Posted by: gdevi | September 6, 2008

The H-shaped Bed

(I am indebted to Michael Beard, ideal reader, for suggesting the title.)

Contrary to popular wisdom and against the advice of our pediatrician, family and friends, our daughter slept in our bed when we brought her back from the hospital. Their reasons were sound: the newborn will not sleep well if sleeping with others, the parents will not sleep well if the baby sleeps with them, the child will turn out to be excessively clingy if she gets into the habit of sleeping with the parents, the child will not develop autonomy as an adult–the list of discouragement was quite long. We listened and said, okay, and then took our daughter to bed with us. We were living in a beautiful town house then in the older neighborhood of Dallas and the bedrooms were set apart from each other. If Dayani slept by herself in one of the other bedrooms we would worry–we would not be able to sleep at all. Is she breathing? Did she fall on her face? Did anything fall on her? Did the blanket come off? Is she cold? Is she crying? We had a baby monitor but there is the possibility that it might not work some one night when it most mattered. Besides, it was easier to nurse her if she slept in the bed right next to me.

The skeptics were right. None of us slept well through the night. D went through colic pains like any other child and cried through the night, often for hours at a time, leaving us bewildered at our inability to console this poor child in distress.  Again, our friends and the pediatrician told us that if the colic medicines did not work, it was okay to let the child cry herself to sleep. Nothing will happen. But how could we? So Krish and I would take turns walking with her through the night–the walking and the rocking motion seemed to soothe her. She also liked to fall asleep on our chest. I had taken a year and a half off from work to stay with D. because we didn’t want to send her to the daycare. But Krish had to go to work in the morning.  I used to feel terrible for him–staying up all night with us and then rushing off to work in the morning. Fortunately help came in the form of my parents, my aunt, my brother and sister-in-law.  Krish was finally able to get some sleep through the night.

The colic pains and the helping hands left at the same time and we thought we might try to get D to sleep by herself. The skeptics were right again. D had learned the comfort of sleeping between us and on our chests, which is what she liked to do the most. She loved to be rocked to sleep draped across my chest on the rocking chair. The moment you put her down, she would wake and cry. But she slept soundly through the night, waking only to be nursed, as along as she knew we were on either side of her.

When she was a year old we bought a house kitty corner from Nortel where Krish worked and right next to UTD where I taught. It was a beautiful neighborhood with Texas ranch style houes which reminded us of houses in India. Ironically enough for Texas, all the streets in our neighborhood were named after the historic  battles of the civil war, most of them from in and around Pennsylvania and the north-east. . . Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Bull Run. I was still home with her.  She was too young to pick the colors, but we painted her room a bright majenta and bought a nice bed for her. She had all her toys there, these beautiful watercolors on the wall we bought for her from the Lake District when we were in England, her favorite songs. The skeptics were again right. We ended up using that room to store her things for the most part. She played in my office which was right next to the kitchen. She slept with us.

I have to admit I used to feel like an abnormal parent when we would visit friends with children the same age as D–this was when she was 3 and 4 yrs old- and the kids slept with absolutely no fuss in their own rooms. It is not that we wanted her to sleep in her own room. We liked having her sleep with us. We even liked the dogs sleeping with us. There was Krish on one side, Dayani in the middle, and I on the other side.  During the night D would turn and spin around and her head would be on Krish’s side and legs on mine. Or vice versa. In any case, we slept in an H-fashion.  D also kicked.  I usually ended up being on the leg side of the H and would often spring upright at night with a nicely delivered kick right in my spine. Sometimes this happened multiple times through the night and the parent getting kicked would go bump through the night into another room to sleep. But she needed one of us always next to her.  The parents-whose-children-slept-by-themselves would look at me sympathetically–usually the mothers–and say in a prophetic voice: “she will never learn to sleep by herself or do anything by herself if you let her sleep with you. You have to make that break. Just put her in her room. She will cry a few nights. Then she will be fine.” In my mind I saw my daughter, now fifty years old unable to sleep by herself. God, will she ever learn to tie her own shoelace? Ride a bycycle? Do her own groceries? Have we completely ruined her life by letting her sleep with us?

When she was five, we moved from Texas to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania where both Krish and I teach at the University. This time D picked the colors for her room, the curtains, the bed linen. She helped me paint. We set up her computer and book stand. We hung up her clothes and pictures. The skeptics won again. Five years old and she still wanted to sleep with us. We rationalized it to ourselves: it is a new place. She needs to get adjusted. So it was back to the H-shaped bed. But this time D would feel sad and sorry when we told her in the morning how much she kicked us. Before falling asleep she would tell me, Mama, I promise I won’t kick you tonight. It is okay, honey, I would tell her, don’t feel bad about it.

One year ago, when she was seven, one day she told us that she would like to sleep in her room by herself.  We couldn’t believe it. No force, no coercion, no crying, nothing. She just went to her room at night. Krish read her a story. Then I helped her say her prayers. Will you sleep with me for a little bit, she asked me. Sure, sweetie, I told her. She held my hands, closed her eyes and went to sleep in the next few seconds.



  1. Oh Gayatri!
    What a lovely story. I am so glad you did not listen to the skeptics. The culture in this country is crazy. Put your tiny baby all alone in a room and let them cry! I just cringe to think of all the crying babies getting hoarse, terrified… I keep thinking that babies cry for a reason and being alone is not something that they should feel comfortable about when so tiny… it is evolutionarily adaptive for babies to a. be aware of being alone and b. to make lots of noise about it so that their parents come pick them up before a lion snaps them up for dinner.
    thank you for sharing your blog posting with me. and thank you for taking all those kicks in the back and letting Dayani choose when she was ready to go sleep in her own room. Do you miss having her in your bed? I was relieved when Claudai moved to her own room, ah, to sleep well again! I think I will be sad when Enzo leaves, but it will warm my heart to think of the two of them sharing a room and maybe even a bed? They can kick each other all night! 🙂

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