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SUMMARY: This episode takes in the second part of our volunteer Elise's story. In this tale, you will hear more about the challenges Elise's family faced as her sensitive baby grew and how needing to find a level of trust and acceptance in her baby was crucial to Elise remaining connected throughout some really tough times. She then goes on to explain how eventually, as her growing toddler could use words to explain her fears it became clear what was beneath the behaviour Elise had been seeing throughout that period. Elise also talks about the transition to school and the power of feeding to sleep with an older toddler.


Carly Grubb (00:02): 

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 Grubb (00:52): 

And welcome back to the Beyond Sleep Training Podcast. I'm your host Carly Grubb, and I've got the wonderful Elise McMahon back with me for another episode. I think it was back in episode four, we talked to Elise and we learned a little bit about what life was like, um, having a baby in Hong Kong away from your home culture and finding your feet as a parent, not really having any clue what to expect, um, from having life with a baby in the house. And I think that's pretty much where we left things off. Elise, what would you say as your baby got older? How did sleep evolve in your house? 

Elise McMahon (01:30): 

Um, not in a way that people would say was a positive experience. 

Carly Grubb (01:38): 

Would you say it's a positive experience? 

Elise McMahon (01:40): 

I think it, I think it was, I think, you know, so many, so much of society, and my husband and I look at movies and shows all the time and constantly ask, where is the baby? And who's looking after them and why are they perfectly fine being handed over to a complete stranger when they lost their mom? You know, all those movies that have all this trauma and then the baby's just like super chill and perfectly fine being handed around to strangers. And you think that's not how it went? Yeah, so I think where we left off, I had tried putting down, picking up and then decided that was the end of my sleep training experience because it doesn't fit. Um, didn't fit my daughter, and didn't make me feel comfortable. And, I think my internal voice screams loud enough and usually comes out on the outside as well. 

Elise McMahon (02:39): 

For me to listen to it. Because I had been so far from other people telling me what worked for them or what they were doing. And, I had no idea and I was in a culture where there were so many different voices that it sort of led me to listen to my internal one little bit more than I think I would have if I, if I was completely comfortable listening to everybody around me and they all mirrored my same values, um, you know, before I had, I had her. So, I think for me, we had, we worked out that she, like me, and it is genetic is, probably has Coeliac's disease. So, we stopped, well, we never gave her wheat because she didn't get it through my breast milk because I can't have it. And, we just never introduced it. 

Elise McMahon (03:34): 

Uh, and since then she has been glutened by some seaweed that had teriyaki sauce on it. And we didn't realize it had a sauce and she, yeah, definitely had a huge reaction to that and she's also allergic to eggs. She breaks out in a rash and has a horrible night's sleep. And eggs were something that I relied on heavily when my husband was away on trips. For dinner, just whack an egg on toast and you're sorted. And, it made things horribly, horribly worse. And I wasn't listening to myself then because why would somebody be allergic to eggs? And it took a really long time to eventually listen and stop giving it to her and everything got just a little bit better. And then we had, she had a shocking time with teeth, just a lot of pain, very little sleep. 

Elise McMahon (04:28): 

But then we moved houses when she was one into a new apartment and, uh, our previous apartment had double-glazed windows, so the road noise is a bit less, even though we were closer to the road and now we're further, but the road noise is more for some reason. And she developed a fear of the bedroom. And so often she, if she, she would, she would not be put to sleep in the bedroom, even though we had floor beds covering the entire surface of the floor, which is not hard to do in Hong Kong, she wouldn't be put to sleep in the bedroom. It had to be out in the lounge room and then we'd carry her in. And then at one point there, when she was getting her molars and her fears and nighttime fears were at the worst, which was about 15 months, every time she woke up, which was often, she'd have to be resettled on the couch and brought back into the room. 

Elise McMahon (05:27): 

And unbeknownst to me, I had postnatal depression at this point and I was exhausted and hubby was travelling and I was in a new part of the city. And so, I didn't have a lot of friends, but the complex we moved into had a playroom. And so, I would get through the day, taking her down there, taking her to the park, trying to reach out to anybody that I could to get me through. Um, and there was no way to fix anything in any sort of gentle way. And so, for me, it became, I have developed this resolute, understanding that at some point we would find out why she was afraid of the bedroom and at some point, her teeth would come through and then it would all be okay. And I just existed on that hope for about a year responding to her until she had the words and understanding to say I'm afraid of the cars. And we worked out that because the cars are so loud when they drive past loudly and motorbikes, she thought they were going to come into the bedroom. And now that she's three and three quarters, she completely understands that cars are loud, but we are 26 floors from the ground. And there's no way they're going to come in the window. Even if they flew off the highway, they would not even be anywhere close to us. And she sleeps. 

Carly Grubb (07:10): 

But she needed to be able to get that perspective, and you couldn't get the perspective until she was old enough to understand.  

Elise McMahon (07:16): 

Just developmental. 

Carly Grubb (07:18): 

There's just no shortcut is there? 

Elise McMahon (07:20): 

And nothing I did. I've got a Himalayan salt lamp, and we've tried white noise and we've tried fans and we've got block-out curtains and we've got all of the tricks of the trade. We turn the lights off an hour before bedtime. We had a bath, we've got, there was nothing that we could have done to get her past her fear of the cars coming into the bedroom until she had the understanding that the cars were not going to come into the bedroom 

Carly Grubb (07:49): 

Just good old time. 

Elise McMahon (07:52): 

Good old time. And eventually, you know, it got better and worse over that time, swings and roundabouts, you know, she'd have a leap, she'd have a particularly bad patch of sleep. And then all of a sudden, she’d speak in long sentences or she'd tell a joke. Or, you know, if she started obsessing about being able to write numbers just overnight at the dinner table, she just sat there and she was, I need to be able to write a four. It's just like this intense need for her. And so, I think that's why the ‘shoulds’ became a ‘don't listen’ thing because for all other people that I spoke to, their kids weren't afraid of the bedroom or the way they got out over it was just to keep them in the bedroom until they found a way to fall asleep, exhausted crying. And I just couldn't do that because I knew that fear is not something you get over by forcing them to stay, and so I just had to take her lead. 

Carly Grubb (08:53): 

And it's that trust again, like she, she had her reason why she was feeling that way and she was doing the best her little two-year-old self could do. Um, and she needed you to believe her for what she was feeling. And then when she was able to process it, she came out the other side. And do you think, like, I know for me as a parent, I've found like, you feel like you're living in a time warp and it's something that can feel like it's going on forever. And then it's over in the blink of an eye at the same time. And all of a sudden it really is just this thing that happened in the past. 

Elise McMahon (09:28): 

Yeah. And I woke up rested and I said to my husband, what happened? I don't know what changed. You know, I gradually, she would wake up less because her body was getting used to falling back asleep, tired without needing me and went because she wasn't waking up so much. She wasn't afraid when she woke up, of where she was, because she wasn't actually waking up as much and it did get better over time. And then all of a sudden, she just slept. And now she's three years, seven-point, sorry, 3.75 years old, three and three quarters, and she gets tired and she says, can we go to bed? And we go to bed and she falls asleep and we're still nursing, so she boobs to sleep, but 

Carly Grubb (10:23): 

Well done you! I love it. 

Elise McMahon (10:26): 

That's another thing. Like, there's no way to gently stop that for her. She's not the kind of person that…we can negotiate a lot, but when she needs comfort, she needs comfort. And for me, being able to provide that comfort for a very busy brain, that notices a lot. She's very sensitive. She's, a bit of an anxious soul because she understands a lot. She's had a bit of loss recently and the words she uses around that and how she explains it. And the depth of her understanding is incredible, you know, talking to her about that. So, yeah, she's a wise kid and she notices more than other people sometimes do more than I even do. Sometimes she'll point out things to me that I haven't noticed. And so, I can tell that, when she's feeling overwhelmed, she needs comfort. And when she needs comfort, there's one thing that just quickly and easily does the trick. 

Elise McMahon (11:27): 

And so, for the both of us listening to her, acknowledging my limits too, because if she's overwhelmed, I'm generally overwhelmed. And I find it difficult to calm myself. So, boob works for both of us, releases happy hormones for me, happy hormones for her. It gets us both into a calm and restful state. And you know, around about two, I realized that she's talking, she's running around. She's not resting she's dropped her nap at two and a half. And so, it was like this blissful break in the day where there was no nap time. 


Carly Grubb: Enforced rest. For both of you. 


Elise McMahon Yes, it was beautiful. And still is. And yesterday when she was exhausted after a hike and having meltdowns about things, she really wouldn't normally meltdown about, on the way home we got home and we quietened the apartment and she had some booby and she was off to sleep at 6: 30, which is just not her. 

Carly Grubb (12:34): 

A little bit of booby magic at the end of the day. I think it's so important to acknowledge that too when they're like it's. So, for me, like, uh, you know, I finished up a bit earlier with each of my babies and by the time we were done, we were done. But for the time that it worked as a tool, it's like a magical, superpower. You have up your sleeve. And remember when they go through stages of not feeding to sleep, it was very much like that. Oh my gosh, this is so much harder work. 

Elise McMahon (13:06): 

It is, there are all these strategies. And somehow that's become something that we're taught is almost preferred, but it will work. You know? And I think for me that first moment where I realized that it wasn't working for her and it wasn't working for me trying to put her in the crib and then it stopped working at all putting it down. And, um, so having her next to me and we've been bedsharing since, and it's so easy, we just get the most sleep that we get and that we can get. And it works for all of us and there's no fear and there's no putting them back to bed constantly through the night. And if she needs something I'm there and it's just, it just works for us. Especially in stressful times, we've been through two quarantines, one in Australia and one here in a small apartment with a three-year-old trying to fill her days and acknowledge the fear that comes, from walking around and all of a sudden everyone's wearing masks for, uh, you know, at the time two-and-a-half-year-old to now. Um, you know, we've gotten through all of that by connecting and discussing. And if ever she's overwhelmed, she knows she has a touchstone. And so, it's really been something for us. That's worked. And now she's starting to say, no, thank you. 

Elise McMahon (14:42): 

And you know, having a moment and I'll say, do you want to sit down and have some booby? And she'll say, No thank you. I'm fine. Great, great. Yeah. 

Carly Grubb (14:54): 

Yeah. Like she's growing up and meanwhile, mommy's heart's a little bit broken as well. So, tell me, I was actually meant to ask. So, you said earlier that your partner being a pilot he's away quite often, have you had like times when you've been away from your daughter or like, can other people settle her or how has that looked as she's gotten older has it been, you've been a number one. 

Elise McMahon (15:19): 

Yeah. I'm number one. And, you know, hubby, as I said, she's very sensitive and very aware. And so, the idea that hubby can and has left for periods of time has, sort of made it so that I've always been the constant and her preference is to always have both of us there and when he's not available, then mummy's there. But you know, and I work from home, so I'm here all the time. And she hadn't really left my side for a long time. And then we started school during Covid, kindergarten, but it's sort of part of the school system here. So, you know, I had this overwhelming feeling that she just would not survive or integrate without a horrible time. And I decided we would do it the way we've done everything. And I would listen to her and acknowledge her needs and respect if she said no. 

Elise McMahon (16:27): 

And so, we did that with the idea that it might take weeks or months before she could enter school to two teachers she hadn't really seen or been around before wearing masks with me, unable to walk her through the doors. And it took three days.  

Carly Grubb: 


Elise McMahon: 

You know, the first day she was locked into my chest. She wouldn't even bring her head off my chest to look around. The second day, she looked around and engaged with her teachers, which she'd seen on online zoom meetings before. And they kept saying, oh, you know, it sort of works best if we just take them and they cry for a bit, and then they settle. And I said, ‘that's not who my daughter is’  

Carly Grubb:  

We’re good, thanks. 


Elise McMahon 

So, they said, look, what would it help if they, if she came in when the other kids weren't here and we had like a 10 minute just play in the play in the room, in the schoolroom, with you there. And we did that the next day. And then the day after that, she walked in happily. 

Carly Grubb (17:31): 

How great that they could be flexible though. And like, except that for transition for her, she just needed to be able to have some quiet space. That's fantastic. 

Elise McMahon (17:39): 

Yeah. And we've very incredibly insanely privileged that we can afford the kind of school that does have that flexibility because that doesn't exist as much in, the public school system here. There's a lot of parents that work full time, six days a week. And you know, it's a, it's a different environment. I've been very privileged that I can work part-time and work around my daughter's needs this whole time. And my husband can go and come back and support me when he needs to. And, you know, we've definitely, we have and acknowledge the intense privilege. We have to be able to choose a school that, that can work with our needs and does have that availability because a lot can't, and a lot, a lot of people can't work flexibly and have to work full-time hours, or, more than one job. And, and at the end, when they return to work, there's no wiggle room where they can spend a week integrating, you know, and that's, that's another privilege that we've had that we were able to take when she said no, and go home and talk to her about how she felt about it. 

Elise McMahon (18:50): 

And then try again another day, that was, we had the time to do that. But for me, I think if I could go back and tell myself, me that was doing things differently and the constant questions that come up when things don't go well, that you think, oh, God, have I done this the wrong way, have I ruined everything? Have I made her think that it's her choice for everything? And so, she will never accept wiggle room, you know, for anything, all of those times where you think, oh no, have I done it all wrong? You know, it would be lovely to be able to go back to yourself that was struggling and worried about being too attentive. Or too responsive or, too gentle that actually now she's almost four. And she happily asks to go to bed when she's tired and she's excited to go to school. And she can say that, you know, she misses me and that she loves me, but she has a good time with her friends at school  

Carly Grubb (19:54): 

A beautiful example of a really secure base she's feeling. She feels safe and secure to go and explore. She knows that she's safe and that you've got her back.  

Well, I won't, I won't keep you for too much longer too. I'm just mindful of time for their end of the episode. But I thought I might just, I've got two quick things to finish this up if that's okay. So first of all, I've got to get you a tip of the week for this week's episode. What would your tip be this time? 

Elise McMahon (20:18): 

My tip would be, if you think your baby is trying to tell you something and you have a lot of people telling you that it couldn't possibly be that, listen to yourself, listen to your instincts. I think for me, being able to listen to my child came from the development of being able to listen to myself and what my body was telling me about what her body was me. And since you know, her being able to verbalize more, looking back, I can see exactly what she was going through and exactly how she was feeling. And I think so often we're told that it's just comfort and just this and shouldn't need this and should need that. But you know, you can feel it in your body when your child needs something and they're not getting it. And so often we are told to ignore those instincts because ‘children need this’ and ‘kids at this age should be able to’. But I think I've come to the realisation that later when they can use words, usually they'll tell you that those feelings were right all along. 

Carly Grubb (21:38): 

Yeah. We've had many of those ones too, with all three of ours, they've got words. It's kind of like, oh yeah. And that like the penny drops and it's something that's been going on for quite a while suddenly makes sense because they can actually explain it to you. And so, yeah, once again, it sounds so much of this comes back to trust in the relationship and trusting the connection you have with your child and that bit of self-confidence to know that you can trust yourself as well. Um, that, that's a really wise, bit of advice. Thank you for that one. And just to finish off our episodes, because it's been so fabulous having you on, I was wondering, um, if you wouldn't mind sharing what your most precious memory would be from nurturing your baby. 

Elise McMahon (22:19): 

Uh, for me, I think it was that moment in the hospital. When the lactation consultant said, it's okay, you don't have to wake her up. You can just put her on your chest and she will wake and feed when she needs. And that was like being given permission to mother my child. And until that point, I had felt very out of sorts and like I needed permission to pick her up. I had to pick her up in a certain way and we take her over there in a certain way and sit in a certain way. And there were all these rules and she just sort of gave me permission to be a mum. 

Carly Grubb (22:53): 

I love it. And it's like, it's so imprinted obviously for your memory of that time and ah, what a fantastic way to start off motherhood, even though there were lots of tough things ahead. It's so great that you had someone right in those early days to be able to say, you can do this. You've got it. It's brilliant.  

Elise McMahon 

Yeah. That's all she needs from you.  


Carly Grubb 

That's so good. All right. Well, thank you so much for coming and sharing your wisdom, Elise, and thank you so much for being one of our fabulous volunteers. We'd love you very much for it. And if you aren't already a member of the group, please do come and join The Beyond Sleep Training Group on Facebook. Um, you can, if you haven't subscribed to the podcast yet, and this is the first episode you’re catching, please make sure you click the subscribe button. We'd love to have you, and I'm looking forward to getting many more stories coming across your platforms soon. So, thank you so much, Elise.  

Elise McMahon (23:48): 

Thank you for having me. Bye. 

Carly Grubb (23:51): 

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 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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