Podcasts Psychologist, Rebecca Cefai on her wakeful little sparkler, her experience with a sleep consultant, and how she shut out the noise to find their own rhythm Listen/ Watch links: Enjoying the show and you'd like even more? Become a Patron! SUMMARY- Australian psychologist, Rebecca shares her experiences with her first very wakeful little sparkler, and her experience with a sleep consultant who claimed to be responsive and 'no cry' but in the end told her to let her little one cry. Rebecca shares how she shut out the noise and let her little one guide her to finding the rhythm that worked for them, and also just how important temperament is. You can find Rebecca on Facebook and Instagram, as well as her Growing Gently Psychology website. 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:Welcome back to the Beyond Sleep Training podcast. I’m your host, Carly Grubb, and with me today is the wonderful Rebecca Cefai. Rebecca runs the Growing Gently Psychology practice that’s based in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, but I became familiar with Rebecca’s work through her online spaces. She’s got a fabulous Instagram and also Facebook feed that really, really settles the heart and mind of parents who are going through the process of parenting their babies and young children gently, and also looking after themselves. So I really appreciate having Rebecca’s voice in that space. She is an Australian psychologist and she has got years upon years of experience of working with families before she actually welcomed her babies herself. And it has actually really impacted on your passion in the area, having your own babies, hasn’t it Rebecca? Rebecca:Definitely. Totally. Like I always worked with children but it’s kind of changed my direction and shifted my focus a lot, so definitely revolutionised my work. Carly:I love that. And it’s just something that, when it comes to motherhood and welcoming our babies sometimes it can feel like it takes a lot away from our previous life, but it also enriches it in so many ways as well. So it’s beautiful to hear about how it’s actually had an impact on your practice because it’s quite a profound shift that we often find ourselves in when we become a parent. So it’s beautiful. Now, just for people watching in our podcast supporter group, you’ll be able to see the video recording of this episode and you probably see that Rebecca’s got a little jiggle going on, and that’s because she’s got a precious, tiny person just out of view here. How old’s your babe, Rebecca? Rebecca:She’ll be nine weeks tomorrow, so we’re doing a bit of multitasking, so we’ll see how we go. Carly:Very impressive, and congratulations on your new person. And for anyone who’s hearing those gorgeous newborn grunts and squeaks, I’m sure it’s making you as clucky as it is me as well. It’s so very sweet. So thank you for multitasking and still coming on today. Your newborn baby Rebecca:It’s such a great thing actually. I think this time around I feel more empowered to keep my babies close rather than try to ship them off to elsewhere where I work. So I’m just grateful though that the experiences, the work experiences that I find myself in are I’m able to do that as well. Carly:It’s fantastic because it does also show like the things that we can do while we’re also still keeping our babies close, like you said. Because sometimes it can seem like such a… a tricky concept to wrap your head around. Like, how could that even possibly be? And yet we are seeing it in action before us today, so thank you for being that model that other families also need to see. Now we’ll dive into your sleep story. Now I’m really curious. I always ask our guests how did you think you were going to handle sleep with your family before you welcomed your first baby? Rebecca:I’ll be honest, I didn’t think too much about it. So, I think just generally when I thought of parenting, so when I was pregnant in particular I was quite anxious about the birth, but I thought that I had the parenting side pretty much down pat. Again that’s because I’d worked with lots of children across the age span in a variety of settings, like counselling, in groups, in childcare. And so I was pretty confident in my abilities. But I think what I underestimated firstly is the role that temperament plays in… and the kind of the nature side of the nature/nurture influence. So, that was a big thing that I only really learnt when I got my little babe. I realised that I wasn’t as in control of things as I was thinking I would be. And then the other side of it was the noise becomes a lot [5:00] louder when you’re a parent. It’s a lot easier when you’re a professional to drown out the noise of others. Or that’s what I found anyway. And your confidence is often higher because, you know, you’ve had the training and you’re in a position of let’s… I’ll just call it as it is – it’s power. Even though like I’ve always tried to have very collaborative relationships with my clients, you know, I am coming in as someone with experience. But when it’s your own that kind of all falls away and you realise that it’s just you and you’re totally human and you kind of have to navigate things yourself and everyone around you does have an opinion, and they’re not always bad but that can be really hard to navigate as well. Temperament and sleep Carly:Absolutely and the… Rebecca:So… Carly:… that next level vulnerability that you have in your postpartum and also just being a parent yourself is so very different to the distance you can hold as a professional. Rebecca:Yeah, definitely. And you’ve got these children that are… you’ve got this emotional attachment to as well, so you can get really emotional when things… when they are and when things are changing, which you don’t… like you have empathy towards the children you encounter in work and you can feel quite emotional, but yeah, there’s that different type of separation that exists. Carly:Absolutely. Rebecca:Yeah. But I learnt very quickly in my parenting journey that things weren’t going to be what I kind of envisioned. I think in particular with sleep. I, after quite a difficult birth, when I first saw my daughter her eyes were just open wide and she was just super alert and I thought it was such a relief because like this was the side of life, right? But then as the days went on she would still be awake at 4 am. We wouldn’t have slept or settled for hours and hours, like maybe eight hours of just rocking and trying to put her in the crib and picking her up again and then putting her down, picking her up. And I was like, okay, this is… this is… Okay, she’s not going in the crib. Something’s not working here. And I think I persisted with that for quite a long time before I found my groove, and I think it was quite early in our journey that I started to see that the outside noise was really affecting how I wanted to parent. Because I think I had lots of knowledge about the biology of sleep and the importance of attachment in parenting, and I’d worked with lots of children, particularly in the toddler years and up, around emotional development. And what I… how I practiced and what I knew in that kind of space, that your like children - how we respond to children, was really different to what the norm was with babies. And I became quite confused because I knew how I did want to parent, and that was I really wanted to be responsive and I wanted to have a secure attachment. So I knew the goals. But what was missing was how to get there. And so with my little one, which I would say she’s definitely what you call, Carly, a little sparkler, and I think that really nailed it in me when I heard the term sparkler, because I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s more of these children around.’ Carly:It’s amazing, isn’t it? You feel so isolated when you have a little sparkler because they really are quite something else, and unless you’ve had one it’s… Rebecca:Yep. Carly:… you can feel very isolated. Not many people can relate. Listen to more episodes featuring Little Sparkler babies Rebecca:Yeah, definitely. And I think that there is an element that unless you’ve gone through it you don’t really know what it’s like. Like I remember thinking parents had told me that their little ones weren’t sleeping, but as much as I was like, wow, that must be really hard, you do not understand the degree of sleep deprivation and how powerless you feel until you’ve gone through it. So, that’s something that I definitely bring to my role now as a psychologist. I definitely understand it a lot more. Carly:On an intimate [10:00] level. Rebecca:Yes. Yep. Yeah, so… Carly:So, we… so you were saying that, so initially you were having to rock her off to sleep and pop her down in her crib. Was… Did you have it in your mind that you needed to put her down? Was that your only, like was that your version of this is how it’s done? Rebecca:Yes, definitely. So I think that even though I was wanting to be responsive there was definitely that chatter and that noise coming from a variety of places, not just, you know, the one person or the one book I read, about how, yeah, you don’t want to spoil your baby. You want to put them down because you create a rod for your own back. And even though I didn’t want to leave her to cry, and I tried never to do that, that was a thing that I had to put her down. And then it was very confusing because I put her down and she would just scream. It wasn’t just a little grunting or discomfort it was 0 to 100 with just putting her down. And so all those… all that noise about putting them down drowsy but awake… Carly:Drowsy but awake. Yeah. Hilarious. Rebecca:I was just like, this is impossible. I was like, you people. Do babies actually, yeah, calm themselves down when they’re 100? And I know they don’t. It takes a lot. But at the time, especially with sleep deprivation, it’s hard to make those decisions and think that through. Carly:That’s it. It’s hard to keep it in context. And I think too the other thing people listening along would either relate to or need to have it put in context for them is it sounds like there was a huge amount of effort in getting your baby to sleep in the first place, only to place them down and have them wake back up again. That… Rebecca:Oh yeah. Carly:… is a part of the fatigue cycle you find yourself in while you’re fighting against that biology of your baby to be close to you. And I think it feeds the beast, doesn’t it? It’s like of course this is a problem for you, because how on earth could you possibly maintain that kind of cycle in the longer term? Rebecca:Yeah. Carly:So do you think that played into your anxiety around that? Rebecca:Definitely, I think there’s a sense of helplessness that comes as a parent when you kind of put everything you have into settling your baby only for them to then become unsettled because of something you did, such as putting them in the… putting them down. And I think that when sleep training gets pedalled around it’s kind of considered a tool for parental mental health. So, often there’s criticism towards anyone that doesn’t advocate for sleep training because it’s like what about parents’ mental health? You know? We want children to sleep because that’s good for parents’ mental health. But in fact it can actually feel terrible as a parent, and I am talking from my own experience but also through talking with other parents as well. The… when you are trying to get them down and get them to settle themselves it can become really helpless like we mentioned, isolating like we mentioned, and yeah, that’s not a good way to start parenthood. Carly:But also, I don’t know, it’s like I… for me, I can speak from my perspective, it was like a constant reminder of me failing. Rebecca:Yeah. Carly:And not being able to live up to this standard and being mentally unwell. I was depressed. It was almost like I couldn’t even get that part of my recovery right. Like how was I going to get well if I couldn’t even get this bit right? And so it fed the beast in ways that I don’t think, like you say, I don’t think it’s always acknowledged in conversations around how sleep training is supposedly saving so many parents from mental health struggles. It’s actually creating a lot of those mental health struggles too, and… and we can’t silence that part of the story because there’s more to it, like we’re discussing today. Rebecca:Yeah, exactly. Carly:So… yeah. So, I’m curious then, so you were in the depths of it all. You’ve got this really sparkly little baby, won’t be put down. What happened next? Rebecca:So I did try different things. I knew that it’s real… well, it’s really hard to get yourself out of those cycles, yeah, when you’re sleep-deprived and you’re very, like emotional and feeling quite helpless. So I did try and seek out extra help, and that’s where [15:00] I really realised how ingrained sleep training culture is. And I’ll say that I wasn’t even aware of, you know, when I thought of sleep training in my journey I thought of the cry it out method, which is definitely what I didn’t want to do. But I didn’t realise how… that maybe sleep consultants disguise themselves and, yeah. So I did seek out a sleep consultant and I said upfront I do not want to let my baby cry. I wanted to be a responsive… I want to respond to her needs. And she agreed that she wasn’t going to do that and she had other options. So, I do hesitate when I’m telling this story because I do think that this sleep consultant was doing what she thought was best. I don’t think she was intentionally causing harm. But when I spoke to her she pretty much on meeting me gave me information and a schedule that would suit my baby without asking me anything about my baby, which I thought that was a big red flag for me. Especially because, you know, things were playing on my mind. You know, we’ve had this kind of distressing birth. Surely that had something to do with it. Surely her temperament had something to do with it. Surely my… my temperament had something to do with it. And yeah, so we got this schedule. When I started implementing it I quickly realised that this was a lot harder than she’d let on, and I… and I think one of the big things was I felt trapped to these 'wake windows', where I was like, ‘How do I even do my grocery shopping within a two hour wake period and be home to put her in the cot that I know she won’t want to go down to?’ So again, very isolating to have to stay at home to just put baby to sleep, wake up, feed her, put her back down to sleep within two hours. Anyway, my baby did not respond well to that schedule and the settling techniques that were suggested, and I remember one day she was screaming because she’d become so dialled up at the whole process that even when I was holding her she was very upset and it was hard to dial her down, and that’s when the sleep consultant told me just to let her cry. And at first I was like, well that doesn’t make sense. You told me, you promised me you wouldn’t. Anyway, I put her down, and obviously she was screaming, and then I started bawling my eyes out because it’s so distressing, and I picked her up and I never looked back since. I just held her because I realised that that’s what she was wanting. And we then just followed… I just followed her lead and we worked out a flow that worked for us. So, she really liked… well, she was awake all the time pretty much. And so I found it a lot easier to wake up and get out and about, go on walks, go to the park. If we were at home she would be with me doing the, you know, washing or other chores, helping me. Oh, as a baby watching me, but then it became kind of sitting up with me while I was cooking. We sung songs and we just enjoyed the day. And that’s when it came a lot easier. And that’s when… around that time, that’s when I also found the Beyond Sleep Training Project, and I was like, oh hey, there’s like this whole… there’s this whole other group of people that also don’t want to sleep train and also want to respect the needs of their children, and that was really comforting. So I think that’s what I needed at that point to realise that I wasn’t doing the wrong thing for her, by her, and that I wasn’t alone and that there was other people. Carly:I think that’s really powerful, because it’s one thing to come to that decision for yourself, because I know with my first one I came to that decision, it brings you a certain level of relief. But for me, I was still very covert in what I was doing because I was almost ashamed of the fact that I was doing it this way. Like I, you know, I hadn’t dealt with the fact that I couldn’t do it how everyone else did it and so I was lonely. And so for that part of the… I guess part of your wellbeing, to know that you really are not alone, you’re in very good company with many other families who are doing sleep with their family this way is actually [20:00] … it’s really great for your confidence and great for your soul, because we’re social creatures. We like to know that we can relate to other people and connect to other people through experience. So, there’s a lot of power in that and I’m glad that we were able to offer that for you. Now, I just wanted to touch on, because I feel like for people listening it’s a really powerful shift for a lot of families, and that is the idea of being able to get things done while your baby’s awake, and not just waiting for those magical times when you can put your baby down and leave them to get your jobs done. Was that a… a profound shift for you? How did you find that? Rebecca:For me it kind of was quite natural, and I am a very… I’m a big reader, and so I did look into the Montessori approach to education where it’s like including your children in daily tasks so that they can learn to become independent in them. And I also have a daughter that I will acknowledge her temperament led to that. She was really keen to learn and she took to it really well. So it’s a bit about, you know, following her lead and kind of doing what I had to do to get stuff done as well, but then also feeling validated that this was beneficial to her because she was indirectly learning as well. And it was always on her terms. You know, if she was upset or didn’t want to, you know, sit up near me at the kitchen bench to… while I’m cooking, then I would definitely follow her lead. There was lots of times where we were eating dinner at 8 o’clock at night because I hadn’t got to it. Like, even giving her that opportunity I had the… my mindset is give them choices and opportunities and then they kind of tell you what to do. So, it was kind of like, you know, would you like to sit on the lounge all day or… being held, or would you like to maybe sit up with me, or me to wear you while we’re cooking? You know, she would quickly tell me what she wanted to do, but I found that a lot of the times she was, being like a low sleep need babe, she was actually wanting that kind of stimulation. So, she actually was settling more when we were doing things rather than when we’re just sitting on the lounge, and I think that’s another trap that’s easy to fall into. You know you don’t want to sleep train. Yep, 100%. But that doesn’t mean you need to sit on the lounge all day and hold your unsettled baby, which again I definitely fell into that trap in the early days, just watching Netflix and, you know, there’s a time for that and it can be good, but when it’s not serving your mental health or the functioning of your entire household then it’s freeing to know that you can get up and continue on with your day. Carly:And babies have been… and babies have been moving to the rhythm of family life around the world forever. Like it’s actually the way we’re biologically programmed to… to be as a baby and as a parent. And so I heard you mention too that like wearing your baby. I think for a lot of families figuring out how to be able to do that, baby wearing as a tool can be a fantastic way to get out. And I know from my very sparkly first guy, it was absolutely a game changer for me to realise that some of his yawning and whinging and, you know, the kind of unsettledness for him was boredom. It wasn’t tired signs, because I’d bought so much into sleep training culture I assumed that I was missing all these, you know, these tired signs. But he wasn’t tired for sleep, he was tired for stimulation. He was bored out of his brains. And I didn’t need to do much to meet those stimulation needs. He just loved going outside, he loved playing with the grass. He… touching the dog. You know, go out shopping in the carrier he’s, you know, bright-eyed baby, rarely slept but, you know, he was quite happy on my chest in the carrier out and about, and it totally changed my mental space because I could finally get out and do stuff. So I’m really impressed to hear that was also part of your story, and I know that for in your practice you’ve been a part of the Possum’s Neurodevelopmental Care Program. Can you explain… Rebecca:Yeah. Carly:… a little bit about that? Rebecca:Yeah, so I actually found out about Possum’s via the Beyond Sleep Training Facebook group. I had heard lots of people mention it so I decided to check it out. I went on their website and I was like amazed, because I was like everything that I was intuitively doing, as well as the things that I knew about the biology of sleep, had been researched and studied by Dr Pamela Douglas and put into this… the program of neuroprotective developmental care. So, I was immediately won over. [25:00] And so then, me being me, I didn’t just leave it at that. I studied and studied and became accredited in that. And I think that was partly, I mean by the time I got onto that the journey, like my firstborn was nearly two and we were still having… like she was still waking hourly, so we hadn’t resolved some of the… the sleep issues that were happening. But we were, like we had found our groove and I was managing a lot better. But I decided that I would study it, not only for future children but also because by then I had decided that maybe that was something I wanted to pursue, because I found it so hard to find support, professional support when… in my journey that allowed my values. I thought this would be a great opportunity to become that person, particularly within my local area, that people could turn to, to work together on their sleep journey. So, that’s when I became… that’s when I started researching and studying that. And it made… it made a lot of sense to me. Like I mentioned getting out of the house. So, Possums talk about the need for sensory… sensory nourishment and how that can help the babies dial down as… and it also helps with, you know, parental mental health as well. So it was just really validating. Carly:Yeah, I’m just looking at our time. We’re actually already coming up to our thirty minutes and I just, I’m so glad you managed to bring up those elements of Possums, because we haven’t actually had that in any of our previous episodes yet, and I’m going to make sure that we’ve got all the links to the work that Dr Pam has done in Possums in our show notes for today. But I’m just wondering, just to finish off the episode, is there a tip that you’d like to share with our listeners? Learn more about Possums Rebecca:Yeah. So I think that just in regards to the… the Beyond Sleep Training group, I think that being part of that group is extremely influential because I think a lot… when you have in your mind your values, I talk a lot about it’s hard to then kind of stick to them when you’ve got all this background noise. So surrounding yourself with people that do share those similar values I think’s really important. And so my tip would be to seek out other people that share your values and spend time around them, because what other people say and the messages you hear from others – whether it’s from TV shows, whether it’s from podcasts, whether it’s on social media, whether it’s from family and friends, whether you are intentionally doing it or not – they get internalised and they can easily become your thoughts. And so they might not be thoughts that you own and believe in, but nevertheless they’re there. So surrounding yourself with similar people – not to say that you need to give everyone else that has different views from you the cold shoulder – but making sure that you do have some of those positive influences alongside you in the journey is very important. Carly:I love that. And thank you for mentioning the group for us too, because it does… it’s everything we’d hoped we could do for families because it was something that I felt like was really lacking in my own experience. And so being able to have, in the absence of real life villages for many people, we try to create that online space for people to soundboard off us, vent when they need to and get the support they need to rally through, because sometimes you just need a safe space to let it all out and be reassured that you’re actually doing an amazing job. And I can safely say, Rebecca, you have done an outstanding multitasking job there, and your little sidekick is a champion. She seems like a very happy baby and I’m so glad that you came on today with us even though you’re only nine weeks postpartum. Well done you. Rebecca:Thank you. I say for all those mums out there that are thinking, oh my gosh, there’s no way that I could be doing this, yeah, there’s no way I could have been doing this nine weeks postpartum with my first little sparkler. This is a very different baby and I think that it’s really taught me temperament does have so much to do with it. So, yeah, she makes it easy for me. Carly:Absolutely. There you go. And I actually love that context, because there’s two people in this little party you’ve got going on there and she’s playing a part, but that’s only due to the temperament that she has. And it’s also okay to accept if you’ve got a baby who could not be doing that, because I was similar actually. I remember looking at people with my first baby and they’d be returning to work. I’m like [30:00] how? How could you physically do that? Because it really wasn’t on the cards for my guy. But it really is for other people with their different temperament babies, so it’s a really great way to just make sure that people listening along aren’t feeling like that’s a layer of pressure to add to themselves. You do not need to be multitasking at nine weeks postpartum. But hey, if it’s… if it’s something you’d like to do and your babe’s going to be alright with it, look at Rebecca go. So, thank you so much. Now Rebecca, before we finish, where can we find you so that we’re sure to drop all those links for people to look up your work? Rebecca:Yeah. So, I’m on Instagram and Facebook at Growing Gently Psychology. Carly:Beautiful. And we absolutely love your work and so we’ll be sure to have all of those for you in there. And I just want to say once more, thank you so much and thanks to babe for being such a champion while we got to hear your story today. Rebecca:Thanks so much for having me, Carly. Love to be part of this great work that you’re doing. Carly:Thank you. Carly: I really hope you enjoyed the podcast today the information we discussed was just that information only it is not specific advice if you take any action following something you've heard from our show today it is important to make sure you get professional advice about your unique situation before you proceed whether that advice is legal, financial, accounting, medical or any other advice. 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