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SUMMARY- Anna shares how her little one's sleep developed after the fourth trimester, how they transitioned her into her own bed, and how a flexible approach helped her continue to meet all of their needs.

You can visit Anna on her website, where you can find her book and download the postpartum preparation guide mentioned in this episode. If you do buy the book, use the code SPARKLER at checkout for $2 to be donated to Little Sparklers. Anna is also on Instagram and Facebook.

Enjoy the podcast? Donate now to help us produce Season 3

Full Episode Transcript: 

Carly:

The Beyond Sleep Training Podcast- a podcast dedicated to sharing real tales of how people have managed sleep in their family outside of sleep training culture because sleep looks different with a baby in the house and because every family is different there is no one-size-fits-all approach to take.

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this podcast is being recorded, the Kalkadoon people, I pay my respects to the elders of this nation and the many other nations our guests reside in from the past, present and emerging. We honour Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the unique cultural and spiritual relationships to the land, water and seas as well as their rich contributions to society including the birthing and nurturing of children.

Appeal:

It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child, but where we used to be surrounded by experienced parents and grandparents willing to pass down their wisdom and lend a helping hand, in our ever-changing world we’re increasingly left without the support and kind encouragement of old.

At Little Sparklers, it’s our goal to support families wherever they are. We are here to be your village, providing a listening ear, gentle encouragement and the reassurance that no, you’re not alone - we’ve been there, too.

But we can’t do it alone. We rely on the generosity of our volunteers donating their time, and our donors who support us financially. Your donations are what keeps us going and ensures we can continue to provide free support, assistance and resources to families just like yours.

So if you are in a position to, please

Donate to our appeal

 

Carly:
Welcome back to the Beyond Sleep Training podcast. I’m your host, Carly Grubb, and with me again this week is the wonderful Anna Cusack. We had Anna on last week’s show, and so if you haven’t already caught that episode I’d highly recommend you backtracking one week to listen to the first part of Anna’s story so that you are all up to speed as we roll straight into the second part of her tale. For anyone who is just joining us I will let you know that Anna Cusack is an Australian author and postpartum doula and we’ve been really, really grateful to so far hear about what she did to set herself up for the fourth trimester with her daughter, and where we kind of left off was right about the bit where it seemed to be about to get tricky. You just go on to full-time co-sleeping with your baby…

Anna's first episode

Anna:
Yeah.

Carly:
… after you’d found the lying back and side-lie nursing was helping with your oversupply issues, and you were just about to hit that 4 month really fun time with your baby. So would you like to roll on with this next part of your story, Anna?

Anna:
Yeah, sure. So, at this point we had the cot latched to our bed, and to be honest I don’t know that night-time sleep through 4 month sleep regression or progression, whichever way you kind of want to frame it, I honestly don’t know that it… that it got that much worse or different. But what did happen around this time is that I started thinking I’d really like just like a smidge of time to myself. So, how we’d been contact napping through the day before, we’d kind of done it so we’d had at least one nap where I was moving, exercising, so I had her in the little carrier pouch or in the pram, another one contact napping on me, and then I honestly don’t even remember what we did for the other one. We probably didn’t have another one because at every point when a book said like, ‘Your baby should be having three naps at this point’, she only ever had two. And whenever it said, ‘Your baby will be dropping to two naps at this point’, she only ever had one.

Temperament and sleep

So she stopped napping altogether at 20 months old, so she was just always that… just always had that less need for sleep, and that’s just how it was. So, yeah, sometime around, between 4 and 6 months I decided that I really wanted one of her day naps to be in a cot – the cot that was connected to our bed. But the only way that she would go to sleep would be we would be in this semi dark room, or as dark as I could get it, for so long and I would be contorted half in and half out of this cot with my back absolutely killing me, and eventually she would feed to sleep. And like we, you know, we would play for a long time in there and I wanted to make our bed a positive, a good place for her to be, so I was very much just in with her and, and wrestling and reading and playing and whatever, and eventually she would start to settle down and feed. And so it would be this big, long process, but unless I stayed in physical contact with her during that period that she was asleep then she would just be awake straight away. So I would have put all this effort in. I would have been like awkwardly connected to her with my breast or my shoulder or my hand or something, and I had this like red reading light that I would connect to a book to try and, or have a podcast in or something so it could be dark but I wasn’t… I didn’t feel like I was just spending all of my daylight hours in a dark space by myself. And then I would get up and go to the toilet, and by the time my bottom hit the seat she’d be crying and crawling around looking for me.

Carly:
Oh Anna.

Anna:
And it just didn’t stop. Like we would have a family… I remember we had a family occasion or, I can’t think what it was for, but I came out of the room one time and I’d managed to get her to sleep just walking around. Obviously it took a long time, but walking around, and I’d transferred her to the cot and we put a timer on, and it was ten minutes exactly until she woke up. And it just didn’t… it just never changed. That’s just what it was. And…

Carly:
And it’s really hard to accept that, but…

Anna:
… it is really annoying.

Carly:
Yeah, exactly. And I think for people listening along, like neither you nor I are superhuman in any of this, so your feelings of just wanting a little bit of space, just wanting to get out of that room and have her sleep a bit… of course you felt like that.

Anna:
Because she needed to co-sleep in the night. She needed to co-sleep in the night or neither of us would get sleep.

Carly:
It’s stifling.

Anna:
She would only sleep with contact napping or in the pouch. Wouldn’t sleep in the car. The pram I could walk with her, it would take at least 30 to 40 minutes of walking, and then if she fell asleep it was likely to be another… it could be one hour, it could be two if she fell asleep in the pram. And that’s a really long time to committing to going for a walk.

Carly:
Yeah, when you’re tired too.

Anna:
Which I love to do. I love to do it every day, and often I would… I would tee up with my dad that, or… or my mum or someone, that we would swap over after a certain point. But unless I was the one singing to her I would hear dad trying to do laps of the street and she’d just be crying. So even somebody else taking her for, in the pram… Like, my husband had a decent shot, but he was at work.
So, unless it was the weekend, like every, every single sleep was my job. And they were all hard. So… yeah.

Carly:
There’s no two ways about that. It was hard.
And I think that’s something that people listening along can hear, because you weren’t doing anything wrong, neither was your baby, but that doesn’t mean that it was easy. It was bloody hard. It was bloody frustrating. And I’m sure at many times you wished someone else could do it and that you could somehow just catch a break, because you needed a break and you are human and you have needs too. But that wasn’t the reality of that moment for you ar that…

Anna:
No.

Carly:
… that point in time and, and in the end how did you deal with that? How did you not lose your mind in that moment?

Anna:
I did actually become quite anxious. I spoke with a perinatal counsellor around the 4 month mark. So, at this time also, between 4 and 6, 4 and 8 months, something like that, we’d had… We were on tank water. Our tanks ran dry. And I just felt like that on top of the no sleep, I just was like ‘oh’. Oh, and the climate, school climate strikes were happening, and then the bushfires started, and I just thought like, oh my god, this is the end of the world. And I have just brought my baby into this and she’s not going to have water to drink, she’s not going to have food to eat. We’re all just going to die and I chose to have her here. What sort of a monster am I? And I started working with a perinatal counsellor. And so one of the first things we did was start implementing that stuff of what can I do in, like in that daytime sleep time when I was still trying to get her to sleep in the cot. So that was the book and the podcast and things. And then later it was like just giving up on that because not only was this happening, like this difficulty with naps and whatnot happening in the day, she just, like she wouldn’t go to sleep until… like 8’s always been the earliest, but it was probably more like 10… 9 or 10 o’clock at night at that point. It wasn’t uncommon for her to want to get up and have like a midnight party. So we’d be up playing between 1 and 3am.

Carly:
Oh Anna.

Anna:
And then we’d be back to sleep again. And I’m, so I know from other cultures around the world and historical records, it’s actually not been that long- only since like the invention of electricity and people having to work in factories that the expectation has been to sleep all of the night-time period. There’s usually been, we’ve been wired to have this point, 1 till 3 in the morning, where people are actually up and socialising and whatever. She… that’s what she wanted to do. And…

Carly:
She was down with that, even if you weren’t.

Anna:
She was cool with that. And I… just had to be, because otherwise it was having her crying in my bed, which meant that none of us were sleeping. So…

Carly:
Oh Anna.

Anna:
… yeah, we were up night-time partying a lot of the time. She also decided that she would start properly walking at 8½ months.

Carly:
Of course she did. Of course she did.

Anna:
And so she just was on the go. And we were baby-led weaning, which I’m very happy that we did. But as you heard before, she’s a booby monster, and she really didn’t coordinate getting any food into herself properly until probably more like 10 months old, like a decent amount of food. So we had a non-sleeping kid that would only get her energy from me, that was on the go all of the time. And it was a real challenge, a real struggle.

Carly:
Absolutely. It must have been….

Anna:
And tried to go back to work at 11… she was 11 months old, and I was only going back two days a week, but I was in a hospital literally like at the start of March 2020 where everything was starting to get really serious with COVID, and we didn’t have any, like any testing facilities or like any concept of what was going on. So I’d already had this anxiety period. We still weren’t sleeping. She’d never been away from me really for more than like three or four hours.  And suddenly I was hoping that she was going to be somehow fine to be with my parents or other people for two full work days, and that I would be okay going into like pandemicville. And it just… I just couldn’t, I couldn’t connect all of these things, and I couldn’t make it work, and I lasted one week and then I resigned.

Carly:
You know what though, that is actually really good on you for being able to recognise what wasn’t working. ‘Cause I think for some, you know, not everybody has the option to just resign if… if it’s not working. But if you do, it is actually a choice that can be made. Because for your reality you really couldn’t. You know? Like what you were doing was already more than a full-time job plus some, let alone adding on paid employment in a pandemic and all the rest of it as well.

So, I think for people listening along too, knowing that if you have got options up your sleeve for whether employment is optional or not, because sometimes it really just isn’t and you’re going to need to be able to make it work, just consider your options and it’s not a sign of any kind of failure or anything like that if you do need to pull back because it’s simply not working for you and your family at that time. So I can hear that so much… that is so much going on. What did you find actually gave you any kind of relief in this period?

Anna:
Around the same time we went to… oh no, a bit before that. So this would have been November, December.  She would have been 7 or 8 months old. There was a period where it… where it did actually rain up here for a week, and during that week we couldn’t go for our pram walk, and I felt like I was going to throw her against the wall if I had to contact nap every single thing, which was probably only twice if I’m honest, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t do it.

Feeling overwhelmed and needing support for your mental health? Help is available

Carly:
You just couldn’t.

Anna:
I couldn’t lay for that long. So, I put her in the pouch and every day I would start off vacuuming the house and I found out that she actually really loved the vacuum cleaner. And so I would vacuum the floor, which the house has never been so clean ever, and it’s definitely not now. And then after that I would phase in the sound of a vacuum cleaner white noise track on Spotify, gradually got to do that, which turned out to be excellent because that was something very, very easy that my husband could do. So, her sleeps started again, even though she was on two sleeps, it started getting later. So that second sleep started being like more like 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon. And because of the hours…

Babywearing safety

Carly:
Which pushes bedtime into forever.

Anna:
… yeah, of course. But the hours that my husband works means that he could get home and usually, at least half the time, take that afternoon sleep, because he could do the timing and we had the vacuum cleaner. Noise.

Carly:
I love the vacuum cleaner solution. I have not head that one, like not your typical white noise. But I like it.

Anna:
I was talking with him about this yesterday, and he said that he could take sleeps with her before that, but I don’t remember it being consistent before that point. And after that it was just like, it became – particularly when she dropped, around the time she dropped to one sleep was the time that she did… that she was okay in the car. And she would sometimes fall asleep. So we could go out. She wouldn’t scream all the way there. We could have a nice morning out and then we would start to drive home around 1 o’clock or something like that and she would… she would actually fall asleep. And I could sit in the front seat of my car with the aircon on and I could step inside my house and bring myself out some lunch, and I could start actually thinking for myself and having a quiet period, and it was just like… like the heavens opened and every possibility opened up to me. And I actually started writing out all the ideas for my book in the notes section of my phone like during that period of time. So, I don’t know if that really answers your question too much, but it just was like surviving, trying different strategies, getting a lot of support, and then time passed, and that was it.

Carly:
And at no point was she broken. She just needed you this very much, even if it really broke you in the process. And I’m really sorry that it did, but I think that’s the thing. It’s really hard to keep the balance of understanding her needs and not diminishing that, but also recognising the huge burden and demand that was on you as a human as well to make it through that time. And I’m pleased that there were these little snippets. And it sounds like, I don’t know. Like when you hear your story told in this kind of manner you can see there really was a bit of a progression. Even through the tough spots there was these little changes that kept happening that actually led you out to the other side. But when you’re in it it still feels like it’s going to go forever.

Anna:
Yeah. And there are patches where it still feels like it’s going to go forever. I really thought I just couldn’t see how… how possibly how we could move her to her own bed. We had a floor bed for so long, so like… I don’t’ know, two years is probably an exaggeration, but it was a really long time. And we just, we put a little mattress into our room and put our beds back up to their normal height. So we have a very interesting bed setup now. We actually have her single bed on the ground and then we have a king single and a double bed at the same height and pressed together. So we have this like wider than king-size family bed. But also we have two we have two sets of sheets and bedclothes and stuff like that, because… just because he is a deeper sleeper than me and he’s always been concerned about squishing her. So this was a way that we could actually make it so that he felt… he felt comfortable to stay in the room with us, because he didn’t want to go and sleep in another room. But he also still had some of that fear of co-sleeping and not having the awareness that I do as… as the mother or the breastfeeding parent. So, I completely get that.

Safer sleep

Carly:
I think that’s a really, really important message for people listening along, is that whole flexibility and thinking about how you can set things up to make it work for all of the people in your family. Because we’ve had guests on who separate rooms is actually working really well for them and their spouse, usually around snoring issues seems to be.
But when it comes to, you know, there can be quite a conflict in relationships between various parents and their children over wanting to be together but feeling like the only way that can happen is to have the child elsewhere. And so being able to come up with solutions that actually worked to keep you all together, that kind of flexible thinking can really help families come up with solutions that work for the whole family. So thank you for sharing that one.

Anna:
Yeah, no worries. So we put this bed in, the little bed in the room for her. And again, like I know this isn’t going to work for everyone, we just have one bedroom in our house that’s massive which is really convenient. And we just set it up with fun sheets and we just played on it. You know, we just would read books down there and then she would come up into the bed with us. And I thought, yeah, we’ll deal with that… we’ll deal with that soon. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. And then when she was 2½ we went to meet some family in a different town, and we were staying in a hotel, and as usual we took our swag because in general when we’d ever stayed anywhere baby and I’d have the bed and he’d have the swag or the couch. Because I was like, ‘I’m already going to be in an uncomfortable position. I’m not also sleeping on the floor. Or like contorting myself so that I don’t feel like she’s going to fall off the side of the bed.’ And we set it up and she just thought it was going to be the most fun thing ever, and she wanted to sleep on it. And she did. And the very first night she slept six hours.

Carly:
Hurrah.

Anna:
And I never have got longer than four in her entire life.

Carly:
Bit of swag magic.

Anna:
It felt like… there’d probably been a couple of times, but like… I was just like oh wow, this is so good. We stayed there the next night, seven hours. And I was like what is this magic? She just… she was just ready to start in her own bed.
And we got home and there was no effort at all. I fed her to sleep in the new bed, she stayed in there until she woke up. And every night when she woke up I would hear her and I would go down and I would pick her up and get her into bed. And gradually we figured it out. We sort of talked about it so she will stand up from that bed and now climb in with me when she needs to.

We’ve just been sick for the last… well, I haven’t been, but the two of them have been sick for the last week. And the idea of the own bed, she’s just not doing it. She’s not into it. It’s just something that it’s got to be temporarily put aside for her to be okay. And that was one of the big lessons for me as well, was that any choice that I make doesn’t mean that it has to be a choice forever. Like we’d wound down to pretty much no feeds through the night. Maybe one. And then she’s just been really sick and gone off food and has gone up suddenly to like, I don’t know, something ridiculous. Six or seven feeds like between bedtime and waking up again. And now she’s well we have to go through that process of taking them back again.

Carly:
And I think that’s the thing, when it comes to… like when you’re nursing toddlers and whatnot, and most people come to a point where they need to be able to firm up some boundaries that work for you just so that you can then keep that relationship going. Otherwise it becomes for lots of people a really big problem. Not for everybody. Some people don’t feel this way about breastfeeds in the night or night weaning. They would take a different approach. But it is okay if you are nursing a toddler to then set yourself up in a way that feels right for you to get it to a workable point for your family. And you’re supporting her the whole way through that process, so… I, I understand how hard that would be, especially after a period of sickness. She’s obviously needed super extra comfort and whatnot through the night, which you gave her, and now you’re working your way back to a place that feels a bit more balanced I guess for you both.

Anna:
Yeah. Yeah, it’s interesting. We were just, you know, she’d been doing very well in her own bed, and I don’t think she is ready to move into her own bedroom anyway. But we are planning a second and I was thinking about how that might look, and how any transition would look and how… how she could seek more comfort from her dad through the night rather than only preference for me. And yeah, it just, it’s… it’s interesting how just all of that gets thrown aside the minute they’re sick. It’s like, oh we’re not at this point. It’s just… it’s just gone. And…

Carly:
That flexibility though, that plays into welcoming siblings. ‘Cause in our experience it definitely has still been the case that even if we had these grand plans of dad would settle the toddler and whatnot, it doesn’t always end up playing out like that. So being able to be flexible with your options to make sure that it works for the family. We came up with all sorts of solutions at different times that made that transition work for us. But in reality, our first guy particularly, there was no chance he was going to be comfortable sleeping in a separate room all on his own until he had siblings who were also then going to be in the room with them.
So, all three of my babies share a room, and they’re all much more comfortable with that. None of them would want their own bedroom. So I think that’s something for us with our… our eldest to keep in mind, that it still can be quite intimidating to be actually in a whole other room on your own and for us honestly it never fully worked that way for us until both of our older guys were ready to be in that space together when my second guy got old enough, if that makes sense.

Anna:
Yeah. I can see that I… that's a pattern like that will probably unfold very similarly.

Carly:
Flexibility. We’re good at it.

Anna:
Yep. Yep. There was one more bit that I was going to talk about just then. One thing that has been a change for us recently as well is that she has started at a, like a day-care preschool kind of place. And we tried previously at a family day-care, and she just, she wasn’t ready for that. She wasn’t up to being away from me or with other kids and the way that bigger kids than her played and all of that kind of thing. And I really had a good feel about this centre, but the first day that I went in there to have a familiarisation with her, we were there at kind of lunchish time and just after it, and after the children had finished eating some of them went into a room for a sleep and the ones who didn’t nap anymore were going outside to play. And I went outside, or we went outside, and I could just see from where we were that two of the teachers were in there with the children rocking them on rocking chairs and patting their heads in their lap and doing all of the exact things that if my child needed to sleep, that they would have been very happy to do anything. And it was just such a confirmation of like, yeah, we’re in the right place and she’s going to be okay. And having responded to her, and having been challenged by sleep and various other aspects of our very similar personalities, so much that I’ve had to resource myself greatly with different sort of conscious parenting mentors and strategies and all of those things, is that we tried to do a sort of a slow transition in. The first day she was only there a couple of hours without me, and then stretching it out a bit longer and a bit longer. And on… not every time, but on multiple occasions now that I’ve been to pick her up, a teacher has come up to me and said, ‘I have just been blown away. She was able to… we were doing this activity and she was able to come up to me and say I’m feeling really worried about this. Can you help me feel safe while we try it?’ And I just, I feel like that’s what nurture night and day can do. You know? I’m feeling…

Carly:
I think that’s really powerful.

Anna:
Yeah. She said, ‘I’m scared of this particular thing. Can you pack it away?’ And being able to get through that entire… and I know like different children have different capacities of speech, even if they have a similar level of understanding and comprehension and all of those things. But I don’t know that she would feel as confident in respecting what she needs for herself had I not been there all the time. And I suppose that what I am saying here is it’s not necessarily that sleep is now this beacon of ease for us. It’s that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s actually not really about the sleep at all. It is but it’s not. Yeah…

Carly:
There’s so much more to it. That’s the thing with the value of the night-time nurturing. It goes well beyond the actual sleep that’s achieved in your household. Now, I’m just looking at our time.

We’re nearly finished. Oh my goodness. So, I’m thinking we need to hear one last tip from you Anna. You’ve given us so much wisdom. What do you think you’d like our listeners to hear?
If you think about Anna, who was up to her neck in it, what do you wish you could tell her?

Anna:
Yeah. I think… last week I said about preparing other people to get the support that they need when they’re about to have their babies. But I think it’s just that, that need for support doesn’t expire, and as much as we think that they’re getting older, they’re more physically able, they might start to be able to play for a few minutes on their own, whatever it is, it still doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easier for you as a parent. And I think that’s something that will probably following me along in my parenting as well, that my need for support will still be high. It will just be about different things. 

Carly:
It shifts, doesn’t it?

Anna:
Yeah.

Carly:
It shifts and evolves along with our babies as you grow and getting it out of our head that we should be doing it on our own and that that’s somehow a sign of coping. I think that’s… it’s a lot more healthy for all of us if we realise that help along the way is going to be needed and it’s not a sign of weakness on your part at all.

Anna:
Yeah. I agree.

Carly:
Well, thank you so much for coming on the show Anna. It’s been an absolute pleasure hearing your sleep journey with your very sparkly little person. And just in case no one has actually said to you, you did an incredible job getting through that period, because that sounds incredibly brutal, let alone living your time through it. But you can see just what an impact you’ve had on your small person, and I hope you feel that inside too, because that was some epic work you’ve done just there.

Anna:
Yeah, I actually haven’t unpacked it in that way before, in that much detail, and now I can see why, yes, I do still feel so tired sometimes.

Carly:
Absolutely. And it’s a well earned tiredness you’ve got there Anna. You have worked incredibly hard. Thank you for coming on the show. I’ll be sure, last week I mentioned your book, Mama, You’re Not Broken. For people listening along again today, if you haven’t already ordered your copy, beautiful book, fantastic baby shower gift or just for the… the new mum in your life. And we’ll have the links for that in our show notes for everybody. But thank you for coming along Anna.

Find 'Mama You're Not Broken'

Anna:
Thanks so much for having me Carly. See ya.

 

Carly:

I really hope you enjoyed the podcast today the information we discussed was just that information only it is not specific advice if you take any action following something you've heard from our show today it is important to make sure you get professional advice about your unique situation before you proceed whether that advice is legal, financial, accounting, medical or any other advice. Please reach out to me if you do have any questions or if there's a topic you'd really like us to be covering and if you know somebody who'd really benefit from listening to our podcast please be sure to pass our name along also check out our free peer support group the beyond sleep training project and our wonderful website www.littlesparklers.org. If you'd like even more from the show you can join us as a patron on Patreon and you can find a link for that in our show notes if listening is not really your jam we also make sure we put full episode transcripts on our little sparklers website for you to also enjoy and fully captioned YouTube videos as well on our Little Sparklers channel so thanks again for listening today we really enjoy bringing this podcast to you.

 

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