Rachel Adedeji will cry on social media – if she thinks it’s gonna help new mums know it’s OK to feel low.
“I did an [Instagram] post recently the other day saying ‘I haven’t stopped crying’ and ‘I just had a little cry and I feel much better for that’.
“Lots of people were like, ‘wow, it’s incredible to see that this mum on Hollyoaks who appears to be living her best life can also be sad’ – and I’m like, of course, I’m a human being at the end of the day.”
Yep, 27-year-old actress Rachel does star in Hollyoaks (she plays Lisa Loveday), she was also on The X Factor many moons ago (back when it was the Saturday night show) and now she’s a mum. She’s got an 11-month-old daughter called Lilian, with husband Jason Finegan.
So, she acts, and also she cries. Only occasionally, now. Not all the time.
Chatting to her today, you’d never think there was a point when the crying was frequent. But one week after having Lilian she tells MFM, the baby blues kicked in, and kicked in hard.
“I think your first week you don’t really know what’s going on – and you’re just going with it,” she admits during our chat.
“I came home from hospital and went back to normal straight away. Normal for me was getting up, cleaning the house, walking the dog. I was doing all those things I wanted to keep up and maintain, because that’s the routine I was used to.
“I crashed the following week. I was taking it all in that actually this was a completely new chapter in my life. And I think that’s why I broke down. I was so overwhelmed with everything…
“That for me was the problem. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t feel like I knew what was I doing, basically.”
Part of the reason she didn’t know what she was doing was obvious: she’d never done it before… and she felt too embarrassed to ask for help.
“Which I think is really sad, actually. The education for mums is awful. I didn’t know anything and I actually felt quite stupid and afraid to even ask about things.
“I remember going to my weekly antenatal appointments – with [my] midwife to check the baby’s OK and that sort of thing – and every meeting, I remember having questions in mind of what I wanted to ask, but when it came down to it, I thought: you don’t wanna ask that, you don’t wanna appear like you’re a bit thick and you don’t really know.
“Now, I think: why would I know? I’ve never done anything like this. Why would I know what a placenta is? Or what an episiotomy is? I felt like I didn’t know what anything was, and I was afraid to ask.
There’s also the fact that, as she began to feel less and less like herself, she didn’t even really know that the ‘baby blues’ were an actual ‘thing’ – one that is totally normal for any new mum to experience, for a few days or a fortnight or so after birth.
“I’d never even heard of it before, and I was never told about it in those appointments. And even when you go to newborn know-how classes, or breastfeeding classes, you leave feeling so excited and ready to have this baby, but actually the one thing I wish I’d had was a meeting or a session that showed the real side of things.
“I don’t mean to put a downer on it, but just be very honest and open. Then you would almost feel a little bit prepared. So, it’s great to go away a little bit excited and you know tell ’em all the great things but then say, ‘you know, there might be a little negative thing. It’s totally normal to feel that way.’”
And then, there’s the simple fact she felt like – despite having a loving family and partner beside her – part of her was on this journey alone:
“It doesn’t matter how many people are around you, you do feel that sense of loneliness because ultimately you are going through it alone – in the sense that you’ve just been through birth, you’ve still got to learn how to heal, and you’ve still got to learn how to feed.
“My husband was amazing, I have to say. There were nights where I sort of felt a bit sad and cried for no reason, and he was like, ‘you don’t have to have a reason to cry, just cry, it’s OK’ and for me that was amazing and I kept saying, ‘I feel so alone’ and he was like, ‘no, I’m here with you’ but I was like, ‘I can’t really explain why I feel alone’.
“Even he was like, ‘I totally get that’ – even though it’s something only really mums can explain. It’s something you kind of feel like you’re doing by yourself.”
The fact is: the random bursts of sadness, anxiousness and even feeling like you’re a bit useless are basically the ‘baby blues’ in a nutshell.
A lot of it’s down to hormones – which makes sense when you think about the huge shift your body and your entire life are going through, when your baby comes along.
In Rachel’s case, she felt the waves of hormonal change to be a factor in her blue-ness, particularly as her milk started coming in – and she seriously struggled to breastfeed.
“I went to a breastfeeding class. You have a knitted or a crocheted boob and a doll and they go, ‘this is how you’re supposed to do it. If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong’.
“When I was breastfeeding, and it did hurt, I didn’t say anything because I thought well, she says if it hurts you’re not doing it right, and if I tell them that it hurts, I’m not doing it right…
“That’s not how you should be feeling, no. Of course it’s gonna hurt. You’ve never had anyone suckle on your nipple for that long! Don’t think that it’s ‘wrong’.
“Throughout the breastfeeding struggle, for me it was the pain. I struggled a lot with pain and not dealing with it well.
“Like I said, [it’s about] the education. Maybe I should’ve read more books. But I felt like I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what to do if it hurt. Put a cream on, or wear a shield. I just didn’t know anything, so I fed through it and fed through it and it killed and killed.
“[Then there’s] not only the pain of it, but the feeling of not doing right, and is your baby getting enough? All these thoughts.”
Finally, Rachel snapped and realised she couldn’t do it alone – and managed to find somewhere she could ask for help.
“Anyway, I managed to get through it, with the help of our amazing local breastfeeding support team. After a week, I just said, ‘yeah, I can’t do this’ and I made a call to the hospital and they put me forward to a breastfeeding support network. They come to your home and grab your boob and say, ‘this is how you do it’.”
Looking back, Rachel says she wishes she’d thought about her mental health more during this time – which took a serious nosedive, as she added pressure and stress to her bouts of sadness and low mood.
“I love that I breastfed, I think it’s great for personal reasons and for all the benefits I feel my baby is receiving, but I really, really do wish that there [was] that realist side. Of course, I’m glad I persevered, but I do feel like the initial stress of it all didn’t help my mental health and it just wasn’t very nice.
“The stress was not worth it for me,” she adds. “For me, a happy mother makes a happy baby. I’m so blessed to have Lilian, and my husband and I try our best to be so positive around her and to [make] a happy home so she can feed off that, and I feel like that does really help.
“At the beginning, with the stress of the breastfeeding, she just cried so much and I honestly feel like it was the stress she was picking up off me. You probably think I’m crazy, but genuinely that’s how I felt.
“All the chat around breastfeeding and all the classes, you leave feeling, ‘well, I have to now, the pressure is so on, I have to get through it’, and I think that’s what led me to keep going through the pain.
“In my initial breastfeeding class, how great would it have been if she’d laid the points out, but I left hearing her say ‘please don’t beat yourself up’. You don’t necessarily need to feel that pressure.
“Be encouraging – but give the real side to it, and explain the help you can receive in that area.” After all, breastfeeding’s a whole new world to a first-time mum…
“I actually remember crying a week after I gave birth non-stop because my boobs were leaking and I felt like, ‘this isn’t right you know?” she laughs.
“It’s funny now when I think about it because it’s like, ‘no, it’s great! Don’t cry. It’s good. Your milk’s coming in!’ At the time, you don’t really know. I remember feeling quite sad about it. Obviously, it was alien to me.”
We wanna be clear that baby blues aren’t postnatal depression (PND) – they don’t last for months and months. They’re a natural reaction to giving birth.
In Rachel’s case, things settled and calmed down, and it’s been 11 months since Rachel first felt those baby blues. She says now, of that time in her life:
“It’s ridiculous, it’s all very new, it’s all a whirlwind, completely overwhelming. My main advice is go with it, take it in your stride and take each day as it comes. That’s what got me through.
“I feel great now, and I have done for a long time… I love it. I feel like I was made to be a mum.
Still, just because the whirlwind of newborn life is over, doesn’t mean everything is always a breeze. In life, and in motherhood, it never is.
So, yes, from time to time, Hollyoaks star Rachel Adedeji still has a little cry.
“Every once in a while I feel like ugh,” she shares. “Every stage is different. When Lilian was about 8/9 months, I got a bit sad again and I was like, ‘gosh’. I was saying to my husband, ‘I’m actually really worried, like is this normal?’
“’It wasn’t until I spoke to a friend of mine, another mum, who said, ‘oh yeah, you probably be feeling like this sometimes until your baby’s 18 years old’.”
Luckily none of what she’s experienced has put her off doing pregnancy, and the baby stage, all over again. Far from it. She adds with a twinkle of happiness in her voice:
“I can’t wait to give [Lilian] a sibling – to go through it a second time, to know what I know now, is quite exciting!”
Rachel’s been working with Mama Mio to highlight mum mental health issues
Images: Instagram/Rachel Adedeji
More real life stories like this:
- Anna Williamson opens up about perinatal anxiety
- Una Healy on having PND after her 2nd baby
- How Sandi Thom overcame her ‘crippling’ PND