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The Family Bed: A Different Perspective

Dawn Bower
California USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 3, May-June 2006, pp. 116-117

I was born in 1962. My mother had been told that she could not become pregnant, so I was a huge surprise and shock. And not just for that reason. She was married to one man and pregnant with another's child. My mother was offered other options for how to handle the pregnancy and birth. She chose to have me and raise me. She had no experience with babies and little time to learn. She was a working woman in 1962. No one told her the benefits of breastfeeding, cosleeping, the family bed, or any of the things that I have been able to enjoy with my babies. She did love me, though, she just wasn't sure how to show it and struggled to give the hugs and kisses that should come naturally. We had our differences over the years. Lots of them. There are probably five of my 43 years, if added up, that we did not talk.

Skip to 2006. My mother is a month shy of her 66th birthday and in the hospital. She has many physical problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, and Hepatitis C, and she is in end stage liver failure. She is recovering, or trying to, from an appendectomy. It does not look good. Her fever goes up and her urine output recedes. Needless to say, I am scared. In the middle of the night, I struggle with myself, with the voices in my head. I want so badly to crawl in bed with my mom. I don't know if I want her to hold me or me to hold her. I finally stop arguing with myself and, in that cold hospital room, I get in bed with my mom. She is so tiny. Maybe 100 pounds. I have to be careful, I don't want to cause her any more pain. There is a sense of healing inside my body. A warmth that I have never felt before. Some connection that we didn't make in my infancy is made. Sometime before dawn I have to get up to go to use the toilet and when I come back, she reaches her arm out to me as if to say, "Come back." I do. I don't know if I am snuggling her or she me, either way, it is right. My mom makes it through that night. The next morning, when a nurse comes in, my mom tells the nurse that we snuggled the night before, and that it was nice. I don't remember why the conversation came up, but it did and I know she enjoyed it as much as I did.

A few days later my mother was released to a nursing home. The plan is that she receive physical therapy and when able, move to my home to spend her last days. I have great fear about nursing homes. I have heard stories about the mistreatment and awful smells. I am ready to fight whoever I have to in order to be with her as much as she and I want. This is all futile. They are very accommodating and there is no smell. The staff even brings me a roll away bed to put beside hers. If I lower her bed, I can lie on mine but put my head next to her body and hold her hand. I know it is comforting for both of us. That night her dog, which she had given me nine months earlier, stays with us.

On January 15th things went from bad to worse. By this time my roll away bed has been pushed to the side. I am now sitting on the bed with Mom and am joined by my brother and sister-in-law. Mom obviously is completely in the bed, but the rest of us have at least some part of our body in the bed with her. We hold her and stroke her hair, face, arms, and legs. We do the things that I have always done to comfort my children when they need attention and love. My sister-in-law sings, we cry, we laugh. As Mom's breathing becomes more labored I know the time is getting close. At 11:45 pm, Mom took her final breath. It was not a traditional family bed, but a family bed nonetheless, with all of the warmth and security one should have. I am thankful for this opportunity and journey that my mom has given me.

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