Spring/Summer 2021 | A conversation with Esther Ruber
In this episode, Esther highlights and discusses, in terms of healing, that one of the most difficult things new parents face is lack of sleep and its detrimental knock-on effect.
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A conversation with Esther Ruber.
Today’s Exclusive Guest.
Who is Esther Ruber?
Dream Big Babies, sleep specialist and proud toddler mama – Esther Ruber, has been a practicing Occupational Therapist in Los Angeles for over 10 years, having received her master’s degree from Boston University. Her clinical work has allowed her to participate in the art of establishing physical, environmental and behavioral equilibrium among clients of all ages, including infants. As a spiritually informed and intuitive practitioner, Esther is heart-centered, adaptive and functional in her approach. Her passion and experience working with infants and adults in clinic, coupled with the birth of her daughter, sparked her calling to serve families with new babies on their journey towards finding life balance and joy. In January, 2019, Esther took her doula training in order to deepen her ability to empower parents with practical tools during the perinatal period, especially those that create the sleeping household of their dreams.
Background to the Journey
It started by becoming a Clinician and Occupational Therapist. I’ve always had a deep fascination reverence for the human body and how it works. I started by going to physical therapy sessions with my mom and just being super interested and watching how a human being develops rapport with another human being. A law basically creates more comfort and connection with another human being in order to create positive therapeutic outcomes. Loving the human body and this connection between humans in order to create positive outcome, spurred me off onto my journey to become an Occupational Therapist. This is a super interesting field which is not known to many people, but now it’s becoming a little bit more understood. People are like, “You help people get back to work”?
It’s about getting a human being functional again, in whatever capacity that is either required of them or that they want to be functional in. That can be leisure. So like let’s say something that’s required of us as human beings generally is to be socially apt in order to be functional on the job or be able to move mechanically so that we can be functional in our profession. That’s something that’s required of us. Something that someone might want to do is play guitar again, you know, or to do yoga again or to even by the way, make love. There are occupational therapists who specialize in people sexuality and allowing people to have sex. The most beautiful thing about therapy is that it’s not even related to diagnosis.
As an Occupational Therapist, we decipher, ‘what are the barriers preventing this person from being functional in the ways that are required of them or functional in the ways that they would like to be functional? What are the barriers, what are the deficits that we need to address and what are the strengths’? In clinic we would say, ‘This person has a lot of leg strength. Let’s focus on using their leg strength in their balance, and then create an activity that simulates one of these things that they would like to, or need to be functional in again.’ Let’s stand, he was balanced. If they love guitar, let’s simulate a guitar playing activity or for a person that just had a stroke and would need to get dressed. Whether it’s acute like a stroke or whether it’s a chronic condition, helping them feel empowered, confident in using practical physical tools to get them there as well.
So I fell in love with that, after 10 years I worked in pediatrics in Israel, working with infants, positioning and feeding and then I moved toward working with adults with all sorts of disabilities, psychiatric illnesses, neurological illnesses and all sorts of disorders. Although I’m really thankful for the medical world, for clinic and the orchestration of all of the interdisciplinary set up that allows people to get stronger in clinic, it started to feel like I was coming out of alignment with that a little bit. The intentions were all good, but I felt like I wasn’t really able to use all of my skills as a human being in the way that I wanted to. No judgment on the clinical setting, but I felt like something was missing.
From Therapist to Doula
All of that started to come once I got pregnant. So I had to stop working a little bit early given how I was feeling in my third trimester. Although I had a great time I thought I would take a month or two before. The pregnancy and birth experience gave me all of this time to take a breather from working in the clinical setting. I had my daughter three and a half years ago. I had the most amazing doula that worked with me through my pregnancy and through my birth. Then I had this aha moment of, wow, I need to become a doula. I need to get certified in becoming a doula, which is a birth coach.
The world of the doula is becoming much more popular. There’s a resurgence of this popularity with becoming this emotional birth coach, that also has practical tools. It’s different from a midwife, a doula isn’t certified to deliver. They’re more there to advocate for the birthing couple, to advocate for the birthing person to be an emotional support. They also have some tools up their sleeve with massage and all those beautiful holistic wellness modalities. It was a moment of, wow, this is something that’s really calling to me, being able to be, for lack of a better word, a ‘spirit guide’ for the birthing person, for the woman and also for the child, really spoke to me.
While I was in the course, I had this huge rupture. I was surrounded by all of these women in the doula course, each woman telling their birth story. Most of them were women and mothers. As I was telling my birth story, all of this emotion and all of this trauma in essence was integrated. Then from there, I spawned off into this journey of women’s wellness and creating workshops. Slowly, that pointed me towards sleep consulting, continuing to specialize in how I can support mothers, parents, humans on this Parenthood journey and realizing that sleep is this amazing, concrete tributary that is very practical, that opens up all of this amazing, emotional nervous system, physical like can of worms. I joked before, that it’s one thing to help the infants, but if I go the sleep route, I can use this as a pillar to start working with adults on the nervous system level. It’s a little bit of a trap, but a bit of a sweet trap.
Trauma in Pregnancy
The experience I had in the doula course was a culmination of also being nervous system wise, emotional wise, out of alignment with my profession for quite some time and out of alignment with my body, not suppressing all of these messages that my nervous system was telling me. It’s traumatic, you have years of these tiny minuscule mini traumas, of the body saying, hmm, this isn’t working out and you’d be like, no that’s okay, just chill out. Years of suppressing and then ultimately as a woman, the body going through one of the most traumatic and beautiful experiences, you crack, you open. You’re saying goodbye to your body, from how it was before to this newness. That was the straw that broke the camel’s hump.
I think trauma is a very popular word right now and it’s really important to identify that trauma is not bad. Given how I’ve learned through all of the understanding of the nerve nervous system, it’s not bad. What it does entail is if it is a trauma, it means it’s something that we must address. And if we don’t address it, it then has an opportunity to snowball into something that affects our function and our well being. For example, I was talking to a girlfriend recently and she was talking about the trauma of a miscarriage. That’s a huge trauma, but what ended up happening was that it was something very spiritual and positive for her in one regard. She identified preemptively when this was happening, ‘this is something very traumatic for my body and from my soul. So I’m going to create a ceremony around it to release it, to integrate it so that the trauma of this experience doesn’t snowball into a place that it becomes something huge and negative.’
In the work that we’re doing, I bring to light to the detrimental effects of trauma, in the process of helping people, empowering them with being able to identify even the tiniest of traumas and recognizing when it’s time to ground. For example if a miscarriage is right in their face, they recognize that it’s something quite traumatic and take the time to integrate that. For some of my clients that I’ve worked with outside of my infant sleep coaching, I emphasize that even having a near accident on the road can be a micro-trauma or a big trauma. You’re driving, you’re all over the place. You’re semi paying attention, and all of a sudden you get swerved. That fight or flight response, that sympathetic response is actually something that we identify in the nervous system. It is something that you need to pause, ground and integrate, and move forward. You can’t do that every single time, but recognizing that, that sympathetic activation is happening, the awareness around that is really powerful for our clients to begin to identify, putting two and two together, when the body is in this hyper alert state and how we can engage with some grounding techniques to make sure the rest of your day, isn’t on hyper alert because of that.
Sleep, the Nervous System, And Becoming a New Parent
I recognized through the doula work and education around wellness and nervous system sleep, that if it’s not going well, it is a huge source of nervous system emotion and physical drain for the body. As a nervous system healer and occupational therapist, if I can start to help my patients, and clients with sleep, just by virtue of that, I’m helping soothe the nervous system. I’m helping to create an opportunity for a human to feel like they have more agency, more sovereignty, more faculty and they can navigate being a human with more ease. By virtue of that, if we can enter the sleep world, we’re already entering the nervous system world in such a strong way.
In terms of healing, one of the most difficult things that new parents face is lack of sleep. Regardless of how well you have a sleep coach to sleep train the baby, regardless of how many practical tools you engage with around sleep, you will not sleep as much as a new parent. So setting the expectation you are going to be at a sleep deficit. This is my cue as an adult nervous system healer, it‘s not just about helping babies sleep. Here you are mama and papa, or mom and mom, or just mom, or just papa, you are in a sleep deficit. How do you handle your emotions and your nervous system in this place? How can you take a step back and become a little bit more accepting, compassionate, and loving, and also open to letting it all burst? How can you become better at releasing these big, raw, crazy new emotions in your sleep deprived body?
When talking about healing and dealing with these big emotions, dealing with sleep and dealing with becoming a new parent, you have to be realistic. I have a lot of practical tools, skills that I know with 100% certainty will help parents get more sleep. If I can get parents even 10% sleeping a little bit more, they’re already going to experience 10% more ability to develop the capacity to start to use their skills as humans, use their emotional, regulation skills, using their brains, using all of this in order to get from point A to point B dealing with their, their newborn.
50% of it is, you’re going to be tired. So let’s dive in. And how can we address you at having this new identity? How can we address you becoming more compassionate and more patient with yourself and seeing how much of this experience is going to make you a better person? Then the other 50% is, I’ll also help you and your baby get more sleep. So it’s a beautiful orchestration of baby and you getting more sleep, as well as you becoming more okay with it when shit hits the fan.
For the mothers that I work with that have postpartum depression, when you educate around the miracle of what’s actually happening in your baby’s brain around sleep, the postpartum mama goes from being angry at herself and her baby. ‘Having that exacerbates these hormones, this postpartum, this unbelievable cocktail of things happening.’ She goes from this anger and frustration to, ‘okay, I understand now, if this is happening in my baby’s brain, I understand their sleep a little bit more. I’m gonna take a break from being angry, at least at myself, and from being frustrated.’
The postpartum emotions are going to be there. The difficulty, the crying, I have memories of on the floor at 2:00 am. Why am I sitting on the cold floor? It’s like sitting on the floor, pumping milk. These moments are going to be there, but at least, having more education around what’s happening with your baby’s sleep and having more realistic expectations, takes the pressure off of, how to do it, when to do it, how it needs to be done. Having the societal pressure, the parental pressure off, allows you to breathe with a little bit more ease in the postpartum experience. On top of that with postpartum, with some of the nervous system work that we do, even in the realm of Dream Big Baby, like grounding techniques that we use, we’re trying to create more compassion and ease around the big emotions that are going to come. Not suppressing them, not telling yourself that you need to feel a different way.
You need the space and the sleep. It’s beautiful in my Dream Big Baby process how, A, you get the space physically, because you will get more sleep and B, you get a little bit more of the space emotionally and nervous system wise to experience. One of the most healing things is space, physical space, emotional space, to be able to process all of this newness, all of this bigness, all of this shock. So getting the sleep in order really helps to give this space.
Training Babies to Sleep
From a developmental standpoint, three minutes is actually very much. But it’s my goal to make sure that parents feel comfortable, because if they don’t feel comfortable, what’s the point? If there’s a parent, that’s like, you know what? I’m comfortable with one minute, I’m like beautiful. And at the one minute, mark, you go in and you comfort your baby in whatever way is comfortable for you. So let’s say in that moment, your babies are four or five months old. You should be able to go back in the room and say, baby, I love you. I have you, mama is here. You’re doing a great job. Some parents want to pick up their babies and hold them in that interval training some don’t. The truth of the matter is, in my opinion, going in, talking to your baby, touching your baby, telling them how much you love them is actually enough to comfort them, to ground their nervous system, to kind of go for the next phase of interval training. But again, this is at every phase, the baby’s emotional, physical and nervous system needs are absolutely met. There’s no such thing as just being left to their devices. No such thing.
As you work on your nervous system, you are expanding your capacity to deal with some of the more challenging moments around helping your baby learn to sleep independently. It doesn’t matter how much love and how much rocking and soothing, your baby will cry. That’s one of the realistic expectations. When a baby is learning a new skill, when things change, they will cry. That’s why some parents are so uncomfortable when they’re out of the room and they’re hearing their baby cry and upset for a minute. I sometimes tell parents just so you know, your baby might also cry while you’re holding them.
If you know that that’s the case, be comforted by the fact that developmentally your baby is at a place where they can use their body, they can use their faculties. Their nervous system is at a place where they can comfortably cry on their own, in their sleep space for one minute. Since you’ve been working on your nervous system as a parent, that one minute of hearing them cry on their own inner sleep space isn’t so gnarly. Isn’t so bad. I trust my baby in this minute that she’s figuring out how to self-soothe, she’s figuring out how to use her body. She’s using her voice. I’m giving her the space to use her voice and use her body to figure it out. And so am I. I’m right now in my own space and I’m figuring out myself right now in this moment, and we’re doing that together. When we come back together, we’re both coming back into the space as mama and baby or as daddy and baby.
Working With Parents with Toddlers
The one thing that becomes a little bit more challenging is that at the point where parents have toddlers, what ends up happening is they become addicted as parents to some of the tools, we call sleep associations. As time goes by, we become a little bit more emotionally addicted to the things that we’ve been doing that kind of work, even if they’re a little bit maladaptive. So there’s a little bit more gentle reversing of old habits that needs to happen, because there’s a little bit more emotional investment. Things like babies still using the pacifier.
Something that’s very important, I’ll find that parents are super obsessed with the pacifier, and asking should my baby not be using the pacifier? And I want to say no. At that point, if a toddler is using a pacifier, it’s their pacifier. When a baby is four months and under, you can have the discussion and maybe we will toss the pacifier. When a baby’s already into their toddler-hood using a pacifier, it’s not about the pacifier anymore Mamas and Papas. There’s other things. My point here is there’s a lot more nervous system work and releasing of old habits that parents have to do once their babies are toddlers and I’m working with them.
There are still a lot of practical tools around what’s happening. One of the most important things we do in the sleep world is routine. I tell this to a lot of my parents, if you think about a child from zero to five years old, even from zero to 18, from zero to 25, because our brains don’t actually solidify until we’re 25, but let’s talk about from zero to five, consistency and routine are so important. Not because parents who have consistency, are rigid or inflexible. What happens is you find that when there is routine and ritual, the children are actually so much more free to express themselves that routine and consistency is there because a child’s brain from zero to five, every moment is changing. There’s so much neurological inconsistency that it’s even more important, like in a good way. Neurological inconsistency, there’s synapses and new brain connections and things integrating. It’s this jumble of newness. So with the toddlers and with all of this, a lot of what I find is there’s a huge lack of routine and consistency. One of the things I have to work on is developing routine and structure.
Some of these parents that I work with, especially the ones that geared up toward the toddler-hood phase, they are very wellness oriented and they want exactly what you’re saying. They want their babies to have this freedom and they feel like if it is an imposition on their baby’s ability to express themselves, if we develop routine and consistency. Sometimes there’s a bit of a conflict working with these parents and they end up in defensive mode.
When the defensive mode happens, I have to take a step back and allow for some space in the conversation and kind of hold up a mirror and ask them, what do they want? What is it? That’s the most important question when I’m working with clients as well. What do you really want? Do you do, do you want more freedom? You want your children to have freedom, you know, or, or do you want to stay in the space that you’re in? Because if you want to stay in the space that you’re in, I bless you take that. That’s beautiful. So I hold up that mirror, like it’s really important. There are some parents that have had this aha moment, like, huh, I am fighting like all of the tools that you’re giving me right now. Maybe it’s because I’m not ready to take this step. Or maybe it’s because I want to be where I am. And that’s beautiful too. You have to be fully ready to make some changes and it doesn’t have to be huge, just little bits and changes here and there, and the self-awareness piece.
I get emotional talking about this, but babies are human just like us. We assign this perfect versus imperfect on us. Talking about perfection, this little beautiful, perfect bundle is actually as perfect as a human being can get. So to sit back and see, and be in awe, appreciate how good of a job they’re doing, even in the amoeba phase, how natural and responsive and brilliant this thing, this bundle actually is, the way they’re able to adapt, like we can take a page out of their book and that’s something I also like to teach like I’d sit back and observe this incredible as perfect as it’s going to get. Because as we age the imperfections start to come in. As perfect as it’s going to get human being, take a page out of this. It is pure presence. This is from the spiritual standpoint, pure consciousness. Pure presence is this little thing that is just adapting, observing, sensing with their body because they’re not doing everything. They’re not intellectualizing. They’re not mentalizing. They’re not thinking, they’re just being, and that’s something that I’m trying to emanate, as much as I can.
How to Find Me
My biggest platform right now, there’s a lot of word of mouth going on. A lot of my client base is word of mouth, but I do have an Instagram page, @dreambigbaby.world. Through there you can access my website.
Right now my major offerings are three different programs. I have a zero to four months program, four to nine months program and a nine to eighteen months program. Then I also have a parent program. Those are basically call oriented. There’s a 90 minute call and one week of unlimited texts to support. I create a curated sleep program for the family, feeding, sleep and grounding practices. It’s like a whole-care basket for the parents that I work with. I’m going to expand very soon into more of a subscription-based program rather than just being one call and the texting support and the program. I want to create a little bit more longevity in the way that I can support families.
How it works is the initial phase is all evaluation. As an Occupational Therapist and Clinician, my ability to evaluate and assess is really strong. Evaluate the the family dynamic, evaluate the environment, kind of secretly evaluate the the psychology and nervous system of the parents. Like writing down a bit of what I notice in their Soma. What am I noticing in their body? That’s like my private detective work, unless the parents are very open to talking about what I’m gleaning from behavior and all of that good stuff.
Assessing what’s happening in the baby’s world, if there’s any routine in place already, what does that look like? How many hours of day is your baby sleeping? How many hours a day night are you sleeping? What are your goals? What do you envision for the next month? What kind of support do you have in place? Do your family live close by? Really getting a huge, big picture and micro picture of what’s happening in your world.
After the evaluation process, I start to create this curated plan. I start to figure out based on what’s in place. Safety is a huge thing as a sleep consultant, a specialist. I need to also make sure that, the baby’s crib, the baby’s environment are in place, safety-wise. The parents talk to their pediatrician if there’s anything that’s concerning safety, before I can continue talking to them.
Once that’s all in place, I develop the plan. The plan is two-pronged. Part of it is developing a schedule and routine. The next part, if the parents want to, is the actual sleep coaching part. Here I help train the family to create independence with their baby sleep. That’s the sleep training that I like to call sleep coaching. Some families do take my actual routine that I create for the sleep program and then they go on to say, “Esther, we want you to help teach us how to use that very developmentally, appropriate, gentle way to facilitate independent sleep in our babies.”
The program in and of itself, the schedule, routine and the platform are sleep science already. If you engage in this routine, you’re going to see more independent sleep habits. You’re going to see sleep capacity in your baby and you’re going to get more sleep. But then engaging with the gentle interval training blows the whole thing out of the water. This is when families start to have these beautiful 12 hour of sleep stretches.
It’s curating it to what their needs are and whatever the parents are comfortable with, especially with regard to the actual interval training. Understanding the nervous system and the way I do as a clinician, as a practitioner, I have my own cap for what is appropriate to allow in terms of allowing your baby to figure themselves out independently. Then I scale it back depending on what parents are comfortable with. The mama that wants to go in after 30 seconds and pick up their baby, she can do that. It’s going to be a little bit longer of a journey, but it’s all about this co-creation of parent and baby increasing their capacity to cope with change together.
The Online Program
It’s called Sleep Easy Baby by Dream Big Baby. I’m super proud of it. You go to the link tree, the link in the bio and @dreambigbaby.world on my Instagram page, scroll down and you’ll see the Sleep Easy Baby sleep course, click on it. Extremely affordable. It’s an amazing investment to make. It’s an intro and then it’s three audio chapters. So you can listen to it whenever, however, on the move, driving. And then a little video conclusion. Each chapter captures a different time frame of your baby’s infancy. So it’s newborn, the middle chunk, the older nine to eighteen months. Each chapter is divided into two sections, education and then practical tools. Mindset and expectations are the umbrella that goes over each chapter. This is how you can relax into this, expectations wise.
It’s a great program. The education is so freeing, knowledge is power. The practical tools that coordinate with the education around each phase in the infancy, there’s a lot there for mamas and papas to enjoy. There’s a lot of nuggets in just over an hour course, you learn the ABCs.
One-on-one is so important and there’s nothing like it. I strive to make myself available one-on-one as much as I can. But I do know that having that freedom to choose when to integrate and listen in and have that hour is just really helpful. Another thing that I know, as a semi new parent is the inundation of all of this, the how tos and the shoulds and the tools and doing it right. This is why with my program, what I’m leading with is the education, instead of all of the, you must do it this way.
Equipped to Make Comfortable and Logical Decisions
If you understand logically what’s happening in your baby’s brain, you are then equipped to make more comfortable and logical decisions about what you’re going to do. It just makes more sense, cause a lot of these tools in the shields and the musk are thrown at you without you really understanding why this works. I’m young, I’m 34, but in my era when I was still in high school, we learned to do a math problem by hand. Then we learned how to do it with the calculator. I don’t know if the kids in high school are doing this now. The reason why we learned how to do the math problem by hand was so that you could understand how you came to solve the problem. This analogy rings very true. I teach you what’s happening in the phase of infancy so you can figure out how to solve the problem on your own. It becomes the solution, as opposed to plugging this into a calculator, but I have no idea why I’m doing this.
The work that we’re doing is to allow people to use their intuition as a resource and not just to simplify. That’s the takeaway. That’s where Dream Big Baby and the Sleep Easy program that I’m most proud of. With this information you can have the potential to feel more empowered to use your intuition because there is no one way to do it. We want to empower people to be more self-reliant and realize the wealth that they have in their heart, in their intuition, in their brain.
Bio of Esther Ruber
Dream Big Baby’s™ featured sleep specialist, Esther Ruber OTR/L, and proud toddler mamma, has been a practicing occupational therapist in Los Angeles for over 10 years, having received her Master’s degree from Boston University. Her clinical work has allowed her to participate in the art of establishing physical, environmental and behavioral equilibrium among clients of all ages, including infants. As a spiritually informed and intuitive practitioner, Esther is heart-centered, adaptive, and functional in her approach. Her passion and experience working with infants and adults in clinic, coupled with the birth of her daughter, sparked her calling to serve families with new babies on their journey towards finding life balance and joy. In January 2019, Esther took her Doula training (DONA) in order to deepen her ability to empower parents with practical tools during the perinatal period, especially those that create the sleeping household of their dreams!
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