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SUMMARY- Join Carly and Dr Sophie Brock, a PhD in Motherhood Studies Sociology as they discuss Dr Sophie's experiences of early parenting with her little sparkler, and how she found her way through night time parenting during a relationship breakdown and how she found the support she needed in that intense time.

You can find Dr Sophie (the Good Enough Mother) on the Good Enough Mother Podcast, Facebook and Instagram

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.  

Carly:
And welcome back to the Beyond Sleep Training podcast. I’m your host Carly Grubb, and today we have a very special guest that is Dr Sophie Brock. I’m so glad that Sophie could join us. I’ve… she’s been someone I’ve admired on social media for quite some time now. She is a Motherhood Studies Sociologist with a PhD from the University of Sydney… means to be a mother in the current social and cultural environment and helping us to find ways to challenge some of the damaging practices that don’t serve us very well as mothers and on a broader societal level as well. You host an amazing podcast, it’s one that I actually listen to every single time an episode drops, called The Good Enough Mother. And it provides… you also provide really valuable support and education to women, and also to support the people who support women through your workshops and mentoring sessions. Did I miss anything there, Sophie?

Sophie:
No, that’s a wonderful introduction. Thank you, Carly. I’m so glad to be here and having this conversation with you. I’ve… When you say you’ve admired my work, I’m like, I’ve admired your work for years, Carly. So, that was lovely to hear, thank you.

Carly:
No, it’s fantastic to have you on because I know when I’m listening to your… your sessions you’ve got a great way of teasing apart people’s stories so that we get to hear all of the beautiful richness of the motherhood journeys for people. But also, you’re just not someone who… you don’t gloss over all the tough stuff that comes along and the challenges that families face too, which I really appreciate. So, if anyone is looking for another podcast to listen to make sure you check out The Good Enough Mother. Now, for today’s episode though, Sophie, we want to actually talk about you and your little family and your experience around sleep. So, would you like to tell us a bit about your little crew?

Sophie:
Sure, yeah. Well, I have a daughter. She’s 3-years-old, Tilly. And she’s very much what you have termed a little sparkler, Carly. She has been an amazing portal for my own kind of growth and learning about myself and life and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have been a mother and, you know, the journey that is such a privilege but equally such a challenge. And to be able to talk about both and to hold both, I think it’s so important. We don’t get much space for that. And I’m excited too to sort of share a little bit more about my experience in mothering, which is something I try and do while straddling the social cultural analysis and stuff, but yeah, it’s not where a lot of my focus is, so I’m really grateful to be having this conversation too.

Carly:
Well, thank you. And I’m just wondering, so when you come in to having… welcoming your little person, did you have like an idea in your head about how you’d handle sleep with them once you brought them home?

Sophie:
I did, yes. So, I actually started thinking about this during my pregnancy, because I did as much research, you know, being a researcher and a motherhood researcher, I was thinking, well then, what books can I read about motherhood? And sometimes I get asked like, oh, so because you’re a Motherhood Sociologist, does that mean that you were really prepared before you came into motherhood? And I had a private midwife for my birth, and that was one thing which really did help actually, having awareness and understanding of the maternity system, and is why I made that choice in how to navigate for and prepare for my birth. But she asked me actually this question of, okay, so you’re a researcher and you’re interested in the experience of motherhood. Like, what have you done to prepare? You know, for your birth and beyond that, for your entry into motherhood? She asked me that question, which I don’t think is often asked of mothers.

Carly:
No.

Sophie:
Yeah, when we’re pregnant. And so, I said to her, well, actually what I’ve gained as an understanding from speaking with mothers and from doing the research and the focus that I’ve had on how motherhood’s constructed [5:00] is that I know that I can’t know actually until I become a mother. I know that there is so much that I’m yet to find out, and I know that actually reading a whole bunch of books and things can’t adequately prepare me for what this transition will be. But I know that I’ll need support, and I know that I need to be as anchored into my own self as I can be in that journey because it’s one that will have us remade over and over. And so, I did have an awareness of matrescence and the way that things shift and change, but interestingly that’s actually quite different to the practical and tangible tools and skillset of mothering, which I didn’t have. And I hadn’t been around many babies before. I didn’t have much experience in what it was like to nurture and care for a baby. And, of course, I had succumbed and have been conditioned into our mainstream understandings of sleep, you know, infant sleep and what that looks like, and settling and all of the rest of the advice that gets thrown our way. And my beautiful midwife had actually spoken to me about co-sleeping when I was pregnant, and spoke to me about safe co-sleeping. And when she started talking to me I had this voice in my head saying, oh, this is nice information to know, but that won’t be me. I’m not going to co-sleep. I had this. And you know what is so funny now, I asked her about like what type of mattress to use for the cot. So, that was my next conversation, and she gave me this… this book about, you know, SIDS and cots and mattresses, and I went to great efforts to get this custom-made, organic mattress for the cot and a matching one for the bassinet, and I had all this organic bedsheets and things that, all of that. Like, I was quite invested in ensuring that I had the sleep space set up in the way that I wanted to. And lo and behold, that barely ever got used. I was probably jumping forward a bit. But I certainly did have in my mind that co-sleeping, that’s not for me, that wasn’t for me, I wasn’t going to be doing that with my baby. And now I recognise in hindsight that a lot of that was because of the messaging that had been built in around what it means to mother a baby and have them in routines and have them sleep in a particular way. And also I suppose about the ways and the misunderstandings of co-sleeping, for example, and the ways that it can put us into particular labels of being potentially the dangerous mother or the bad mother or the mother who isn’t well-prepared or the mother who is doing something as a compensation for, well, not being able to get it right, quote-unquote. And so, that was all kind of swirling around, but I wasn’t really that cognisant of if when I was pregnant. And, of course, that all changed the first night my daughter came home.

Learn more about normal infant sleep

Carly:
So, did she have sleeping…?

Sophie:
Which I know is probably…

Carly:
I was going say, did she have the sleepy newborn stage at all? Or did we give that one a miss?

Sophie:
No. She did not. She did not have that… well, actually after the birth she was sleeping, in the hospital. I mean I didn’t really pay any attention. I thought that’s just what they do. I was like, oh. And now I laugh looking back because I was like, oh, she’s just, she’s so out of it. Like she’s so sleepy, for like the first day, literally the day after. She was born at one in the morning, and for the rest of that day she was really sleepy, but that all changed as soon as we got home. And I remember the first night I had her in a co-sleeper attachment, like where the side comes out, basically like sidecar into the bed, and she – every time I put her in there she would cry. I was like, what…? What is going on? Why does she keep crying when I put her in there? And then I’d pick her up, and then she would stop crying. And I’d put her back down and I’m like, what is happening? I couldn’t understand it. I didn’t… I didn’t understand why she kept crying. And so, then I sat up in the bed holding her, and I knew about the dangers of that as well, right? And I was thinking, but I’m so tired. Like, how do I… how do I sleep? Do I… but then what if I fall asleep and my arm just drops her, and she rolls off…? How do I do this? And so, then I tried to lie on the bed and sort of position her next to me, but she was swaddled. And I was fearful about that and like, this doesn’t feel safe. And so, what I ended up doing on that first night was I actually went into the nursery, and I sat in the rocking chair, and I just thought, oh well, I guess I’m just going to have to stay awake. And I just stayed awake. [10:00] And I just looked at her and I, you know, I would have had hormones pumping through me. And I remember watching the sunrise while holding her and I thought in my head, is this motherhood? Like, this is motherhood now. Is this it? This… this wouldn’t just be me. There would be other mothers out there like this. Other mothers had been through this. Like, how does this work? How am I going to figure this out? What’s it going to look like?

A little about newborns

And so that was a really big… it was a shock at the time, but I suppose that it’s always really hard for me to talk about the experience of those early days without talking about the other stuff that was happening for me at the time. And I think that that’s actually really important to say, because so often we look at our experiences of raising a baby and having a baby and going through a labour and those early days, and even beyond, we kind of look at it in isolation and we’re really interested in what was the baby doing and what were you doing in response, without going, okay, let’s see a little bit wider here, what else is happening in that scenario. And for me, the context was right before I went into labour I found evidence, if you will, that my husband was cheating on me, which sent me into labour and hysterics, and then had me in a total… I mean everything collapsed basically. Like, everything collapsed in my identity, my life, my dreams, my vision for what my post-partum would be, could be. It all just collapsed. And so, when I came… when I came home it wasn’t even the home that it was. Like, everything had changed. And when I went into that other room with my baby, the nursery, and my husband at the time was asleep in the bed and we were kind of having these half conversations in between people coming in and out of the room, and my midwife would come, you know, came to visit me, and my mum and my sister were there supporting me, and it was just, I was trying to mother this baby and I was trying to breastfeed and she wasn’t latching properly, and I had all of this stuff swirling around me. And I think it was day 3, and when you get the blues or, you know, you have that big hormone shift. And I knew about that shift as well. I knew about day 3, because I’d been prepared, quote-unquote. And I was in the bathroom crying, and I just thought, don’t worry, Sophie. This is just because it’s day 3. I was telling myself.

Carly:
Aww.

Sophie:
I was saying in my head, I was like looking in the mirror and I was just distraught, and I was like, this will pass. This will get better. This is just day 3. Actually, what had just happened was that my husband said he didn’t love me anymore. Right? Which, total… it wasn’t even in my consciousness or on my radar that that could ever have been a possibility, let alone right then and there. And so, in hindsight again, I look back and I’m like, woah, actually Sophie, you had all of these other things happening in your life. And that probably speaks to the rest of my experience of those early days of mothering a baby, and all of the challenges that I went through with mothering and figuring out what sleep looks like and how I was going to navigate that with my daughter. A lot of that actually… that’s not… I can’t separate that from the context that I was in relationally and emotionally, because it’s all so intertwined and connected. Does that make sense?

Carly:
Absolutely. That is one hell of a post-partum. What a shock and yeah. And so, like while you’re… you’ve sat up all night with this baby, staring at her and realising that that was only one night, like what’s… what’s ahead of you? What… what did you do next? Did you talk to anybody about the situation to find out what, like was this going to be your forever?

Sophie:
Well, I don’t even think I was really thinking. I just, I wasn’t even thinking about… I was just basically thinking about how do I get through the next hour? Like, what’s the next hour? And I… I think it was maybe day 4, and I had those brilliant hydrogel disc pad… disc pads. You know that you put on your nipples when you have cracks and it’s sore and hurting. And I’d run out of them, and I asked my partner if he could get some more from the chemist, and he kind of was snappy with me. And I just thought, I just had this realisation, I’m like, what am I doing? Like, what am I doing [15:00] here? What… what is my life? What has… what am I doing? I’ve got this brand-new baby. I’m trying to connect with her. I’m trying to feed her, to keep her alive. I’m trying to somehow close my eyes so that I can still function and not collapse. And I think actually that there was a lot of adrenalin running. I think that I was kind of just, like in this heightened state of activation. And that’s probably why I found it hard to rest, even if I had little space or opportunity. Like, someone came over to visit and said that they’ll hold the baby while I rest, and I would go in and just be on my phone. Like, I couldn’t even sleep. And… and I just, my mum picked that… like my mum recognised that basically, and said to me, why don’t you come and stay with me for a couple of days? And just to give you two some space, and I can help with the baby and - because he wasn’t doing anything. And so, I said, okay, I’ll just do that, thinking that I would say to my partner, oh, this is what I was thinking, and he would say, oh, no, no, no. Don’t leave. Don’t leave. Like I was thinking that would be the response. But he was like, yeah, that’s a good idea. I was like, okay then. Whipped out some plastic bags and my carefully placed and organised nursery with my colour-themed sections for all the little baby things was swiftly just chucked into some plastic bags, and I loaded the car up and I went over. And that was it. I… that was, I’ve never… that was my moving out basically. I would go back and collect things when I needed them, and that happened in various stages, and when she was about 6-weeks old was when I had like removalists come to help me with my things. But that was all happening in those early weeks. And so, when I look back on it now, and I, you know, we spoke about this bit before we were recording, Carly, that it’s… it’s hard to fully… you can’t actually fully take yourself back and be in that situation and in that memory, because at the time you’re just running on your survival mechanism. Like, you’re just coping. You’re just getting through. I wasn’t thinking about the next month or two months or 5-years, or what sleep should look like even at the time. I was just like; whatever I have to do I’m going to do. And that ended up being I got a little co-sleeper, little… I don’t know if it’s called like a… it was to put in the bed, but it had little sides on it.

Carly:
Oh, those nests. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Learn more about Safer Sleep

Sophie:
Yeah, those nest things. So, I had one of them, and she seemed to be okay in that if I sort of had my hand on her. And she was, I was in a single bed now at my mum’s house, and I would sort of, I had her up in the corner, and that’s how I would sleep. And I didn’t know how to breast sleep. I didn’t… like, to feed while I was sleeping, I didn’t really know that was a thing, so I would just sit up and breastfeed her. But at the same time, right, all this other drama was happening. And so, when I’m sitting up in the bed and feeding her, like I’m also looking through, I had people sending me like screenshots of like my husband on like a dating app, and like all this other stuff was happening. So, I know now for sure that that all impacted actually my capacity to sleep and rest and may baby’s capacity to sleep and rest as well. At the time though, I wasn’t aware of how intricately we were linked in that way. I kind of could think that I could hold a front and be okay and my baby would be okay. I didn’t recognise how deeply we were actually connected in that experience. And so, I kind of muddled my way through the first 6 weeks, the first… probably 3 months actually. And I remember there was one night, and I laugh at myself compassionately now, where I think she had a stretch of maybe 4 hours of sleep in a row, and I remember waking up and she was still asleep, and my breasts felt really full and I had manually express because I was like, I don’t want to get mastitis. And in the bathroom when I was manually expressing, I thought to myself, just really savour these moment, Sophie. Like, it was a real reminder for me to appreciate how little she is, because I’m like, this is the beginning of her starting to sleep longer stretches, and it’ll probably be soon, and I won’t even be getting up in the night feeding her anymore. Like, you just have to really treasure these night feeds while they last. Oh my gosh. She’s almost 4 and I’m still feeding her at night.

Carly:
Treasured moments for the last 4 years.

Sophie:
I am so lucky.

Carly:
Oh, my goodness. But how good is that though. Like, even in the… so like, you know, in the depths [20:00] of everything that was going on, it sounds like you just did an incredible job being able just to continue on with your nurturing despite the trauma that’s going on outside. And as much as you say like, you know, you do recognise there would have been that intricate link and connection with your daughter through that time, you created such a solid buffer for her at the same time. That’s incredible. Because I can only imagine the amount of stress your body was under at such a crucial time. Oh, Sophie. That’s intense. And so, with… you’d moved in with your mum. Did you have a lot of support in terms of practical support, emotional support, from your mum, being in the house with her?

Sophie:
Yeah, a lot. And my sister was living there at the time as well. So, I did. In saying that, and I know others will be able to relate to this, like Tilly was not the type of baby that could just be handed over to someone. So, like she’d, yeah, she’d just… Carly’s having… giving me a thumbs up.

Temperament has a role in sleep

Carly:
Yeah. I’m giving a thumbs up. Totally.

Sophie:
She’s just on me like all time. So, it’s not, I couldn’t… like when I would have a shower for example, I would either have her in the shower with me or my mum would hold her, but she’d be outside the door screaming. Like, it was…

Carly:
So, you do the quick shower and get out.

Sophie:
Yeah. You do the quick shower, and you get out. And I remember sometimes, like the shower was the only place where I would start to break down, because I was separated from her. It was almost like whenever she was with me, I could focus on her, and whenever I was away from her and stepped away from her, like all the emotions kind of flooded me. But then I would hear her screaming out there and it’s almost like I just pulled myself back together again. And I know that, you know, I know now in hindsight as well that actually a lot of that’s kind of repression and suppression of emotion, which isn’t great. But when you’re in kind of crisis mode and when you don’t actually have the time or space or option to break down because you just don’t, you know have the foundation and the grounding and the capacity to do that, that’s how I coped. And so, yeah, I had brilliant support emotionally from my mum and my sister, and I have wonderful friends as well, and… and also my mum took time off work and cooked. Like, she… she did the cooking and all of that, so that was a massive help. I got mastitis when she was, it was around the time actually of moving out of that… my other house officially. So, that was horrendous. But I am so thankful that I had that support and that, as I said, because I had the continuity of care with my private midwife, I was seeing my private midwife pretty regularly in those first 6 weeks too. So, she would come out to the house, and I would have her to debrief with as well. And at the same time as all of this I continued having a lot of pain breastfeeding and ended up… ended up going down the whole route of tongue tie and latching things, and I ended up using shields for 3 months to try and get breastfeeding, you know, established in a way. And that was, look, that was really important to me. And something that is also probably not spoken about much because it’s generally not a concern for people when they’ve just had a baby if they’ve got to go through a separation. But I was also really protective of my baby. So, I was scared. I was scared that she would be taken away from me. Because you have this cultural narrative around shared care and what that looks like for divorced parents, and I didn’t really know the ins and outs of the laws or anything like that, and I was kind of just worried. Like, here’s this person that I’ve trusted my life with as my life partner and the father of my child and all of that, and that whole sense of who I know him as has just been completely shattered. So, now it’s like my foundations of being able to feel safe and to have trust in my relationships and the world around me was also kind of shattered. And so, I had this really, a sense of protectiveness as well around my daughter and really wanting us to be able to be as connected and intertwined as possible, which she very much helped with. You know, and I thought… I thought about this in hindsight, of going how much actually is the struggle that I’ve experienced in the relentlessness of the caregiving and the not having other people to be able to step in and come in and help and to have that bit of space, which I was… I ended up really craving desperately. Like, how much did that also kind of serve me in a way as well, and serve my daughter too? So, yeah, I think it can be helpful for us to look at the stories as well that we attach to our sleep experience and our early experience of mothering, and just try on different perspectives too and see how they feel in the narrative that we attach to our story. [25:00]

Carly:
Absolutely. I think that’s really wise advice because despite – like, I’m sure like there would be other people who’ve had really traumatic post-partum experiences, but it doesn’t need to be even that scale of trauma to be actually… be playing into some of the… the experiences that you’re having. And by actually broadening your lens, having a look at what’s going on around you in the environment, in your family, and the pressures and the stresses and the strains, helps you just keep it in context, doesn’t it? Like, it’s not just how your baby’s behaving and whatnot that is actually playing into how sleep looks for you. There’s also all those other environmental factors and stress factors that can really impact on your ability to rest, like you said, even when you get the chance to. I know that’s really common. I had that experience when I got post-natal depression after my third baby. She actually slept like a dream, and I was just… I had the worst insomnia. And so, it didn’t really matter how many hours in a row she slept, because I’d only get like, you know, the smallest portion because my insomnia was what was actually causing it. So, whereas everyone, you know, I had a newborn, so of course I was tired. But it was like, no, actually it’s not her. It’s me. So, I think that’s a really good tip for people listening along too, if you are having a bit of struggle. It doesn’t necessarily change things for you, but it just helps you broaden your story and your context around what you’re experiencing. Thank you very much for that, Sophie. And I’m just having a look at our time, and I feel like we’re only at the start of your story. Do you think you’d be able to stick around for a second episode with us? Would that be okay?

How's your sleep looking? Time for a check-in

Sophie:
Yes, for sure. I’d love to. Yeah.

Carly:
Excellent. Well, just to round out this episode for people, would you mind sharing, do you have a tip that you wish you could have been given maybe as a first-time parent yourself?

Sophie:
Yes. Well, lots. But one that first comes to mind in just relating to that story of being at 3 months and thinking, oh, we’re at the beginning of sleep getting better. It would – the tip would be that sleep is not linear. Sleep is not linear, and don’t think too far into the future and think that you can change what things are going to be like in 6 months by what you do today. Just focus on today and now and your immediate context, and trust that you’ll have the capacity and resilience and will be able to resource yourself or have people come in to help support you in navigating whatever challenges may lie ahead. Just focus on now.

Carly:
I love that tip, because it allows people just to remain a bit present, too. Because there’s nothing worse than catastrophising over one rubbish day with your baby or, you know, a series of rubbish nights and starting to think this will be your forever. Because it’s not, is it? There’s… there’s no forever with babies. It all ends eventually. But when that is, well, it can be as long as a string. So, if you start stressing about that in that moment you really kind of lose out on what’s actually going on and being present in that. Thank you so much, Sophie. That was a really wise first episode, and I’m looking forward to continuing to hear more of your story after.

I will finish the show by asking people listening along if you would, have you been enjoying the episodes you’ve heard so far? If you wouldn’t mind dropping us a review. We are very new to the podcasting world, and so any reviews – particularly 5-star ones – actually help boost us along so that we can find other listeners who might benefit from hearing what we’ve got to say. So, thanks again, Sophie. Looking forward to talking to you in our next episode.

Sophie:
Thank you.

Carly Grubb:

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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