With World Maternal Mental Health Day on 4th May, drawing attention to essential mental health concerns for mothers, we speak to one mother who gave birth to both of her babies in lockdown and consequently suffered from insomnia, and how she is coping with motherhood and her mental health.
Words by Rosie Davies-Smith
Before having my girls, I’d always considered myself lucky to have never experienced any mental health issues. I’d naively associated mental health with mainly anxiety and depression as I’d seen people close to me suffer from these.
How I’m Coping With Motherhood this World Maternal Mental Health Day
When I thought about mental health post-pregnancy, I always thought about postnatal depression. Never did I think that not sleeping could turn into a mental illness.
Giving Birth in Lockdown
I had my first baby, Sloane in February 2020. I gave birth just as Covid-19 was starting to spread, but the birth was reasonably straightforward and by the time she reached four weeks of age, there was something comforting about being in our own little lockdown bubble.
I fell pregnant with baby two when Sloane was four months old and although having a little baby and being pregnant again was challenging, I was happy about the 13-month age gap that they would have.
Moving Away From Family & Friends
I run my own PR business, PR Dispatch, the UK’s first affordable DIY PR membership platform. Running a small business is very full on as we are constantly trying to improve our platform and create the best possible service for members, which involves weekly support calls, templates and an up-to-date press database.
Lockdown has shown us that we could work from anywhere so my husband and I decided to relocate 250 miles away from London to South Devon.
We have no ties or family in Devon, but we love the sea and with baby two on the way we needed more space. Remote working works brilliantly for my company and family offering flexibility, and my garden office is the best oasis for focus as a working mum. Moving was a big risk but definitely the right decision.
Giving Birth to My Second Baby
I gave birth to my second baby girl, Isla, in March 2021. The birth was not so straightforward with complications like having my placenta surgically removed. After a long and difficult birth she arrived, but three hours later during a group ward discharge briefing for all the new mums, I looked at her cot and she was blue and struggling to breathe. She had swallowed a lot of meconium during birth.
I did not know it at the time, but this was the trigger point for months of postpartum insomnia to follow. The doctors and nurses at that moment were amazing – alarms were sounded and they got her breathing again.
She had two more episodes and eventually they used a tube to clear her stomach. At this point and during these episodes I was alone as my husband had to leave due to COVID-19 restrictions. Giving birth in lockdown is a completely different experience and not being able to have my husband by my side during these episodes was extremely difficult.
The pandemic produced so many struggles for mothers, but despite lockdowns being behind us, I think many are still processing and recovering mentally from giving birth in lockdown. After such a traumatic birth, I couldn’t be more thankful for the NHS nurses who supported us as other family and friends were not allowed to visit.
I hope speaking about my experience resonates with other lockdown mums who might have had similar struggles, as the subject is not touched upon enough.
Struggling with Insomnia & my Mental Health
After the birth myself and my baby both struggled. As a newborn, Isla had difficulty with feeding and reflux. She was often very sick after feeds and would cough and sputter. Every time she did, it was a trigger for that moment back in the hospital.
I started to lie awake waiting for her to cough or wake. As her body matured and she grew out of the reflux but my body was still waking at 2am; it reached the point where I would wake at 2am every single night and not go back to sleep.
Although the hospital episode was the trigger at first, my insomnia then evolved. I was trying to juggle running a business, 50% of child care with my husband and two young babies. We had no family near to pull on when exhausted.
Living in Devon and it being summer, we also had back-to-back visitors which, though lovely, made my sleeping worse. I was trying to do everything and be everything for everyone, and was literally running from my office to pick up the kids without a minute to even take a breath during the day.
My sleep spiralled and by the end of summer 2021 I was getting just an hour or two a night. For three months, I tried everything that the internet had recommended – sleep hygiene, sleep restriction, CBD oil, herbal tables, sleep casts…everything.
Being awake in the middle of the night is so lonely. It’s dark and quiet, yet your mind is racing. You’re frustrated with yourself because your body is so tired from carrying and feeding a baby that is now sleeping through the night but you are lying awake. I didn’t want to use my phone as that would make things worse. I also slept away from my husband for months as I didn’t want to wake him if I was tossing and turning.
When Isla was around six months old, I reached breaking point and I just couldn’t function anymore. Covid-19 numbers were increasing again so I felt awful for calling my doctors for a sleeping problem but I am so glad that I did. They explained that I had chronic insomnia – and that it’s a mental health issue.
At this moment it was like a light bulb came on. I had been trying to just get myself to sleep without dealing with the root cause – Isla’s birth and lack of headspace for myself day to day. The doctor prescribed long-term sleeping pills and although they helped, I knew I had to make some big changes in my life to battle the insomnia.
How I Helped my Mental Health During Sleep Deprivation
I started working with a hypnotherapist. We discussed the birth and how little time I took each day to just take a moment to breathe. She explained you need to empty your stress bucket during the day by walking, exercise or reading.
Even if it’s just 20 minutes a day, it will positively impact your sleep. I also started taking brain supplements from Heights that made a massive difference to my sleep. Brain supplements give the brain the nutrients it needs in order to combat things like lethargy and anxiety which slow our bodies down and don’t let us perform to the best of our abilities; they contain vitamins and minerals which aim to improve focus, energy, mood, sleep and wellbeing. Personally I found that these worked wonders and really helped to improve my sleep.
I’ve also been avoiding alcohol where possible which I’ve realised is a trigger for my insomnia. The advice that I always give to other entrepreneurs is ‘don’t be all things to all people’. I realised that I needed to start taking my own advice in my personal life and put my mental health first in order to improve my sleep.
My Mental Health Today
Fast forward to May 2022 and my sleep isn’t perfect, but it’s worlds apart from what it was. I have to work hard to make sure I find the time each day to go for a short walk or practice 20 minutes of yoga, and with two little ones, that is sometimes hard.
I was really honest with the team that works for PR Dispatch about my insomnia and letting them know that I might need time every now and again to battle it. They were really supportive and took tasks off my plate when needed. My husband and I have always been 50/50 when it comes to childcare, but again just being honest and talking to him about how much I was struggling really meant he could be there for me and the girls when I needed it the most.
Most importantly, I’ve stopped trying to do everything at 100 miles an hour. Having so many friends and family to stay during the summer of 2021 just added an extra pressure that at that time I didn’t need. I make a conscious effort to keep the diary as free as possible to give my mind time to rest and switch off.
If people ask me why I can’t do something, I am completely honest and say because it will make my insomnia flare up if I am taking on too much at once. Having some free weekends are crucial for that headspace I need to empty my stress bucket. Maintaining a good work/family balance whilst taking time for myself is never easy but I’ve learnt so much since the birth of my children and feel proud of myself for the improvements that I’ve made and recovery I’ve been on.
So this World Maternal Mental Health day, I have no plans apart from to take a moment for myself to clear my mind.
Words by Rosie Davies-Smith Rosie regularly documents her life as a working mum of two on PR Dispatch’s Instagram, discussing the highs and lows. Rosie is the founder of PR Dispatch, the UK’s first affordable DIY PR membership platform.