Podcasts Bree Holling, from The Matrescence Podcast, on finding what worked and finally sleeping 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:And welcome back to the Beyond Sleep Training Podcast. I’m your host, Carly Grubb, and joining me again today is our guest from last week, Bree Holling. She is one part of The Matrescence Podcast and we had her luckily on the show last week, where she was able to share the very first part of her story with her first baby. It did include sleep training, quite an extensive experience with sleep training, but also before that the severe sleep deprivation and circumstances that kind of led into that sleep training journey. And where that episode finished off, Bree, we were just hearing that you had been living at home with your parents for the first part of your baby’s life, but you had since moved out into your own home with your husband, and I think that is where the story was due to be picked up. Thanks for joining us again Bree. Listen to the Matrescence Podcast here Bree:Absolute pleasure. Yes, we were just talking about last week how I had spent the first year with my parents and kind of navigating sleep in that way and then we moved out of home, and it was a huge shift because suddenly we were completely unsupported and on our own and we were still, despite sleep training, incredibly sleep deprived. My little boy had become totally reliant on me for sleep. I was feeding him back to sleep every time throughout the night or resettling, and he was in his own room so I was marching up and down the hallway anywhere from kind of like two to seven times a night, sitting up in the feeding chair trying to stay awake, resettling him and then trying to fall back to sleep. And inevitably he would wake anywhere between ten minutes and an hour later, and it was just so unsustainable. Carly:That is intense. And so even though you’d done the sleep training and that when he was younger you said that you were still feeding when he would wake to resettle. Bree:Yeah. Carly:Was that, were you back to feeding him to sleep, to get him off to sleep? Or was that a feed and then a settle as well? Bree:I always tried to feed and then settle because I didn’t want to create a negative sleep association, so it just made it harder for myself. He would doze off on the boob and then I would pretty much wake him to resettle him back to sleep without it. Carly:Oh Bree. Bree:I know, it’s so tragic to reflect on. But in short we got until about his first birthday and we were desperate. I didn’t know what else to do and I knew that we couldn’t go on like this because it was just, it was effecting my mental health, it was effecting my relationship, and so we talked to the GP and he told us he would try to get us into sleep school. And it sounded lovely. You know, the mother baby unit sounded beautiful. They told us we had multiple options for how we approached sleep. So a spot became available and it felt just like serendipitous. Like I was so excited that they’d got us in so quickly and I really felt like it was the light at the end of the tunnel for us. So my husband couldn’t join us, he had to work so I went by myself, and the first day we got there my little boy was incredibly overtired. He screamed in the car the whole way. I was flustered and he needed a nap, so they were like, “Well, let’s start straight away and we’ll chat later.” They wanted to use a hands on approach so they put him in his cot, which was basically like a metal cage, and then told me I could pat him if I wanted to and then to reduce that to just tapping on the mattress. Have you ever heard of that technique? Carly:[5:00] Yeah, that’s responsive settling. Bree:Yeah. So she assured me that it’s the same as tapping them on the bum. It’s soothing for them to have the rhythmic tapping, and I was like, okay. Carly:Did your bub – sorry, I’ve just got to interrupt there. The look on my baby’s face when I did that. Bree:I know. Carly:He looked at me like I was, like I had three heads. Kind of like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ Bree:I know. Carly:And I don’t know about you, but I hate being patted. All three – I know some babies absolutely love it, so anyone listening along, there is nothing wrong if your bubba enjoys a pat and that actually is soothing for them. But if your babies were like mine who, like they hated being patted. Hated it. Bree:Oh absolutely. And my little girl, my second baby loves it. He hated it. And he just looked at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he was escalating. And I could understand it. I was like, well that makes sense. You’re in a strange environment. They’ve taken away all of those positive sleep associations that we spent the year crafting. You know, the white noise and he has a little bunny who even to this day he still loves called Walter. Took it all away, put him in a cot with strangers and just tapped the mattress, and it took him about 2½ hours to scream himself to sleep. And they kept saying, you know, they reassured me I could pick him up. But then they were kind of like ‘This is what got you into this situation. If you just pick him up every time he cries this isn’t going to work.’ So I felt in this bind where I just wanted to go to him, but they were kind of saying, ‘Well, you need to trust the process.’ So eventually, 2½ hours later he fell asleep and I turned around to walk out of the room and my ankle cracked and it woke him up. And she kind of glared at me, and I was like, “This is why we use white noise.” Like… Carly:Oh my gosh. Bree:And we started the process all, all over again. And we kind of endured it for four, I think four nights, which I was the last person standing in my cohort. There must have been about ten of us and everyone checked out prior to that, and then my sister had her baby very prematurely on the fourth day and I ran out of there. She had asked me to express breast milk for her baby as her milk came in and I was like, “I’m coming.” I was so relieved to have an excuse to leave that didn’t involve me admitting that I’d failed or that I couldn’t hack it. Like I felt like I needed to justify leaving, so we were super grateful that that happened. Carly:Yeah. Bree:And her little girl was totally fine. Carly:I can relate to that to, because you do feel rude. Like I remember them actually asking me why I was even there. Like I was there to waste their time. Bree:Yep. Carly:Like they somehow had more invested in my stay than I did. It really hurt. But I remember at the time it hurt in a different way. It hurt in a way that made me feel like I was being ungrateful, whereas in hindsight, oof, that’s not the feeling I get anymore. Bree:No, and I think that also, you know, I felt like we had exhausted all our options. That’s why we were there. So if this didn’t work what else was there? And going into sleep school I really felt like it couldn’t get any worse, and then my week at sleep school really reassured me that it could get worse and that this was worse and I was willing to go home and do whatever I needed to do for the next however long as long as it meant that I didn’t have to repeat this experience. And I honestly just can’t even tell you how traumatic that was for me, how traumatic it was for him, and I’ve had to really work through the guilt of putting him through that and the fear that it’s like irreparably damaged our attachment. So skimming over, but essentially we went home and I just kept walking back and forth to his room every night for another year. We just kind of kept on keeping on and then we moved houses again when he was about 2, and we decided to get him a queen-size bed because we’d had to transition him into a big boy bed very young because he’s a climber and was just lobbing himself out of his cot. And this was again something that I just want to mention quickly, that eventually he started hopping out of his cot and wanting to leave his room. Carly:They do that. Bree:And no one had prepared me for this. Like I was taking him back, taking him back, taking him back, and eventually the sleep consultant was like, “Just leave the door shut. He’ll fall asleep on the floor. He’ll learn.” And I did that and I still cry about it. It was so awful to – gosh, I’m getting emotional now just saying, like to hear him banging on the door and wanting us and not feel like we could respond to him. It’s awful. It feels like child abuse. Maybe it is. And I genuinely thought I was doing the right thing, and the fact that we can warp this into being something that is for the children is just so bizarre and speaks to how compelling this is – this being sleep training and the culture. Carly:Yeah. Yep. Bree:[10:00] So anyway, we brought him a queen-size bed and we wanted that so that on the nights where he was sick we could lay with him, and that felt like a big jump for us, because I felt like once we crossed that threshold there was no turning back. It was like, okay, we’re in bedsharing. And we loved it, and he loved it, and for the first time probably ever he slept through the night, and then he slept through the night again and he was just so content having us in his bed. And much to our surprise we loved it. We would like fight over who got to sleep with him, and… Carly:Oh Bree, I’ve got goosebumps because I’m just so relieved for you all. Like… Bree:I know. We got there. And it was just so, it was so mind-blowing to me how good it was for our whole family. And eventually, I fell pregnant again, and we actually put off having another child for years, well three years, because I was so terrified of dealing with sleep again. And this was kind of the light at the end of the tunnel and when I was pregnant and I was getting bigger and I was more uncomfortable we transitioned my little boy to sleeping exclusively with my husband so I had the room, and that kind of gave me the confidence that I could be with my baby while my husband bedshared with Taj, with my little boy. And yeah, when she was born we had read up on all things bedsharing. We had engaged with all the resources on your page and elsewhere, and I felt super comfortable and confident doing that. So, from birth I had Emmy, my little girl, in the bed with us and that decision was kind of solidified by the fact that I had a third-degree tear in birth, so getting up out of bed multiple times a night was just not an option. It was as much something that I wanted to do as something I needed to do, so I learnt to breastfeed lying down and honestly, she just pretty consistently, in air quotes, slept through the night from birth. She would maybe wake to feed, but I couldn’t tell you whether it was once or twice or 15 times because I didn’t rouse to do it. I loved it. I snuggled up to her and it was just, sleep was so easy, and I felt awkward and embarrassed and guilty to admit to people how good it was going because I knew what the other side felt like. So, since her birth we continued to bedshare. When my husband went back to work, he works nights so I was on double duty, and I just put my little boy on one side and her on the other, or we set the cot up as a sidecar and he slept in that and we slept in the bed, or some nights he’d be on a mattress on the floor and we’d be in the bed, and we just have played musical beds. And it sounds so chaotic but there is such freedom in the letting go. We don’t follow wake windows or schedules. We sometimes do car naps, sometimes do contact naps, and we’ve just totally leaned into her rhythm, and it has been, there’s been so much ease around sleep this time it’s not something I think about until I’m doing it. Like, okay, she needs a nap right now. What’s going to work right now in this moment? And yeah, I think you can hear, but I really can’t emphasise enough like what a night and day experience it has been. It has been such a huge gamechanger for us. Carly:I can hear it in your voice. You just sound light about it. Bree:Yeah. Carly:But there’s also like this like warmth. Like you’ve got a real, like it’s like treasured memories that have been developed purely because you were able to just lean into sleep and find ways to do it in ways that didn’t – or actually took the pressure off all of you. Bree:Totally. Carly:There was no, no, no must do anything in a particular way. And I love the way you’ve described your flexible sleep arrangements, because we’ve done similar in our house over time. Bree:Yeah. Carly:How good is it just to be able to not feel like you need to stick with one particular configuration? Bree:Or one particular bedtime or one particular method of settling. It’s all so responsive. What does she need? What do I need right now? And that’s been a big learning curve, is to consider my needs because bedsharing and contact napping can be quite draining, quite exhausting in a different regard. That being needed and being touched all the time. So factoring myself and my needs and my mental health into the equation, and just doing what works and, you know, she sleeps so well because all her needs are met and responded to. And now we find ourselves, Taj is 4 and he sleeps pretty independently at the start of the night, and we miss him and we’re starting to go, oh, I hope he doesn’t want to sleep by himself any time soon because we’re going to really miss these days and these contact naps and it’s such a huge [15:00] shift in thinking. And this was kind of like my worst imaginable situation, like it sounds so chaotic but it’s actually just there’s so much freedom, we just live our life and the kids’ sleep fits in around it. Carly:That’s it. And I guess, like you say, like it could sound like someone’s worst nightmare beforehand. Like if you were thinking, ‘Oh no, I’m going to be the person who needs to have all the routines and I need to know what’s going on.’ It’s like actually you can be that person. I was that person too. Bree:Yeah. Carly:And it still ends up being so much more freeing for even that kind of personality to accept the fact that you’re going to need to be flexible with you and your baby. Like you said, you matter too and on any given day you can make decisions that also suit how you’re feeling in that moment as well. Bree:Yeah. Carly:But that is so much easier to work around than some rigid routine that’s been foisted upon your family that you think is going to help. Bree:Absolutely. Carly:Or that was my experience also. Yeah. Bree:Yeah, and I think that, you know, one of the reasons I didn’t bedshare is that it felt so unsafe to me, and the more I educated myself and researched the safer it felt. And now strangely when Emmy will sleep in her cot, which she sometimes will for a fairly long stretch, it feels really unsafe to me because she’s not right next to me and I can’t monitor her wellbeing, and I often find myself moving her into bed with me even when she’s happily sleeping because that is now what feels safe to me. Which I really do think it’s important to tell part one of my story because this, what we are doing now would have felt so inaccessible to me back then, and I think that it provides context to what that journey looked like leading up to where we are now. Carly:And it also really speaks to the fact that so many of us who ultimately find bedsharing as a really great tool in our parenting repertoire, how many of us came to it the hard way. Bree:Yeah. Carly:Like it’s not always, you know, something that we consciously decided and thought, ‘Yeah, that’s going to be the type of parent I want to be’, but more like we’d ended up being forced. And I say that lightly because I am so grateful that I ended up going down that path, but it really wasn’t the path either of us set out to be on and yet it ultimately turned out to be exactly where we needed to be. Bree:Yeah, absolutely. And it’s something that I’m seeing with some women in our community and in a mums’ group I belong to, is women who are starting at this place and going, “Okay, we’ve heard other people’s stories and we know some things about bedsharing, let’s start here”. And it just makes me so grateful for the work you’re doing and other people are doing just to even let people know that this is an option that exists, and it is a really good one even and that they don’t have to go through all the hard stuff to get to this place. Carly:Absolutely. Right back in that early part of your story if only that could have been the noise that you were hearing when you were, you know, up and pacing and falling asleep in dangerous locations, that new mum you needed to have those stories in the back of the mind to go, ‘Hang on a sec, I know this isn’t safe. I do have another option up my sleeve.’ And that’s the people we need to be reaching right away, isn’t it? Bree:It is. Absolutely. Just knowing that it exists. It genuinely never occurred to me that there was another option, and it felt like stepping off the deep end with Emmy going, ‘Okay, how are we going to do this differently?’ Because as recently as when she was born I didn’t know what bedsharing with an infant looked like. So again, just every time you share your story and speak honestly and authentically about sleep it makes a difference, and I think we need so many more people telling their stories. So, obviously very grateful for what you’re doing right now. Carly:Yeah, that was kind of the whole idea of the podcast. Because it is, it’s those real stories, the real context, and hopefully people hearing enough from people who sound familiar to them that we can reach people to consider their options, especially if they’re feeling like they’re cornered on that sleep training path like you and I both were with those first babies. So tell me, I know you mentioned a little bit, and I’ve spoken about with my guy as well – with Taj did you feel like after - you said that there was like a real disconnect that went on for you both during the sleep training time – did you find that there were certain things that helped heal your way forward for both of you after that experience? Bree:Yeah, I think that kids are remarkably resilient. Probably they shouldn’t have to be, but they are, and I think that a lot more of the work was around forgiving myself. And I did read this, Tracy Cassels has done some great writing about attachment after [20:00] sleep training and that it’s not all doom and gloom. All is not necessarily lost and you can repair. But it definitely transformed our relationship in that I was endeavoring to be a really responsive parent during the day and then come nightfall it was like, ‘Okay, just switch that off and we’re doing things totally differently.’ So, it became just more of a continuous experience in my mothering where I was consistently meeting his needs, I was consistently being gentle, I was consistently being responsive. And also, it was just a big shift in how I felt about myself as a mother, that I could protect my babies simply by being with them, and that was huge. We live on an acreage. I am by myself at night. My husband’s at work, and I just felt really safe having my kids right with me in my room, in my bed, and I felt proud of myself for mothering in a way that was authentic and my own and it just gave me confidence to start bringing that into all areas of motherhood because I had said no to the bullshit and leant into what worked for our family. And we started to do that in all different areas, not just sleep, which led to me having a home birth with my little girl and home-schooling my little boy and all these kind of counterculture decisions which felt a little odd to me prior. But I just feel like at a place in my mothering journey now where I like who I am, I like how we do things, and I feel really confident, and that is in no small part due to the transformation we went through with sleep. Carly:I love that you can see how it all plays into a wider sphere of parenting, because that’s so much of what we’ve tried to encapsulate in Little Sparklers through the work of the Beyond Sleep Training Project and why we argue that it’s such a crucial time in parenting for not just the baby and child but for the parent that the person is becoming to have access to support that actually really, genuinely builds that power and confidence and connection, the continued connection that is so vital as you move through the various stages with your children as they grow. Bree:Yes. Carly:It’s so much more than sleep. Sleep is just a part of it. Bree:Mm. A huge part of it when it’s not working, but just a part nonetheless. Carly:But this is the thing, isn’t it? Bree:Yeah. Carly:That’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s like really for parents with babies it’s the key part. And so it’s kind of like a bit of a fob off that we think that a bit of sleep training that encourages that disconnection through the night. Actually all through the night is part of this connection cycle for our young babies and our toddlers as they grow and learn, and parenting through the night holds value. It’s not something we should be trying to reduce in – like obviously we want it to be in a manageable way, but do you know what I mean? Like trying to eliminate that need in the night. No, no, no. The parenting at night’s valuable. Let’s find ways to do that in a way that is actually sustainable for that family and the wellbeing of the whole family. Bree:Gosh, I couldn’t agree more. Like let’s not wait until we hit this absolutely, absolute crisis point to do something. Right? Let’s start from the very beginning and know that this work is valuable, that this season is hard and put things in place to support yourself through it. Carly:Absolutely. And the waiting until people are broken is so part of sleep training culture. It sets you up to fail from the beginning, and then it becomes the solution that’s supposedly going to make everything alright again. And like you say, it then cycles through; as that baby grows they need retraining because they popped out a tooth or, you know? It’s such an industry, and when you can see it for what it is you realise actually we can unpick all of that, and let’s not bring families to their knees in the first place. And it really can set people off on a completely different trajectory to the one that both you and I found ourselves on with our first babies. Bree:Yeah, absolutely. Carly:Well, I am so very grateful for you coming on today, Bree. I’m just looking at our time. There is just a quick one more question before I get your tip. I haven’t asked you, when it comes to daytime napping with your second love – because obviously naps and things like that are different when you’ve got a busy toddler around – how has napping looked for her? Bree:So different, and really good. We’ve embraced contact napping pretty much from the beginning, but I also haven’t been afraid to play with that. So at times when I’m feeling super touched out we revert more to car naps. At times I’ll put her down in her cot and just accept that if she wakes the nap’s over and I’m comfortable with that. So I don’t feel like beholden to contact napping and baby-wearing and that real intense attachment parenting in that way, but it’s constantly changing based on her needs. [25:00] We went on holidays last week and we just went without any plan. We brought a few things to make the bed safe and we just did a lot of naps out and about in the carrier or the car. So it’s just not a problem really, we just ebb and flow based on her needs. We wait until she’s super tired because we find that easier, and never watch the clock, just watch her. So again super responsive and changing day to day. It’s so different from one day to the next. Carly:And they really are like that, aren’t they? As they grow and learn and when you follow their flow you can see that it really can change. You might just start to see a pattern emerge and bam, they change it up on you again. Bree:Absolutely, and that’s been a big thing for me, is to stop looking for patterns where they don’t exist because so much of that early sleep training kind of mindset was look for the patterns and that will hold the key to success. And now I don’t even look. I just look at what’s immediately in front of me and just respond to that. Carly:Oh yes. Absolutely. I found it much less stressful to do that because then you don’t even, I don’t know. There’s a lot of pressure in all that tracking and picking patterns. Bree:So much. Carly:And it’s all energy that you can use elsewhere, isn’t it? Bree:Yes. And that is part of the reason I’ve been able to start our podcast, is that I actually have the energy and capacity, not because I’m more well-rested but because my brain is free from thinking about sleep all the time and it’s freed up mind space for me to think about other things. And these are the things that add value to my life and keep me functioning even when we’re going through seasons were sleep is not that good. So I think that that’s really important to say too. Carly:It absolutely is, and thank you so much for sharing that. And I feel like that might have been your tip. Did you have another tip that we’d like to finish the episode off with though, Bree? Bree:I do actually, and it’s kind of been crafted just from following along in your Facebook group actually, and you guys respond to this so incredibly well. But it’s those mums who have really leaned into that responsive style of parenting, and then they hit this like burnout point where they’re like ‘I can’t do this anymore’. That is the point where I feel like so many parents then go the 360 to sleep training, and I’ve been really conscious of it this time. So something that I’ve really kept in mind is sustainability. What makes this sustainable for me and my family? So while we contact with Emmy all the time, if I need to do a wee I put her down, and she almost always wakes up but that is part of me responding to my needs. If I feel like I’m going to miss out, if I’m missing out on something my family is doing or I’m getting really bored and resentful I put her down and if she wakes up so be it. So kind of just factoring in sustainability, making sure I’ve got water on my bedside table, food, a book and a booklight so that I’m not bored, and just trying to think about, ‘Okay, what are my needs? Because they matter too, and I can’t just self-sacrifice to her sleep because I’m going to burn myself out.’ So, I do always try to keep that in the front of my mind. Carly:And that is hugely valuable. I think I got better with that with my third baby as well, where you actually – I used to weight it up in my mind. Like what’s going to be better for me in this moment? Do I need her to sleep a bit longer or do I need to go, like you say, go have a wee? Or I’m just too hungry, I can’t wait anymore. And you know, you might, like you said, you might put her down, or I used to try and do the ninja roll out. Bree:Yeah. Carly:And sometimes it’d work, sometimes it wouldn’t, but I’d weigh it up, what was most important to me in that moment, and make the decision for me. Bree:Yeah. Carly:It wasn’t always just about where she was up to. So that’s really, I love that. I think it’s something that becomes, like you say, a much more sustainable pattern for people who are being responsive to their little one’s needs. So thank you for bringing that to our attention. Hopefully people listening along really take some benefit from that, Bree. Bree:Oh, thank you so much. Carly:And it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show, Bree. I know sometimes opening up about the sleep training story can be quite hard on your heart. I could hear it in your voice a few times. But I also think it takes so much courage and strength to then be open and honest about that experience for other people to be able to potentially learn I guess is the word I’m looking for. I’m not sure it’s quite the word, but it adds a context and a perspective to the experience of responsive parenting afterwards and I really can’t thank you enough for coming on and sharing that with us all. Bree:Thank you so much for having me. It’s been such a privilege to get to, you know, share the full spectrum of our journey and where it’s led us. So hopefully it can add some value to anyone who’s listening. Carly:It absolutely will, and we’re very grateful. And as we’re headed into Season 3 we have got such a beautiful bank of stories, but I can’t believe how much, even this many episodes in, we still hear such unique experiences from our guests. So thanks for bringing yours today Bree. Bree:Thanks Carly. [30:00] Wanting help to begin your own journey beyond sleep training? 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. 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