‘I Never Told My Doctor I Had Postnatal Depression And PTSD From Birth – I Didn’t Feel Supported Enough’

Laura Oduntan launched her platform, 5am mama, after feeling alone in her mental health struggles due to motherhood - now she's joining Grazia's campaign to implement mandatory mental health check ups in maternal care.


by Grazia Contributor |
Published on

Things very much went to plan when we decided to try for a baby. We had no issues getting pregnant and my pregnancy was straightforward and enjoyable. I loved seeing my body change, dressing my bump and counting down the weeks as we went from a blueberry to a pepper to a watermelon on the baby tracking app.

I remember a few weeks before my due date, a health visitor stopped by for what felt like an interview to see if we’d be good parents. She asked some probing questions and among other information, handed me a leaflet on the baby blues and postnatal depression. I thought to myself ‘I won’t need these, this won’t happen to me.’

But as she left, my husband and I felt uneasy. Like we were being judged and all of a sudden, the idea that my baby could be taken away from me became a real fear. I linked that fear to the information on those leaflets, so when the baby did arrive, and I didn’t feel ok, I didn’t tell anyone. I was so scared, confused and ashamed by how low I felt, I put on a front at every health visitor check-up, doctors’ appointment and even with friends and family. On the outside, it looked like I was loving motherhood, but on the inside, I was suffering with postnatal depression and PTSD from a traumatic birth, and I was suffering alone. After those initial leaflets I was handed before the birth, I don’t remember a single time anyone asked me if I was ok. The focus was always on the baby and I felt like I had to be strong to prove I was a good parent.

I suffered for well over a year before I reached absolute breaking point. After months of bickering with my husband, we finally sat down and had a really open conversation about how I was feeling and how it was affecting our relationship and my relationship with our daughter. We talked for hours. It was the start of my journey to recovery I didn’t realise I needed. I underestimated how much talking would help. How much if would help to share the burden of how I was feeling, so my husband could better understand what I was going through and what I needed as support from him.

I never had a formal diagnosis for postnatal depression. I never spoke to a healthcare professional about it, purely down to the stigma around mental illness and the lack of support offered to me as a mother. My recovery continued as I opened up to a few friends and family members, admitting I was finding things tough. The beginning of this was to make sense of it to myself, so I decided to write a letter. I’m not sure who I was really writing to, but it felt good to put pen to paper and get all my thoughts out of my head.

‘It’s been 492 days, 14 hours and 18 minutes since I gave birth to my beautiful baby girl [and] my life changed forever,’ I wrote. ‘As I sit in my living room, a photo of my husband and I in Bali, 2015 stares back at me. I feel a world away from that person sipping cocktails on the beach, relaxed, tanned and care-free.

‘I’ve always gone through life succeeding without too much trouble. I work hard but am naturally pretty good at everything I set my mind to. Because of this, I thought motherhood would be the same. I’d figure it out as I went along and it would all be fine. I’m pretty laid back so my baby would be too, right? She’d slot into our lives and we would make it work, wouldn’t we? How wrong was I.

I feel like I'm now bottom of the priority list in so many ways.

‘The past year and a half has been a real struggle and I just wasn’t expecting any of it. Mentally and physically, I’ve been pushed to my limits. A long labour and difficult birth were followed by a painful recovery for myself, and months of colic and reflux for the baby. We then had breastfeeding issues, extreme clinginess, terrible sleep and constant, miserable teething. All these things are normal I know, but everyone deals with things differently and I’m holding my hands up to say how much I have really struggled to cope.

‘I feel like I’m now bottom of the priority list in so many ways. Looking after the baby, my husband, dog and house all come before my needs and wants. Not to mention the pressure felt to keep wider family involved too. I’m not ungrateful at all and wouldn’t change her for the world, I’m just saying that sometimes this is really, really tough and I’ve not handled it as well as I’d imagined I would.’

The letter went on a lot longer, and it became so important to me as I continued my recovery until I felt strong enough to try for another baby in 2019.  It was something I would read back over and over, to remind myself it was ok to feel the way I felt. Eventually, it became the catalyst I needed to start my own brand and social media platform, the 5am mama, to tell it like it is in motherhood and make others feel less alone.

Maternal mental health awareness is something I’ve been campaigning for since I launched the 5am mama. Over the past year, my partnership with PANDAS foundation has raised over £4,000 to support parents and carers through perinatal mental illness. It continues this summer with the launch of our latest collaboration. A t-shirt reminding us that it’s ok to have good and bad days. £10 from each t-shirt sold goes directly to the charity. You can shop it here.

I only wish I’d known about PANDAS foundation when I was going through postnatal depression and PTSD. I wish I hadn’t felt ashamed or scared to open up about how I was feeling. If there were mandatory mental health checks in place from the start, I believe my experience in that first year would have been completely different. It’s so important that parents are not only fully prepared for how they might feel mentally after having a baby, but also fully supported afterwards. A quick joint check-up for mum and baby with GP at eight weeks isn’t good enough. We need time in place to talk openly about how we feel as a person. Because that’s what was missing for me – being spoken to as Laura, not just as my daughter’s mummy.

We think mental health check-ins should be as standard as taking blood pressure. If you want to support Grazia and MMHA’s new campaign, we’ve written a template letter here that you can download, edit and send to your local MP asking them to support a policy change. To contact your local MP, visit WriteToThem.

As part of the campaign, mums are also posting about their mental health experience on Instagram, which you can see on Grazia’s parenting platform @TheJuggle, @GraziaUK, or @MMHA. If you want to get involved, tag us in your post with the hashtag #MMHAdvocacyDay.

About the 5am mama

The 5am mama is a brand founded in March 2022 by mother-of-two Laura Oduntan. During her second maternity leave, Laura spotted a gap in the market for a loungewear brand offering stylish, matching outfits that can be worn all day. Drawing from her own experience as a mum of two young girls, and five years of ongoing sleep issues, Laura wanted to create a collection that was neutral enough to be worn by both girl and boy mums with no cheesy prints or motifs. The simple slogan ‘the 5am club’ features across all the tops, a subtle nod to that notion of being awake during the early hours, but not through choice. The flattering, oversized fits have been carefully designed to cater to all mums, pregnant women and those who perhaps still have the remains of a bump to cover.

'Every new parent expects to have sleepless nights in the first few weeks after giving birth, but when the sleep issues continue months and years later, it can really affect a mother’s mental health,' Laura says. 'I wanted to create a safe space for sleep-deprived mums to come together and know they are not alone. the brand is an honest reflection of motherhood, celebrating the highs but also coming together for the lows.'

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