Mercy Bell and Chad Milner are the proud and relatively well rested parents of a charismatic and adventurous five-month-old. Stanford grads with a passion for podcasting, they found their 2-week journey with sleep training to be so transformative, they wanted to share their experience here on the podcast. Benefits of hiring a sleep consultant
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Intro: Welcome to Becoming a Sleep Consultant! I’m your host Jayne Havens, a certified sleep consultant and founder of both Snooze Fest by Jayne Havens and Center for Pediatric Sleep Management.
On this podcast, I’ll be discussing the business side of sleep consulting. You’ll have an insider’s view on launching, growing, and even scaling a sleep consulting business. This is not a podcast about sleep training. This is a podcast about business building and entrepreneurship.
Mercy Bell and Chad Milner are the proud and relatively well rested parents of a charismatic and adventurous five-month-old. Stanford grads with a passion for podcasting, they found their 2-week journey with sleep training to be so transformative, they wanted to share their experience here on the podcast.
Jayne Havens: Mercy, and Chad, I am so excited to be having this conversation with you today. Welcome to the podcast.
Mercy Bell: Thanks, Jayne. Glad to be here.
Chad Milner: Thanks, Jayne. Hi.
Jayne Havens: Before we get started, I have to share the story for how this interview came about. I was on the phone with Mercy, and we were chatting. I was just so distracted by the beauty of her voice. I hope I’m not embarrassing you right now. This is true story. I was totally mesmerized. And I just kept thinking that if her baby was crying, all she needed to do was start talking. I bet he would be soothed by the sound of her voice.
Anyway, for those who know me, you know that I am a straight shooter. I say what’s on my mind, so I blurted this out. I told Mercy that she had the most beautiful voice ever, and that she needed to do something with this. She said that she podcasts. And so, that’s sort of what started this whole thing, that I have Mercy and Chad on the podcast today. It was fate. I just felt like I had to have her on my podcast.
Before we get started in our conversation, I want to say out loud that this podcast is not generally about sleep training. It’s about the business of becoming a sleep consultant and what it looks like to work as a sleep consultant. I thought it would be really interesting to have a conversation with a family to get to the bottom of why people hire sleep consultants and what is that all about.
So, before we get started, would you guys be willing to share a little bit about yourselves and your family, and maybe why you decided to reach out to me in the first place?
Mercy Bell: Yeah, honey, you want to go?
Chad Milner: Oh, you do go first. You do have the podcast.
Mercy Bell: He do have a podcast. It was funny enough. Chad also—
Chad Milner: I also have a podcast.
Mercy Bell: Yeah, he does. He has a podcast coming out, and he produces them. He somehow managed to do that all while sleep-deprived, while we had a newborn. So, he’s amazing. Okay. So, we are a couple in Boston. We have a five-month-old son named Amari, and he’s fantastic. I think this is our first child. Definitely, both of us have had a lifestyle of travel and work. And so, it was just a total tectonic shift in our lives to bring this little human home. We both work from home. We both work a lot. And so, just learning this new routine and schedule has been wild.
Jayne Havens: I’m wondering. Maybe this is like a difficult first question, so I’m just coming right out of the gate with it. I’m wondering if you felt any shame or sense of failure that you needed to hire a sleep consultant?
Mercy Bell: Mmm.
Jayne Havens: Loaded, I know. I’m sorry. But I just want to put it out there because I think it’s a thing.
Chad Milner: No, I don’t think we did. I can speak for us both. I think that Mercy is straight up millennial. I’m sort of millennial, Gen X threshold. Our generation, we’re leaning on tools, right? We’re constantly looking to Google, looking to our app, looking to our feed to try to gain insight into sort of what is happening in a process that we’re not familiar with, what’s new.
Parenthood — this has been a perfect example of that, right? So, the first thing we go to is that. And so, I know when Mercy found you, she very quickly was like, “Alright. Well, let’s try this because this is a tool that we can try to try to solve this problem.” I think that was part of the impetus that led us to you. I don’t think they’re a shame. But Mercy may have some—
Mercy Bell: No, I totally agree with it. I agree with everything that Chad just said. But there’s something else here that is so interesting, that you see it as a tool. Because when I was thinking about sleep training, I was on the fence because I thought of it as a philosophy and almost a moral stance, in the same way that I thought of the debate on I don’t even know what the other options are, but there’s a lot of other options. I was like, let him do whatever and wake up whenever, and biological or whatever.
It was, to me, more — at the time, it felt like more loaded to hire a sleep consultant. Because to me, it was almost like saying I was taking in a new philosophy or choosing a side. But the reason why, to Chad’s point, I felt such a conviction, I didn’t feel any shame. I didn’t feel like a failure. I felt like I had heard so much about you.
And so, it actually wasn’t the tool of sleep training. It was two mothers. That if they had said anyone’s name with the way they said yours, I would have hired that person immediately. Because it was just the conviction that there was a person that was going to help me, it wasn’t feeling like I was becoming a sleep — it was just like Jayne is this human. Let me tell you how my life changed in two weeks. For me, it was actually not a tool, but now it feels like a tool. But at the time, it was just like a new human to me.
Chad Milner: Yeah.
Jayne Havens: I love that you just said that. Hold on, Chad. I want to just interrupt you for a second. Mercy and I did not — I didn’t even send Chad and Mercy my list of questions or anything that we were going to talk about, because I really truly wanted this to be a totally honest and authentic conversation. I really do believe that that’s when these conversations are the best.
I love that you just said what you said. Because I am sitting here in the chair as the person who now trains mentors, certifies others to become sleep consultants. What I’m always telling them is that the key to a successful business is you. It’s yourself. It’s putting yourself out there. You’re not just a sleep consultant. You’re Jayne, or you’re Melissa, or you’re Stephanie, or you’re whoever you are. You are showing up with the highest level of support and the knowledge. Everything that you are giving to your clients is like that is the package. You’re not just another sleep consultant.
I can’t tell you how many people say to me like, “Are there too many sleep consultants out there? Should I even bother getting into this field? Is there enough room for me?” The way that I see it is like, no matter what, if there were 100 million sleep consultants in this world, I would still be me. I would still be showing up and supporting families the way that I support them. I think that there’s always space for that. So, I just love that you said that because it’s what I’m always telling people, and nobody believes me. So, you literally just put it on a silver platter. I love that. And I love that Chad said that for you, it was just like a tool, and it was a resource. I think that that’s really important.
It’s true that we should, as new parents, line ourselves up with tools and information and resources. I think we’re all living in this world that feels really hard and lonely sometimes. When you do set yourself up with those tools and resources, we’re all better positioned to thrive, I think. I was wondering if you felt like there was any stigma around hiring a sleep consultant. Mercy, maybe that goes back to what you were saying before about the polarization of what sleep training really is, right? If you’re going to sleep train, that’s sort of you adopting a certain philosophy in your parenting. Did you feel like that was really loaded in a way that was uncomfortable for you in any way?
Mercy Bell: With some people, definitely. I mean, there are people who are like, “Wait, you’re doing what?” There are other people who are like, “Can you send me the link,” who kept checking in how’s it going. Then I have friends now who are a few months further along without maybe looking at sleep. I also noticed that there’s an avoidance with some parents — separate from whether you choose sleep training or not, you take time to work with a sleep consultant.
I have friends who are just avoiding that conversation with themselves and with their partner. They’re now hitting up against, as they get closer to the year mark, some serious like, “Oh, my gosh, this has to be addressed,” however they decide to address it. There were some people who were like, “Oh, it’s really great that you took this on now.” Chad had so many friends tell us to do this.
Chad Milner: Oh, yeah. Before we had the baby, two of my really good friends who I trust, I’ve known for years — I went to college with one of them. I grew up with the other one. One lives in London, one lives in New York — we’re in touch over WhatsApp, mostly. They said the two pieces of advice were sleep training. Both of them in different words were like, “If I could give you one piece of advice, it’s don’t sleep with your child.” That’s the extreme of one of them. But the other guy, he has two kids. He said, “That’s the one thing that I would have done differently. It’s to work on that earlier on.” That stood out to me because it just seemed like two separate voices saying the same thing. It was very specific. It’s something that I wasn’t thinking about at all of having a baby. I’m thinking about a million other things.
Then the other thing I’ll say is that the process itself is the opposite of a lot of other processes that happened early on. Everything else felt really intuitive about trying to understand what the baby is asking for, feeling your way through situations, with the nursing and really answering the question to him. He’s saying he wants something and trying to figure out just what is that immediate thing he wants — whether it’s food, or a diaper, or something else. This really takes you out of that. This really asks you to say, no, here’s this kind of other level of helping him. And so, it’s not giving him what you think he wants right in that moment. It’s introducing him to a process that’s about a little bit of self-restraint or a lot of self-restraint, some discipline, repetition.
So, I’m fast forwarding a little bit. But I think that, for me, I saw it as a really welcomed challenge. I had heard about it. And so, I felt like, man, let’s get in front of this before we’re that person on the other side saying, “Oh, man, I wish we had done that.” So, that was my experience coming into it.
Jayne Havens: Chad, don’t you think that a lot of what we’ve been working on together is, even if we’re not giving Amari exactly what you think he’s asking for in that exact moment, we’re really actually doing a lot of practicing on listening to what his actual needs are rather than just assuming what his needs are. Right? And actually listening to, like, is he just making noise because he wishes he was asleep, versus needing to be fed and really getting in tune with what those different sounds sound like so that you can better meet his actual needs rather than just silencing the noise.
Chad Milner: Right. Absolutely. And what does a baby really “want” too? A lot of times, as parents, we’re actually addressing our own needs. It’s about, well, I want him to stop crying. He wants this so that I can make him stop crying, versus maybe he’s frustrated. Maybe he’s trying to work through this totally new process for him. That’s what I’m hearing versus, “Let me figure out how to shut him up really quick, because he drives me crazy.”
Mercy Bell: I also think there’s not a big conversation about how hard it can be for — there’s rightfully a lot of spotlight on mothers. Because I believe we experience a cry differently just biologically. That’s just my experience. I’ll speak for myself. But having a son, I think there’s something really profoundly challenging and important.
When I watched Chad put Amari down and Amari was protesting a little bit, there’s something about watching a little you. Because Amari does look like a little Chad. Watching little you have to, I guess, struggle in the sense like not get exactly what they want, that’s kind of existentially hard. In a way, that isn’t hard in the same way for me. It’s my son. That’s challenging. But to put down a little version of you who literally looks like you, a little you, he’s like, “Don’t. Don’t do it.” Just that moment, it takes the restraints on our part.
Chad Milner: Yeah, it is. Definitely, I can piggyback on that, in that when he’s upset, he looks a lot like me. Maybe it’s because I’m seeing it in him, right? That upset face, I see myself right away. And so, it’s like there’s a moment where you’re seeing yourself look at you upset, and you can’t really immediately fix it. There’s this — I don’t know. You have to really work through that. It wasn’t a long thing for me. I wasn’t caught on it for a long time. But there was moments where I was like, oh, man, I have to surrender to this. I have to let go. I can’t make him feel better right in this very moment. And that’s okay even though it looks like me looking at me upset.
Mercy Bell: And working with, as we were saying, what is actually better for — he’s fine. It’s literally us going through it. This had nothing to do with his actual discomfort. This was about our discomfort. Having that reflected a few times just on how we spoke, and you would share like, the language we’re using and the way we’re approaching it and thinking about this, sometimes it’s almost like it really is about us and not the baby. The things that we’re so freaked out about, we have to look at and handle over here. Because he’s fine. There were times he’s really “upset.” When I pick him up, he smiles immediately. Like, I got you. I was like, oh, fine.
Jayne Havens: Mercy, during our time together, you often referenced the experience as being transformative for you. You said it a few times. Are you willing to share what you meant by that?
Mercy Bell: Yes, there’s layers. It’s a layer cake of transformation. The first layer is actually trusting another person to help me see what I can’t see as a parent. In most areas of my life, I’m extremely self-reliant. I mean, I will maybe go to a book. I will potentially have Google be a friend. But to really trust another person — in this case, to work with a sleep consultant — to be open and receptive to new ideas and to their expertise, that was transformational for me, just as someone who generally likes to go at either alone or in a small huddle with my husband. So, it’s made me more open generally to just asking for help, getting other suggestions from human beings and not doing this by myself, or in a small two-person unit.
The second thing is that it encouraged me to look at my own discomfort as a parent, which is mostly around not being able to immediately fix even things that I’m not even sure are problems, but that general sense that to be a good human or to be a good mom means that I erase my child’s human experience. They don’t get to feel discomfort, because a good mom doesn’t let her baby have discomfort or challenges. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Transformationally, I want to be the type of parent that gives my child the gift of things like a bit of frustration or boredom. Because these are the things in which I had actually, as a kid, ironically, they’ve probably built some of the parts of myself I like the most. And yet, here I am trying to shield my own child from the experiences that will give them a chance to build tenacity, resilience, a sense of home within their selves. These are things I promised I wouldn’t do as a parent.
I was reading baby books. The only baby book I read was Bringing Up Bebe, this whole parent — you give the baby a little bit of time. You give the baby time to cry. Okay. Well, Mercy, you said you’re going to do this. Now you have a baby here. Quite literally, you’re either putting the nipple in his mouth because you can’t even bear a minute of his crying, or you’re constantly reading up on things you can do to suppress his negative emotions. That’s not the type of parent I want to be. And so, transformationally, sleep training gave me the opportunity, working with a sleep consultant, to do this differently, to interrupt my habit of trying to stop him from having his own experience of life.
Chad Milner: Yes.
Mercy Bell: Yeah.
Jayne Havens: I love that. I think it went beyond. For you, guys, I think it went beyond sleep training. You touched on this. I think during this process, we all worked together to help you to get comfortable with just managing his day in new ways — to prioritize his feedings, to really pay attention to make sure he was getting enough to eat all day long. Because, again, babies can’t be in charge of that.
He doesn’t know what he needs all day long. He might ask when he gets really, really hungry. But we want to stay on top of it and make sure that he’s fed fully and wholly all day long, and that he’s getting the right amount of play. You mentioned the right amount of boredom too, and physical activity, and fresh air, and all of those things, just keeping an eye on the big picture of his day and what it looks like to survive life as a baby, right?
Chad Milner: For sure. Yeah, I think another what that brought up for me too, I think just having this relationship with you over this relatively short period of time working with a sleep consultant, one of the things I noticed is it really disrupted two binary relationships, me and Mercy. Because a lot of times, it’s the two of us. It’s just the two of us and him. I realized that’s not the case for everyone. Even if it’s a single parent, it’s just you and the baby. Then this idea of right and wrong. For the first however amount of time, you’re dealing with these situations. You’re labeling them, okay, that was right or that was wrong. Then there’s two of us, right? So, you’re also navigating that relationship. Well, I think it was right and you think it was wrong, or we both think it was right.
Having a third person to bounce, just that being in conversation with, just really disrupted that in a healthy way. A lot of times we’re like, “Maybe we were both wrong, or maybe there was no right or wrong there,” and just having that opening and having it overtaxed and in a situation where you normally don’t have a line to the outside world. Then having it with somebody like you who’s gone through it. We know you’ve gotten through it with other parents too. So, there’s a moment of normalizing. Okay. This just happened. Just hearing you say like, “Oh, really? Okay. Well, try this.” Or, “You know what? You’re good. Just this, that, or the other.” I’d say that was another really positive aspect of this process. It has been just, again, interrupting that ‘us versus the world’ or ‘us and the baby.’
Mercy Bell: Yeah.
Jayne Havens: Actually, I think that’s a really good point. I noticed, actually, when I was working with you guys, you wanted to do things right. You always wanted validation that you handled it the right way. Parenting is a process. It’s a journey. Sometimes, as you said, there are no definitive rights and wrongs. They’re just like, did that work for you? Did that feel right? Did it feel in tune with what Amari wanted or needed? It’s not necessarily up to me to tell you whether or not you did it right or wrong. But how about let’s just self reflect. Did that feel right?
I remember, it wasn’t too long ago, maybe one of you guys put Amari down for a nap when he wasn’t looking so tired. He was having a really hard time. And so, my thought is like, “Well, was he acting tired?” I think you guys were like, “No, actually, I don’t think so. But I was just worried that it was time.” Those are the types of things that sometimes having a third party, as you say, or just another set of eyes that’s not emotionally invested in the situation the same way — I mean, I was emotionally invested in the situation, but I think differently than you guys. I agree. I think that that’s helpful to get an outside perspective on what’s going on. Because when it is your baby, sometimes it’s really hard to see the bigger picture.
Mercy Bell: I think that’s hugely important. To me, the voice of the sleep consultant in my experience was challenging this idea that everything was a failure or a success. It was just more information, and there was always another opportunity. I feel like it’s a very common theme. Your messages to us was like, we can try that. There was this forward looking, never back. Let’s go dissect the last three days, everything. It was just like, okay, let’s try this for the next one.
Chad Milner: Let’s make an adjustment on the next and see what happens, how that works.
Mercy Bell: Which we weren’t doing with each other. We were just re-litigating, if I might say, how it had gone the day before. You know that meme from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia of Charlie? There’s this meme of a conspiracy theory board, strings trying to connect the magical formula of how to do things.
Chad Milner: Then you lose the process in that, too. I think underneath all of that, this is a — I don’t want to call it a program. But it’s a philosophy. It’s an approach. And so, if you’re constantly dissecting — how did this go? How did that go? What was right? What was wrong — you lose the big picture.
The big picture is that it’s an arc. It bends towards success or justice, however you like. It’s what we experienced. If we really look back, we’re like, wow, he improved so much. We learned so much. We never would have got there if we were worrying every step of the way. Did we do this right? Did we do this wrong? No, we just continue to try it and make small adjustments but also surrendered to it too, to say like, “Hey, we’re trying this because we don’t know, not because we know.” And so, it was just wonderful.
It was wonderful to just loosen up on the grips of the parenting steering wheel, which, as soon as you leave that delivery room, you’re just on it. You’re responsible for this tiny being. So, you’re being vigilant and then oftentimes hyper vigilant. I appreciated this process in that, again, it’s allowed us to try something over a longer timeline versus just the moment of what’s happening.
Mercy Bell: The proof is in the pudding.
Jayne Havens: Yeah, Mercy is showing me the image right now at the monitor. Amari is sleeping beautifully for nap time today, so that we could have this conversation. I just want to be totally transparent with everybody who’s listening to this. Because I think that when people listen to a podcast with a sleep consultant talking to clients about how this experience was so transformative, this case was not a slam dunk. This is a family that I gave an extra week of my time too because we weren’t killing it. We were not done.
Typically, when I work with families, more often than not, we’re in a good spot in 5 to 7 days or 10 to 14 days. This family needed a little bit extra time for me. This was not an A plus, slam dunk case that was just in the bag. This was a situation that I think required some extra time, some extra TLC, some extra support, all of the things. I would say that you guys are probably still a little bit a work in progress.
You’re still trying to get to the finish line. I don’t even know if there ever really is a finish line for what it’s worth. But I think that that’s important to say, because it’s really easy. It would be so easy for me to have a family on the podcast that literally we sleep train their baby in three days. Oh, my gosh. This was perfect. That was not the situation here. I think it’s so important to highlight that even in situations where it doesn’t end up necessarily 100% picture perfect, the experience and the process can still be really beneficial and really transformative for the family, the parents, the baby, the entire family as a unit. I think that’s worth highlighting.
Mercy Bell: That’s so important. That’s something we know, of course, because we’re living it. But yeah, I can’t express enough that I came into it. I thought very like result-oriented. Meaning, he’s going to sleep through the night every night from this point forward. That’s how I know this worked. What we’ve come to is that this is completely re-oriented how we parent. It’s going much better. We see progress. It’s not linear every night.
Like Chad said, the arc of it is absolutely up into the right. Most importantly, there’s going to be things like this. Here’s what I’ve heard: every single parent has — there’s going to be a challenge that comes up. Some babies sleep through the night beautifully. Then they have X, Y, Z whatever.
Chad Milner: Then an unforeseen X factor. Without going into the weeds of it, that’s almost a lesson too. It’s that you have this, and it’s working. It’s working, and then something comes up with him. He has a developmental milestone that’s completely external to the process that interrupts it. And so, then, you have to adjust. You have to say, “Okay. I have to pause. I have to recalibrate. I have to return in a different way.” For us, that’s what happened.
When you hit that block, you go back to those old thoughts of like, “Man, I’m not good enough. This isn’t working.” Then you learn that that’s, hey, no. That’s still a part of it. I think that was almost like the big win for us. It was just having that challenge and being able to adjust and see it through that, yes, he’s still learning. But I think that was a big lesson for us and a really great experience.
Mercy Bell: I wish it wasn’t called — sleep consultant is such a narrow term. Because you really did more than that for us. It was much more to me about how we orient ourselves as parents and how we care for our child. That’s going to apply for whether it’s sleep or some other drama du jour. So, there’s something here that is a total win that is going to carry through past sleep.
Let’s say, tomorrow he started sleeping beautifully. I would still use the principles of how we work together for anything — solids, first day of school jitters. I love the example you gave around math homework. I cried over my math homework. You know what happened? I didn’t have to do it. Now, I can’t do math, y’all.
Jayne Havens: Well, I really appreciate the two of you trusting me to hold your hand through this process and to walk you through the trenches. I’m really grateful for you being willing to take the time to have this conversation on the podcast. I hope that it shows listeners that what we do is more than just helping to sleep train a baby. I do think that conversations like these are really important to helping us, as professionals, advance our own careers.
When we have parents out in the universe like you guys, I think you, guys, are going to be the people that tell your friends that this type of support is really valuable. That’s really important for us as sleep consultants. So, I’m really grateful to have crossed paths with you, guys. I hope we’ll keep in touch. I know that we will. I will never forget.
Before we wrap up, I have to tell everybody about the Canva little thing, right? Before we even got started, when I got an inquiry from Chad and Mercy, Mercy sent me a Canva graphic about Amari. It was like a picture of him and his stats, like his weight and his height, and that he was breastfed and all of these things. Literally, I was like, “This is my family. I will be working with this family.” So, I want updated Canva graphics. Maybe every three to six months, I want a new bio. Then I really hope that we can keep in touch for a really long time. So, thank you.
Mercy Bell: Thank you, Jayne. Thank you so much.
Outro: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Becoming a Sleep Consultant Podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, it would mean so much to me if you would rate, review, and subscribe. When you rate, review, and subscribe, this helps the podcast reach a greater audience. I am so grateful for your support.
If you would like to learn more about how you can become a certified sleep consultant, head over to my Facebook Group, Becoming a Sleep Consultant or to my website thecpsm.com. Thanks so much, and I hope you will tune in for the next episode. Benefits of Hiring a Sleep Consultant