Podcasts Zelma Tolley on the dehumanising experience of reaching out for help, finding her own way, and the joy she found in surrendering to her baby's needs Listen/ Watch links: Enjoying the show and you'd like even more? Become a Patron! SUMMARY- Zelma shares her experience with Post Natal Depression, of reaching out for help and being blamed and dehumanised, and of finding her own way with her own baby. Zelma talks about the joy she found in surrendering to her baby's needs, and how that experience set her up for peace and acceptance with her second babe. You can find Zelma and The Post Natal Project here 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 Zelma Tolley. Now, some of you may know Zelma’s name, but if you don’t you might know her handle which is “The Postnatal Project”. Zelma’s been working in the online space I think pretty much the same time that I started. Would have been around 2016. Is that right, Zelma? Zelma:Mm hm. Carly:You can tell it’s like, “yeah, ‘round about that time”. And Zelma is a mother first, a social worker second, and also the founder of the Postnatal Project, which is a multi award winning online movement which has offered incredible support to so many families in that postnatal period. She’s got a special interest in the emotional experience of the mother in particular, but she’s also in awe of all parents. She’s passionate about supporting the fourth trimester, breastfeeding, conscious parenting, birth trauma, and of course going by the name, postnatal depression as well. So, if you haven’t already checked out Zelma’s page, the Postnatal Project, you can find it on Instagram and also Facebook and it’s a brilliant follow. It never fails to blow me away when I read the content that goes on there because it hits home in so many ways. So welcome to the show Zelma. Zelma:Thank you so much for having me, Carly. Appreciate it. Carly:Now we’ve got you on today so we can actually learn a bit more about your own personal sleep story with your family. So, when we’re diving into that would you mind letting our listeners know a little bit about how you thought you were going to handle sleep with your babes before you actually had a baby. Zelma:I’m laughing just because it’s… it’s so interesting to reflect back, but I think I just thought babies were going to sleep. I think there’s a real lack of normalisation there in terms of what actually happens. It’s sort of, you know, you have your prenatal birthing classes, you have, you know, your tour of the hospital. In the hospital after birth we, you know, we learned how to bathe our baby, even though that was pretty straightforward, but then after that there wasn’t much. You know, so I don’t know. We took our baby home. The first few nights in the hospital were really tricky. Babe didn’t sleep. My husband wasn’t allowed to stay a second night because I was sharing a room, so husbands weren’t allowed to stay. And you know, I just had a Caesarean, so I was, you know, had this little baby who was just screaming, and she was, you know, so fresh and I couldn’t… I just felt like I couldn’t even do anything. I couldn’t get out of bed. I really needed that… my husband there. But the midwives were amazing, they… one of them just for an hour just rocked her all up and down the hallway so that I could just get just the tiniest bit of rest. But when we got home I just remember like putting her, she had this beautiful bassinet at the end of our bed, and I put her in there and like my husband would be cooking tea and I’d be like, ‘Oh, I think she’s asleep. Like I think, but I’m not sure.’ And I just didn’t even know. Like, I just thought I put her down and walked away and she went to sleep. That’s just sort of, you know. And obviously, that’s not what was going to happen in our family, and we learned that pretty quick which was good. But I was finding that I was seeking a lot of help for sleep. I was going to my midwife and I was talking to the CaFHS nurse about sleep because I was just like, ‘Oh, everyone I know has babies who sleep,’ which probably wasn’t true, but it’s something at that time I felt like was talked about a lot. So, yeah, I felt like I was reaching out, reaching out, reaching out, and then eventually the CaFHS nurse was kind of like, ‘It’s up to you now to be the strong mother and you need to be that strong person and make some big choices here.’ And I was… I was kind of, to be honest just confused. I didn’t really know what was being asked of me until she actually came to my house and showed me, so we weren’t going to make eye contact. We were going to put her down [5:00] and sit next to the cot. We weren’t to touch. We weren’t to… it was just… it was just amazing to me. And when in the end I sort of said, ‘No, look I’m not going to leave the room,’ to this CaFHS nurse. And you know, someone’s in your home, it was so… it was… it’s a really hard thing to describe when someone’s in your home and telling you, with 30 years’ experience, what you should be doing with your baby. And so for me I was like, oh gosh. Like I am weak then if I can’t leave her here while she’s crying. Like I am… there’s something wrong with me. So I was really internalising that. I was really, really flat. Like super flat. I just felt like my mothering skills were non-existent. I just felt like she was in the wrong home because I couldn’t do this, and in the end we actually went to sleep school too when my first about 11 months old. So that’s a long time to be kind of agonising about this… this stuff. So the CaFHS nurse, she called… she called my husband and was telling him that I needed help because I wasn’t willing to do what she was asking and what I needed to do to be able to get the sleep that I needed to be able to heal. And he, I can’t remember what he exactly said to her, but it was basically just disagreeing basically and saying that we’re making choices because of our values and… and that was sort of we were on the same page there but I just didn’t know how to kind of articulate that at that time. I was still in the really early stages of defining who I was as a parent and who I wanted to be as a parent, and it felt like I was kind of going against a lot of what I was sort of told I needed to be. I needed to be the boss. I needed to be in control. I needed to be this person who didn’t let my baby manipulate me into being close to her. And it was just a really fascinating kind of realisation one day, especially say when we went to sleep school, which was super close to this time. This appointment that I had with the CaFHS nurse was kind of like an intake appointment to be able to go to sleep school. And when I got to sleep school it was… it’s eight hours away from home, so my husband stayed and he worked and I was over there in the city by myself with my baby, and on the first day that I was there we had like this appointment and we sat down and talked about our goals and I was sort of like, ‘Oh, I just want…’. I think at the time she was waking like hourly and she was quite an upset little baby. So, you know, my goals were for her to be comfortable and I was sort of thinking that because I was responding so much, you know, I’ve been told this whole time that it was my fault, either directly or indirectly. And so, yeah, we had this appointment and we were chatting about our goals and things like that and it was all fine. I had another nurse come and see me who was sort of the one that wasn’t doing the intake, was sort of like my sort of… you’re kind of allocated a nurse I suppose. And she gave me the care plan, which was what we were going to be working on during the week that we were there, and it had someone else’s name on it all the way through it. Carly:Oh mate. Zelma:And I think that was just, it um… it was just another realisation for me that I was like, this is not personalised. This is us trying to fit millions of babies into one little box, and we don’t all fit here. Carly:If that doesn’t say cookie cutter I don’t know what does. My gosh. Zelma:It… yeah, it was huge for me. I actually… yeah. I then… I then had another session where – because this whole time, right, I’d been super open about the fact that I’d been struggling with postnatal depression. From the time I think she was about four weeks old I was like, ooh, I don’t think this is the baby blues. I think this is childhood trauma, birth trauma. It’s just like an intense period for me and I need to get some support. So, I’d been super open about that with everyone. With everyone. And by this time I had launched the Postnatal Project as well, so I was writing and things like that, but I wasn’t as open as I am now. I was still kind of growing there as well. But anyway, once the nurse learnt that I had postnatal depression, and by this time it was actually probably quite mild, I was… I was feeling quite comfortable. Like I said, I was really, this was like a big growth period for me and all these realisations that were happening at once were just… suddenly it was just like a big lightbulb all at once. [10:00] They treated me a lot differently once they learnt that, and I found that really disheartening because it reiterated again that stigma around perinatal mood and it really dehumanised me. Well, I felt dehumanised. Like I felt like then, ooh, I was a risk. I was, yeah, I was just this mum who didn’t know what she was doing. And here she was, she was seeking another service. And I just, I look back now and I think like, wow, how brave of me to be reaching out to all these places and being so open and honest, and I can’t believe you weren’t met with compassion basically. Yeah. Carly:Compassion. Absolutely. It was hugely courageous of you… Zelma:Yeah. Carly:… to be able to step into that realm, into that space, all with the heartfelt reason to support yourself and your baby in your growth, and to be met with that kind of… it’s downright disrespect. Like, dehumanising is a really good word for it, and I’m so sorry that you had that experience there. Zelma:Yeah, it was super interesting. And I think the other layer to it as well is that I am a social worker, so I knew where to go for one, but I was also super cautious about how I did it. Like I was… I was… I just had this thing in my head, I’m never going to get a job now. And that’s not true. I have an amazing job at the moment, so like it’s not true. But at that time I was like, ‘I can’t talk about this stuff. I can’t go and see my colleagues for support.’ Like, I live in a small community. This is just not going to work. But yeah, so that was that… that other layer, and I just, I really take all of that experience that I had and I hold it really close to my heart because I never want another mother to feel like that. Life for seeking support and trying to be… oh, just comfortable basically. You know? Not plagued by insomnia even when your baby sleeps or, you know, really negative patterns of thinking and just all that stuff. I don’t want people to feel like that’s… like that’s quite separate to parenting. Like it’s so intertwined and it’s so connected, but it is separate as well. I feel like as mums we can… we can struggle and we can be great mums, and that’s the message I really like to carry across because I know what it feels like to struggle and still be a great mum. You know, I look at photos on my phone and all the things that we did during this time, I still took my baby to all the song times, all the playgroups, all the things. Like we were out at the park, we went to the beach. You know, like despite having my own kind of internal turmoil at that time I was a great mum and I just, yeah, I just… I just think it’s so separate. I think having struggles and being a good mum are two different things. 100%. Carly:Absolutely. And I think that that’s the whole, you know, Dr Sophie Brock talks about the good enough mother versus the perfect mother myth, and it’s so part of that perfect mother myth to assume that a mother who is struggling is somehow also not then able to be a good mum. Whatever, you know, good enough mother is what we’re all actually striving for, and I think that is a really important message and I’m glad that you got to actually be able to reflect on your own journey and see that about yourself. And hopefully anyone listening along who is currently in that… the depths of depression or anxiety or any other mental health struggles, that you… you take some light to know that that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are actually struggling in your role as a parent, and your parenting could be A1 while you’re also struggling. Zelma:Exactly. And do you know what? It goes both ways, because I find I like don’t have any mental health… well, I’m probably struggling with anxiety at the moment, but I’m just like in terms of like labels and things like that, that’s not something I heavily identify with anymore at all. But I’ve had some of the toughest times in the last few years. You know? I think just as parents you can struggle and also not have a mental illness. I think it’s just a really tricky time. And the more we throw around too many labels and only offer help to those who are really struggling, I feel like this, there’s a whole… there’s a massive gap in sleep, in mood, in just parenting in general where you’re like on one end of a scale compared to another. Whereas there’s a whole kind of spectrum of needs for parents that we’re just totally missing. Carly:Absolutely. And I think that goes to the… like I’ve spoken a fair bit before too about how we seem to almost need to bring parents to their knees before we actually give them the support that they need rather than, you know, actively trying to prevent people actually getting into a crisis in the first place [15:00] by having adequate supports to not end up in crisis mode. And I think that’s very true what you say, that there’s still a whole element of waiting till people break before there’s any actual, tangible support for them. If you are struggling right now and need support, please don’t hesitate to call Lifeline 13 11 14, PANDA 1300 726 306 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 Zelma:Exactly. Yeah. And I think I noticed that a lot when I had my second baby, because that was a totally different experience. I was so… I wouldn’t say hyperactive, but I guess I was just kind of aware of the reality, and so when I had… when I had Asher, second, it was just so different. She just, she slept in bed with me, very, very safely obviously, from basically the night she was born. The first night we were home. And that was sort of like I’d borrowed a co-sleeper from a friend so that I could have her next to me. But that just didn’t happen, that she was not that baby. She was not willing to be put down. So we… we actually co… like bedshared from birth. And it wasn’t… it wasn’t just that that helped me a lot, but it was just everything. You know? I just felt this, I don’t know, just trust. Like I was just, I was kind of just riding a wave, whereas with my first baby I was standing there and the waves were crashing into me and I was trying to stop them. Like it was just such a different… such a different experience, and I think that the community that I had around me at that time was different too. So yeah, that community support is really important from the get-go. Carly:I love that, you can really take that as a really solid visual too, because I think that is how it can feel as well. In that very first matrescence for many people. It feels like you are swimming upstream or pushing against those waves, and it’s only once you can find your way to actually go with that flow and ride with it that you can find that level of peace, and I think it’s pretty common for a lot of us that that… that true acceptance and peace often comes with subsequent babies, unfortunately. Lucky people who find that groove from the early days, but it’s pretty common I think to be similar to how you’re describing in that it’s that second time around that you get to do that your way. Zelma:Yeah. If I had a third baby I’d nail it. I… yeah look, as much as I was at peace with my second baby I still was really grieving for that postpartum period with my first. I… yeah, our first daughter’s pretty special and it, yeah, I just always… I just… Sometimes I just kind of feel like I trusted her more and I trusted us more as a… as a family. But you know, again, you look back at those photos on the phone, you know, the memories that pop up and we were… we were a good team still. Yeah. Carly:Absolutely, and it tells the more fulsome story than you could sometimes tell yourself at the time because you were so intensely in that… in that period of your life. So it’s a beautiful thing that you can look back on it with more circumspection I guess. And it’s also like sometimes the growth that we go through, you couldn’t have achieved it in any other way. So the fact that you guys went through it together. There’s huge power in that as well, but I do understand that grieving process and I guess I would say, because I did go on and have that third baby, that the third baby actually felt quite healing after the grieving. And so, yeah, it’s quite the process. But I would love to hear, so after sleep school was there a… did you have any takeaways from that experience that actually assisted your family? Or was it more that you then took that experience and figured out your own groove? How did that look for you guys? Zelma:Actually, it’s so funny because I basically was just, it was a place for me to stay in the end while I was in Adelaide because I just… I wasn’t really that… I wasn’t really a willing participant. I wasn’t like, I was sort of… I was sort of trying to do what they were saying, but I was reaching a limit a lot earlier than what they were kind of expecting me to. And so yeah, it was a lot of like patting while she’s in the bed, but because some of the reasons that we were there was because she was quite unsettled I was actually quite grateful that there were some other services at the sleep school, like a paediatrician checked her over and actually just noticed a few things that we’d picked up on early which actually helped her. Like she had a few just like gut-related things. But yeah, in the end, look, I really felt like I came home and we’ve actually tried everything. [20:00] Like literally everything. And now the only thing to do is be who we want to be and be at peace and really sur… like my mantra was surrender. Like okay Zo, it’s time to surrender now. We’ve done… you’ve tried. You’ve tried everything and it wasn’t for you and that’s okay, and it doesn’t have to be. And so now we’re going to go our own paths. And I still had like a CaFHS nurse and like… oh, because I rang to cancel all these appointments. I still had all these appointments. And I was like, nuh, I don’t need it. I don’t need it. I’m feeling like I just want to come away from all of that and just settle in. I actually came off antidepressants at the same time, and it so interesting because some of the things that I was really struggling with at that time, but I still had like night sweats and all this stuff that was going on, and that just stopped. Like it must have just been a side effect and I didn’t even realise. So the reason I was taking this medication was actually, yeah, like the re… like the reason I was feeling quite average in other ways. So that was actually really good to just be at a place where it was just, yeah. Look, I can’t… I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s so interesting reflecting back. But it was just such a moment of peace for me to be like, I don’t actually need anything. I really don’t. So I had this CaFHS nurse ring, and she was like, ‘Oh, do you still want this appointment? Are you sure?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m actually totally fine.’ Like, I don’t know. I just… I just felt like this huge weight had lifted because I just knew. Like because… because all of the really extreme ways of supporting me weren’t for me, I then just… it just made me think that I don’t need it. So yeah, that was huge. And it wasn’t an overnight thing obviously. It was a really slow yet sudden, all at once thing that happened. I just… like in my head I was still relearning how to approach situations and then one day I just kind of… I remember texting my husband one day and was just like, ‘I don’t feel like crap and I haven’t for a week now, and I don’t really feel stressed when I’m putting her to sleep and I don’t…’ It was, yeah, it was just really amazing and I’m just, I’m really grateful that I took things really slow and I just kind of eased back from that external pressure, even though those services really did want to support me and a couple, a few of them I had a really good relationship with, but I was just kind of like, ‘Oh, please just go and support someone else now. I’m… I’m actually…’ Kind of like, yeah, I’m willing to fly away now, you can… you can release me. Carly:How beautiful is that. Zelma:Yeah. Carly:That you found it your way. And can I ask, because we’re not that far off the end of the episode, but I did want to just still hear what was your way? Like what was working for you and your babe during the day and the night? Zelma:Oh, just not having rules and not having expectations basically. So, we… we organised a floor bed so that I could lay down for naps instead of… I can’t even remember what we were doing. I think that’s kind of what we were doing anyway out of necessity, but this was more like, yeah, I just focused on my own comfort in it as well. So yeah, with my second baby definitely like wireless headphones were the best. I just was like, ‘Okay, this is my time too.’ Once my baby’s asleep and… but she’s not ready for me to put her down, I’m going to listen to a podcast.’ You know? And rock her around the room for a little bit longer before I put her down, just so that I wasn’t feeling rushed and I wasn’t feeling that resentment of, ‘Oh, I’ve got stuff I want to do. This baby’s not sleeping.’ So it was… it was kind of a bit of a plan that I put in place as well as just that feeling of peace. But yeah, with my first we just kind of cruised along and at the time I was also kind of letting go of some of those beliefs. Like I always wanted to practice attachment parenting, but I kind of really let go of that label as well and just like, I just… I’m a human parenting a human. I want to basically just parent with kindness. How would I want to be parented if I was a three year old right now? Like what would I need if I was crying and I didn’t want to go to sleep? Do you know what? Let’s go to the beach instead. Who cares? You know, that kind of stuff. Just… just a real kind of focus on trying to be a kind parent and letting go of that kind of belief that by being kind I’m being manipulated basically. And I just took that into everything that I did. Normal infant sleep Carly:And that has so much power in it, because it actually, it’s such a powerful tool to have in your parenting repertoire, to be able to realise that you can [25:00] have that relationship and that connection with your children without any kind of fear. And it’s a great place to set yourselves up for… for life. Life together. So that’s a beautiful thing. Now, it’s coming to the end of the episode, Zelma, and I’ve really enjoyed hearing your story. I’m just wondering do you have a tip you’d like to share with our listeners to finish up your episode? Zelma:Look, I’ve probably got a million, but again I’m kind of one of those people where tips I feel like sometimes aren’t individualised enough. You know? I just… I think just allowing yourself to be human basically. It’s what I’m all about when I’m supporting parents and when I’m supporting myself. I think allowing yourself to be human is such a learnt skill when we’re kind of taught from a young age that we need to be quite composed and all of that. I just think, yeah, allowing yourself to be a human and sort of learning more about rupture and repair and things like that in parenting is really important too. Carly:That’s… that’s fantastic, and I think, yeah, embracing that… that… the complexity of being a human is… is definitely something that can enrich your life and enrich the lives of your children as well. So thank you so much for coming on the show, Zelma. It’s been an absolute privilege to be able to hear your story, and I love the strength and courage that I can hear in the way that you tell even through those tough times of seeking help, but also knowing when the help wasn’t the kind of help that you needed for your particular little family. So that was hugely valuable for our people listening along at home. Thank you so much for your time today, Zelma. Zelma:Oh, you’re so welcome. Thanks for letting me explore verbally what I haven’t really explored. It’s been quite interesting and, yeah, valuable for me too. So thank you. Carly:No worries. And in our show notes today I’ll be dropping all of the links to Zelma’s work. She has got her socials, but she’s also got some fabulous resources on her website. Is there any that we should be particularly keeping an eye out for at the moment, Zelma? Zelma:The Candid Parenthood e-book has a chapter on sleep, which I think a lot of your followers would appreciate. But in the future I’m working on a journal prompt resource that’s just going to be quite brief for busy mums who just want to kind of connect in with how they’re going. Yeah. Carly:Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time, Zelma. It’s been an absolute honour and have a fantastic day. Thank you. Zelma:You’re welcome. 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