would wake up seven times in the night when he was in the cot, sometimes every 45 minutes. He would only wake up to ask for milk and then, I would carry him back to the cot. As Oliver grew, he would wake up more and more in the night, against what all the manuals said. Anxiety for the mother, attached to the breast, hunger, mosquitoes, being cold, hot… there were many factors that caused his constant waking up.

We changed our personal bed of teenage love for a larger bed. A bed for all three of us. Ever since Oliver sleeps between his parents, he doesn’t wake up until the sunlight makes him open up his little eyes. He isn’t cold, or hot. He would be up at 5 or 6 AM before, now we have to set an alarm if we want to wake up early, because if we were to go by the baby, we could well sleep through the morning.

Every time he wakes up before us, he stays still, between his mother’s breast and his father’s beard. He contorts in the bed, like when he used to sleep in his cot, but now the marks in the mattress are a lot cuter. He also sleeps his two naps in the day in the big bed, and even though he stays there alone, this space of shared love makes him feel safe and free at the same time.

His naps are longer and deeper. He has already learned how to get onto and off the bed, and he knows not to go head first, or to walk on the mattress, because you can break a clavicle or tooth and I get very nervous.

Sometimes, we’ll be waking up all three of us, loving each other, laughing and we’ll feel something warm and soft that hugs us. It doesn’t surprise us anymore. It’s pee that has come out of the nappy, because an entire night at the breast has its liquid consequences. The only investment we’ve made for co-sleeping has been a mattress protector. The rest has just been benefits for us and the baby, in our case.

I sleep more and better. Calm and happy to feel him next to me, breathing peacefully. His father can’t conceive his life without our son sleeping by his side. My mother is over the moon because she couldn’t bear the idea of me having to get up so much in the night and was telling us every day for months: “Guys, put the boy to sleep with you!” Diego is anxously waiting for his brother to be a year and a half old so that he can sleep with him.

Oliver’s paternal grandfather tried to instill the concept of co-sleeping in us ever since the baby was a little bean. He talked to us about safe co-sleeping, about the immediate advantages and for the future of the baby. But we were stubborn. We are fools. Everyone raises their kids according to their instinct. We enjoyed sleeping tightly and alone in our small bed, but now we want a bed bigger than Shaquille O’Neal, to fit our dreams, as well as his innocent dreams.

Whispering, conversations, massages, plans, moons and sweetness are still a part of our intimate lives. But now they’ve been moved from the bed to the floor. With this change of space, we’re inventing new ways to discreetly love each other, not like teenages who explore each other’s bodies in a personal bed, but like children who tickle each other under the bed.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.