Sally Bunkham is the founder of Mum’s Back, who provide luxury hamper gifts for mums focused on the yummy stuff denied in pregnancy while raising money for PANDAS Foundation.
Sally is mum to two girls aged 3 and 4, and raises awareness of perinatal mental health issues via blogs, interviews, articles, TV and radio appearances. She has appeared on the BBC many times, as well as Channel 5 and national publications such as The Guardian, The Independent, The Sun, The Metro and many more.
It’s a joy to welcome Sally to share her experience of motherhood and overcoming PND.
Can you share your experience of first time motherhood and the adversity you faced?
I found motherhood the first time easier than second time round on the whole as the second time round saw me suffer with PND. First-time motherhood wasn’t without its issues, though. My first baby came in a whirlwind, 4 weeks early. I didn’t even realise I was in labour for the first 48 hours (I put it down to bad trapped wind!) so it was a real shock when she was born as it all happened so fast. For me, the biggest problem was breastfeeding. I was so keen to do it but in the end I couldn’t. I tried for so long but my milk just never came in.
The routine I had at the beginning was gruelling and unsustainable. I kept trying to breastfeed for weeks, which meant I would have to pump, attempt to get my baby to latch on, wash the bottles and prepare formula every few hours. By the time I’d finished there was barely any time to eat, sleep or wash. It was a relief when the lactation expert said she suspected my milk would never come in. I bottle fed from there and was able to focus on bonding with my baby, which was a big relief. It took a while to adjust to being a mum and I struggled with my identity. I felt a bit lost between the person I was before I had my baby, and the person I was, as a mum. It took a while for this to settle, but once it had, I felt great.
What help did you find most useful?
I was lucky that I had a very supportive husband who really helped me through it. I also sought solace and found my tribe online. Reading blogs from others going through similar to me was great for me, and I joined some Facebook groups which were great for those middle of the night feeds when I needed a chat with someone. My friends who had kids were also really supportive.
What advice would you offer women in a similar situation
I would encourage women to do the same as me….find their tribe! You need to surround yourself with people who understand you and who aren’t, ‘energy vampires’, as I like to call them; the ones who leave you feeling drained and flat. I would also say to try and get outside everyday. even if it’s just for 5 mins. I found a bit of fresh air so good for my mental health.
What encouraged you to have a second child? I found CBT and an emotional first aid kit from my psychologist helped
Our beautiful second child came as a surprise. Our first baby was only 3 months old when we found out I was pregnant again! This is possibly TMI but we’d only done the deed once and thought we were covered contraception-wise so I couldn’t believe my eyes when I took that pregnancy test. Coming to terms with it was another mental challenge. I knew what it was like having a newborn baby so the thought of having 2 babies that young was really scary!
Our second baby came and everything was fine for a while. Sadly she developed an un-diagnosed medical condition which meant she cried and was upset for huge parts of the day and night. It went on for months and the toll this took on me and my mental health was really overwhelming. My focus was completely on my kids so I didn’t really notice myself slowly losing control.
I was desperate to bring comfort to my youngest child but despite seeing various specialists, dietitians and paediatricians, no one could bring us relief. I became a very angry person and felt like a failure for not being able to resolve the issues with my baby.
I felt unable to cope with daily chores and was tetchy and frustrated to the point where I began doing crazy things like screaming into pillows and punching walls. The sleep deprivation was a living hell and I began hallucinating sounds and patterns. Eventually, after around 5 months of feeling terrible, it all led to me beginning to self-harm. I would drag my nails down my arms so hard that they would bleed. It was at this point I realised that something was seriously wrong.
With my husband’s support I visited the GP. That was the best decision I made. He diagnosed PND which was a big surprise to me. I had no idea PND could manifest because of external factors like stress and sleep deprivation. I naively thought it was something that only happened soon after a baby was born and was a feeling of sadness when mum doesn’t bond with baby. For me it was none of those things. This is the reason I now do everything I can do raise as much awareness as possible, so others hopefully don’t go through the same thing as me unnecessarily. I so wish I had sought help sooner.
What was the inspiration behind your business and can you share the juggle of freelance life with a family
My two back to back pregnancies provided the inspiration for Mum’s Back. I really missed all of the things I wasn’t allowed whilst pregnant and when my husband bought me some red wine and cheese after my first baby was born, both my NCT pals and I said what a great idea that was. The concept was born there and then, really. I noticed how all the gifts I received (though lovely!) were all focused on the baby. What I craved was a gift just for me, to recognise the journey I’d gone through as a mother and that had an affinity with my identity (not the identity society said I was supposed to have as a mother). My husband is a web developer so it made sense to have an online business to utilise his skills. The social side just made total sense having been through that terrible time with PND and self-harm. The PANDAS Foundation had helped me when I was poorly so I wanted to raise money for them.
The juggle with owning my own business and having a family is always a big struggle, to be honest. I now try and be focused and have small bite sized goals. I have also learned not to beat myself up if I don’t get certain things done. I’ve had the summer holidays with no childcare for example. At 3 and 4, my kids are still fairly dependent. Mum’s Back has been on skeleton service over the summer! I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to blog and collaborate or getting my new range live, I’ve just been focused on processing and sending out orders and keeping my social media updated but what I’ve realised is that that’s OK and the world hasn’t ended! So I suppose giving myself a break, is key.
What’s the greatest advice you’ve received
The best advice I got was, ‘start before you are ready’. You can spend ages thinking, ‘I’m not ready’ or, ‘I’m not good enough’ or, ‘I could never do that’ but actually, if you just start, you will surprise yourself. The best way to learn, is to go for it. Someone else also said to me not to even consider launching anything big during maternity-leave as the first year is always solely taken up with baby. From my own experience, I do agree with that.
How has social media helped you?
It’s a great way to get my concept out there and to gain feedback and opinions very quickly. It’s also great to make friends with like-minded people and to have found my tribe! Some of my closest friends are those I’ve met online and it’s such a privilege to be able to connect with people like that so easily….You (Vicki) is a prime example of an awesome, like-minded and supportive friend who I met on social media (sorry for embarrassing you Vicki!).
What are your future goals?
My main aim will continue to be the best mum I can to my girls. I would love to keep on growing Mum’s Back and to raise as much awareness of perinatal mental health issues as possible. It’s OK to not be OK and you can get better.