Bree Holling, from The Matrescence Podcast, on the start of her parenting journey and her experience with sleep training Listen/ Watch links: SUMMARY- Bree shares how her introduction to parenting began, her experience with sleep training, and her biggest piece of advice for new parents. You can find Bree on the Matrescence Podcast, her website, and Instagram. Enjoy the podcast? Donate now to help us keep it going 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 the rich knowledge, wisdom and practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the birthing and nurturing of children and their unique cultural and spiritual relationships to the land, water and seas. Carly:Welcome to Season 3 of the Beyond Sleep Training podcast. This season’s going to look a little bit different to Season 1 and 2 because we need to slow our flow down a little to match what our volunteer producer, Elise, and I can manage in our busy lives. We’ll be dropping a new episode each month for the rest of this year and we really hope you enjoy taking in these new tales as much as we have been collecting and bringing them to you. Just to let you all know, we’re no longer running a Patreon for the show, but if you’re still keen to chip in we greatly appreciate receiving any donations via our Little Sparklers website. Helps to keep the show accessible by covering our production and transcription costs. So without further ado, welcome to Season 3 of the show. Welcome back to the Beyond Sleep Training podcast. I’m your host, Carly Grubb, and with me this week I have my guest, Bree Holling. Bree is one part of the Matrescence Podcast team, and they have an amazing show that brings to life what is actually going on when women are going through the transition from woman to mother. I really enjoy the episodes that Bree brings and I have been also keenly following their Instagram page because their posts resonate so deeply with so many of my own experiences, so I just had to get Bree on the show. So thanks for coming along Bree. Listen to the Matrescence Podcast here Bree:Thank you so much for having me, and I absolutely share your sentiments there. I love following along on your page, and your podcast. I refer many, many people to your Facebook group, which has been a lifesaver for me, so it’s an absolute privilege to be here. Carly:Wonderful. Thank you for being here. And so I see that you’re from Brisbane. That’s actually my home town, which is very exciting. And you have got two little people in your life and your partner. Would you like to tell us anything more about your little family and your background? Bree:Absolutely. I am 26 and Brisbane born and raised, and I live here with my husband, Matt, and my two children. My little boy is 4 and my little girl is almost 1, unbelievably. So there’s just the four of us. In terms of background, I’ve bounced around through uni degrees and at the moment I am being a stay-at-home mum to my little people, which I’m absolutely loving. In my spare time, which is quite limited, I do co-host the podcast and do the Instagram page, and that is just really filling a cup for me in this season where so much of my time and energy is dedicated to my little ones. Carly:I love that. It’s great you found your outlet. Now tell us, Bree, before you had that first baby, your 4-year-old little boy, how did you think you were going to approach sleep with your family? Bree:Yeah. It was very, very consistent with what the mainstream kind of beliefs are around sleep. All throughout my pregnancy, I had midwifery-led care through the MGP program at my local hospital. So, every appointment I went to, every information pack I received included information on SIDS and safe sleeping. I went into pregnancy and birth and parenthood with really rigid beliefs around what sleep would look like, what it should look like, and the idea that the only safe place for babies to sleep was on their back in a cot with nothing else. I didn’t really give much thought to what sleep would look like throughout my pregnancy because it was kind of laid out in from of me, and I was the stereotypical good girl. I wanted to ‘do’ sleep right. I wanted to tick that box and show everyone that I was a good mum and a good girl, so beyond that, I didn’t think too deeply about what it would look like. Throughout pregnancy we prepared for sleep by getting the cot set up, making sure it was consistent with those SIDS guidelines. Carly:It sounds about the way that a lot of us start out. It’s great that you actually had some information on safe sleep, but when it’s only focused on that cot sleeping element, it really does give you that very one-dimensional view of how sleep’s going to be. So how did it turn out when you actually welcomed him? Bree:Quite different, unsurprisingly. The first clue was in the hospital where my little boy only wanted to sleep on me. I had a second-degree tear and an epidural and I just couldn’t figure out how to get him into the bassinet and out, and it was just so much easier for him to sleep on me and to sleep in my arms. Now I did end up falling asleep feeding him because I was exhausted from labour, and a midwife came in and kind of scolded me for it, and I just like wanted to die because, again, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is my first day as a mum and I’m already doing it wrong.’ And I was really desperate for them to see that I was doing it right and I was doing my best. So short of being able to transfer him to the bassinet I really just didn’t know what to do. The midwives were busy and my husband had gone home for rest after a long day and so I ended up at 2 am calling my mum and being like, ‘I need help. I don’t know what to do here’, and just kind of resigned myself to staying awake and holding him until she got there. So she ended up coming and she was like, ‘Look, close your eyes for 20 minutes. I’ll take the baby. Just, you know, have a little second.’ And I woke up like six hours later so confused and like panicking. Like, do I have a baby? Where is he? And I’m like texting her and she was like, ‘We’re fine. Relax. We’re just watching the sunrise. It’s beautiful. Like, we’ll be back in a minute.’ And I guess that that was really the first clue that sleep was going to look a little bit different to what I imagined. But we kind of transitioned home and I was still really rigid about sleep. In hindsight, I think that probably I had pretty severe postnatal anxiety, and this really shaped my experience of sleep. It’s really hard for me to distinguish whether the anxiety shaped how I approached sleep or if sleep kind of added to the anxiety. Do you know what I mean? Carly:Absolutely. Bree:It was just a bit of a shitstorm honestly. Carly:It really is. I was similar. It’s like which one’s which? Yes I’m depressed, but wouldn’t anyone be depressed if they were this sleep-deprived? Which way did it go? Not sure. Bree:Absolutely. But I do think that it provides pretty good context to the story and the decisions we made. So basically we came home and I was super, super anxious about sleep. I was hyper-vigilant. I was very much convinced that he would die in his sleep, and that had been shaped by all of the safe sleep information we’d been given. And in my mind, if we deviated from that at all, something bad was going to happen. So, I’m going to talk about the decisions we made, but really I was calling all of the shots at this point. And we decided that we would just stay up all night watching this baby, because he wouldn’t sleep in his bassinet and it wasn’t safe for him to sleep anywhere else. So we started taking it in shifts and my husband would stay up with the baby until 1 to 3 am, which worked quite well for him because he worked nightshift anyway so his body clock was kind of used to that. And then come 3 am I would wake up and I’d start my day and I’d watch TV and sometimes watch… I got really into Formula One during that time, which was so odd for me. And I actually really kind of enjoyed that time. It was beautiful to have it to myself, until like two weeks later when the adrenalin wore off and I just crashed and burned. And he was born at 37 weeks so was kind of sleepy, and he began to wake up more. So I was going to bed, it was Matt’s time, and then he’d wake me up to feed the baby, which I’d asked for. And I’d be like, ‘Oh my god, how many hours did I sleep for?’ And he was like, ‘Baby, I’m so sorry, it was like 12 minutes.’ And I’d be like, ‘Oh my god.’ Carly:Oh, Bree. Bree:And this would just repeat all night until I was trying to drag myself up at 3 am. And I just absolutely crashed and burned and it was pretty clear that it wasn’t sustainable. Carly:Uh yeah. Oh, mate. Bree:Unsurprisingly, right? And so we decided to move him into our room, and it was somehow even worse. He was super noisy. I wasn’t sleeping at all. I was just getting [10:00] up to him so many times overnight, because understandably he didn’t want to sleep in his cot. I'd sit up in bed feeding and scrolling through my phone or asking my husband to watch me to make sure I didn’t doze off. And then I’d put him back down in his cot and he’d wake up and we’d repeat it all night. And we managed that for a few weeks before I just lost the plot. I started hallucinating. I was waking up in the middle of the night and pulling all of my bedding off the bed in a flurry, panicking that I’d brought him into bed and he was suffocating. I would find myself awake at night rocking a pillow and patting it thinking I had the baby. There was one night I remember when I was sitting up in bed and my husband said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m rocking the bed,’ as if it was a rocking chair. And logically I knew that it was not possible. Carly:Oh, Bree. Bree:But it felt so real to me. Carly:I can actually hard relate to that. Bree:Yeah. It’s hard to even recall and describe because it was just so incredibly tough. Carly:I actually completely forgot about all of the… I remember having so many occasions. It was all pre-bedsharing where I would do the blind panic that there was a baby at the bottom of the bed, and I’d be throwing absolutely everything off our bed. And I interestingly never ever had those again once we started bedsharing. Or with my subsequent babies. I’ve never really connected that. There you go. Thank you. Bree:Yeah. Carly:That's intense. Bree:It’s so intense. I got goosebumps just remembering it. So we kind of wavered back and forth then and did a bit more sitting up with the baby, but then there would be nights where my husband would doze off with the baby either in the bassinet or on his chest. There'd be nights where I would do the same, and I just felt distraught. Like seething anger that my husband would put our baby in that danger, and then the next night I would do the same thing because you just can’t keep pushing your body when you’re that exhausted, and no matter how hard I tried to stay awake I would fall asleep. Carly:That’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s an impossibility. It sets you up for failure and it sets you up for sleeping in really unsafe locations, doesn’t it? Learn more about safe sleep Bree:Absolutely. And yeah, in the morning I would wake up and find my little boy, and I was hesitant to even share this because it sounds like I’m just such a bad mum, but I was trying so hard to be a good mum and that’s the whole thing. And I would wake up and he would have slid down off my chest to in between my body and the couch, and I would pick him up panicking and go ‘aahhh’. And he would get jolted awake and he’d scream and I’d feel so relieved that he was still alive, and then just so much guilt and shame that I had put him in this position and let that happen. But it was all I knew. I didn’t know that there were safe ways to bedshare and co-sleep, and I knew that the alternative, which was cot sleeping, was not working so I just felt like I had no options at all. Him in our room was not working at all, and at about eight weeks I think we moved him into his own room because I was just not getting any sleep. Now I knew very clearly that the recommendation was one year to room share, but I could not sleep and I remember just thinking this has got to be so unsafe. I’m going to drop this baby or something really bad is going to happen. So my husband reassured me that it was totally fine and he would be okay, and we moved him into his own room – which they were connected, he wasn’t far but he wasn’t in our room. And I just cried and cried the whole night. I felt like the worst mum in the world to be putting my son in an unsafe position simply because I was a little bit tired, right? Who would do that? And it didn’t feel better unsurprisingly. He slept a little bit better, but I slept worse. It felt unnatural. It felt unsafe. It just felt like he was so, so far away from me and I couldn’t monitor his wellbeing. So I ended up checking on him so many times overnight. I was in there constantly. Even when he was asleep I was checking on him, and I ended up mentioning this to my midwife. Now I might have been quite vague about it so I’m certainly not blaming her, but you know, saying like I’m constantly checking on him, I’m really worried about him, I’m worried he’s going to die. And she was kind of like, ‘This is normal. It’s so normal. All parents have been in there and put their hand on their baby’s chest to check they’re still breathing.’ And I was just like, this can’t be normal. You know? Carly:No. Bree:Maybe that’s normal for some people, but this is just so extreme and so tough. Carly:Yeah. [15:00] I think it is normal to have certain levels of concern and worries, but it’s next level when it’s impacting on every part of your functioning and you are not getting any sleep because of it. That is more than normal levels of anxiety. Bree:Absolutely. And I think the main difference for me was I was not worried that he might die, I was worried about when it would happen. It was a certainty that it would happen. That if we weren’t hypervigilant he would die. Does this resonate? Click here for more mental health resources Carly:Yep. Yep. Bree:Which, imagine trying to enjoy motherhood and just life in general with that looming over your head, that your baby’s going to die if you drop the ball for a second. It made it incredibly hard to enjoy my baby and enjoy motherhood. Carly:Bree. I just want to give that new mum you a big cuddle right then and there. Bree:I know. Me too. We basically lasted like that for about three months, which is a really long time under those circumstances, and then one night in desperation I purchased a gentle sleep training program. And it’s hard for me to kind of identify who I was purchasing that for. Obviously me, but I think that I was really convinced that I was doing it for him. You know, I was willing to sacrifice whatever I needed to for him, I think I’d proven that with the way we approached sleep prior, but I really started to believe that the sleep was impacting him and that he wasn’t going to develop properly and that I didn’t have the skills to teach him to sleep. I felt it was something I was doing for him, and this was really reinforced by the language in the sleep training program. I was super enthusiastic about it, which is quite consistent with my personality. I printed it out, made up checklists, and made sure everyone in the house knew what we were doing. I had like the stopwatch. I was totally going to nail sleep training. And our sleep environment was prepared perfectly, with blackout curtains, all the things. I obsessed over wake windows, and it took not days, it took weeks, and I cannot even tell you how much crying there was throughout it. And I just didn’t understand because it was a gentle sleep training program, and it wasn’t feeling gentle at all. But the sleep training program was well-endorsed by many people who had shared reviews about the success. The science in it made enough sense to me that this could work, that it was a skill, that it could be taught. So then in that situation, there was no one to blame but myself. Right? It was me that was doing it wrong. I must have missed a tired sign. I must have mistimed the wake window. I mustn’t have stimulated him enough, or too much, and so it was still really just all my fault. Carly:Oh, of course it is. Or [0:18:19.2] if you’ve mixed something up or you’re not following things to a T. Now you’ve thrown the whole day out. Bree:Yes. Carly:Like I sound really sarcastic even saying that, but this is the problem with these approaches. They guarantee success. Bree:Mm-hm. Carly:But when you fail at it they also guarantee that you’re the failure. Bree:Yeah. Carly:Not the program. Bree:And what does that remind you of? It reminds me of diets. Right? We know the research behind diets, how little they work, the fact that they don’t last long, and yet we have testimonials, we have before and after shots, and so if you fail the diet it’s because you’re a failure. Carly:Mm-hm. Bree:So, it really reminded me of that. But I totally bought into it, in my sleep-deprived state and we were just so desperate, so I just started working harder. And prior to becoming a mum that is how I had got anywhere in life. If I was struggling with something I just worked harder and it paid off, and I very much expected the same to be true in motherhood. So, I stopped going places because I wanted to be able to focus entirely on his sleep, and just got even more obsessive and extreme about it, and eventually, it worked enough that I felt justified. His sleeps gradually lengthened. There was kind of that light at the end of the tunnel and I really felt like we had nailed it, and I would have told anyone who would listen at the time. I obviously regret it now and I worry that I had shaped other mothers’ decisions around sleep training by sharing our relative success. [20:00] But it was success through a very narrow lens. Like what that had cost us was not factored into what I considered to be success. Carly:What would you say those costs were? Bree:Huge. Cost for my mental health. I feel like it affected breastfeeding. My supply dipped and then I had to work really hard to get that back up. He became the kind of child that wouldn’t sleep anywhere except in his carefully controlled environment. I missed out on social opportunities because I was prioritising his sleep over that. I became the gatekeeper to his sleep, no one else could do it except me, so my load just increased further. And I also just felt disconnected from him. I really missed being able to just cuddle him to sleep, and eventually, I started feeding him to sleep again. It was like my guilty pleasure. I didn’t want to tell anyone about it and I really worried it would derail everything, but in my mind, this was just compartmentalised. I felt, ‘Yep, but it’s been successful. We’re getting more sleep. Things have gotten better.’ I really bought into that at the time. The thing that never really occurred to me was that it was a process that would have to be repeated. I feel like no one ever told me that, and it was a case of like, ‘Oh, you might just have to have a couple of days of getting them back into the rhythm and then it would be smooth sailing.’ But that was not the case for us at all. He would learn to roll or cut a tooth and it would all just go out the window and we’d be right back there doing it all over again for days, for weeks. And you know, it was horrific one time, but to repeat it multiple times, it kind of became harder and harder. And again it was confusing because I really thought – and it sounds silly saying it now – but I thought I’d taught him a lifelong skill. Carly:Yeah. Bree:And so I’m like, ‘Hang on, I only taught him this lifelong skill two months ago. What is going on?’ Carly:Yeah, I thought he knew how to link sleep cycles now. Bree:Yes. Carly:And you know, all of those things. It’s such a fascinating thing because that’s one thing that I was genuinely surprised by too. But then if you express surprise over it it’s almost like you get the whole, ‘Well yeah, of course’. And, ‘Oh, you can throw it all out the window when they get sick and then you’ll just need to get them back in a routine again.’ It’s very mixed-up messaging. But when you’re really really vulnerable to that messaging you don’t really have the energy or time to unpick it then and there. It’s only later with hindsight I find. Bree:Not at all. I actually didn’t get told that I could throw it out the window when he was sick or teething, so I didn’t. And I feel so much guilt and regret over that because there were so many times where his crying was not just "for connection". He was genuinely in pain or sick and really needed me, and I wasn’t being responsive to him. I was sitting in the corner of the room crying. It was so devastating and challenging for me, but I just felt in this incredible bind that if I gave in we would go back to the way things were, and the way things were was so devastating, so soul destroying, that I could not bring myself to give in, to respond to him and risk ruining our progress. Does that make sense? Carly:Absolutely. I’ve also been there, and I think for anyone listening along, if you haven’t been through this process you don’t quite grasp what it’s like to have bought in. To buy into the idea that this is something you need to do, and then to have gone through so much of the process it feels like if you were to "give in"...it’s the setback. You’ve been through so much to get that far, that if you were to have that setback you don’t want to have to do that all over again to your baby. It’s a really messy, mixed-up space to be in, so yes, I wish I didn’t relate hard to that but I actually do, Bree. Bree:It’s a really hard place to be. To be non-responsive to your child you have to shut down a part of yourself, like your instincts to just go to them and respond to them, and it felt like opening the floodgates to change our approach. So yeah, we just kept on keeping on for the best part of two years. We moved out. We were living with my parents when my little boy was born [25:00] and we moved out when he was about 1, and that was when things really got rough. They weren’t providing us with tremendous support, but it was enough that it was keeping us going through those hard nights and hard days and I was able to get a little bit of reprieve. And then once I was by myself in the house for long hours every day it just became incredibly challenging. Is it normal for parents to be this tired? Carly:Yeah, I’m just looking at the time. I feel like we’re going to be going to a second part of this story, and if you don’t mind sticking around would you be okay to come on and be able to share this? Because I don’t want to shorten any of this down. Would that be okay to come on for another episode? Bree:Yes, I’d absolutely love that. Carly:Amazing. I can’t believe I’m already having to wrap you up on this first 30 minutes, but if you could pass on one tip to our listeners just to finish up this first part, what would you say to someone who’s right back at the beginning of all of this? Bree:Gosh, at the very beginning. I think relevant to my story my biggest tip would be to research and understand safe bedsharing, even if you don’t intend to ever do it. If you don’t think you are ever going to do it, still take the time to set up a safe bed so that on those nights when you are just completely shattered and you risk falling asleep holding your baby you are going to do it in a place that is as safe as it can be. So, that is the tip that I give all new mums, regardless of how they think they’ll approach sleep. Carly:And that is one that we, at Little Sparklers and the Beyond Sleep Training Project, harp on about it all the time. It is for such good reason. It is for safety, and we are working really hard to try and change the messaging that’s going out to new and and expecting parents. Because being able to reduce risk in that shared sleeping setting is crucial to every single family. Even if you have zero intention of sharing sleep you are highly likely to do so. I think the research indicates over 75% of families will fall asleep with their baby in the first few months of life. And you need to know how to do that in a setting that has reduced risk. And that is by having a mattress on the floor, nice and flat, pillows and blankets moved away, baby’s got a nice, clear space to sleep in, and that way if you are feeling like you’re going to fall asleep that is the location you need to put yourself in to keep you and your child in a safer position. Bree:Absolutely. Carly:Thank you so much, Bree. I can’t believe we’ve only just got this far and I’ve had to interrupt you, but I am so keen to hear the second part of your story in our next episode. Thank you so much for your time today. Bree:Thanks for having me. Carly:I really hope you enjoyed the podcast today. The information we discussed was just that, information only. It is not specific advice, and 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 be 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. 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