My project is exploring the experiences of maternal mental health. It’s looking into the role of peer support in helping mums recover from mental health issues. As well as exploring online mothering support groups, I plan to research an organisation called the Letters of Light. This organisation sends letters from mums who have suffered with mental health issues to mums currently suffering. The idea is to look at why mums who have come through the other side of mental health issues put themselves back in vulnerable positions to help others.
Experiences driving research
I did my undergraduate and masters both at Loughborough. My undergraduate degree was in sociology and my dissertation looked at mummy blogs and how mothers use social media and blogs to challenge the common-sense knowledge of what it means to be a mother. Following on from my undergrad, my masters was in Social Policy and for my dissertation I researched the breast is best discourse. As an unsuccessful breast feeder who desperately wanted to breastfeed my child, but couldn’t, I saw how the ‘Breast is best’ ideology was damaging to women. I’d always grown up around babies, and resultingly pregnant women. So, when I got pregnant myself, I thought I knew what I was getting myself in to. I had an idea of what it meant to be a mother, and how to look after a child. I was relatively young when I became a mother; 21, and none of my friends had had children yet. I attended all the antenatal appointments, read the books and blogs, and followed the relevant Instagram accounts, but the reality hit me square in the face. Motherhood was harder, and lonelier than I’d ever imagined. When I had my second child, I suffered with postnatal depression, anxiety, and OCD. My PhD project is grounded in my experiences, and it aims to help find ways not only to bridge the gap between perinatal mental health support and further support past the perinatal period. But also find ways to help mums open up, and realise they are not alone in their experiences.
Life as a doctoral researcher
One of the hardest parts of being a PhD student is the freedom, and yet this is also one of the best bits. My project is completely my own, I can choose to read and write about what interests me, but I also have to motivate myself and push myself and have confidence that I’m doing the right thing. A lot of PGRs talk about imposter-syndrome and it’s so true!
At the moment a lot of my work revolves around finding relevant literature for my lit review – reading, highlighting and note taking. I spend two days a week in the office, and the rest of the time I work from home. The majority of my time is used to research, plan and write my literature review, but I’m also working on two other pieces of work – one, a rethinking of my maters project now I’ve had a third son who exclusively breastfed for 5 months, and two, looking at the peer support available for mothers’ raising children with Autism.
Support and advice
There are monthly supervisor meetings, weekly catch-up coffee mornings with other PGRs in the school, and evening meet ups. There’s also a peer buddy system to help you when you first start out. Although the supervisor meetings are great for helping move forward with your specific project, the catch ups are great for the more general gripes and idea bouncing. There is a great sense of community at Loughborough.
My best advice so far is pick a topic you really enjoy, and you are passionate about. I can’t really compare to what it’s like if you’re not passionate about your topic, but it definitely makes reading and writing enjoyable and makes you want to work on your project. I find myself thinking about my project even in my down times, I find ways to link it into conversations with anyone and everyone.
Remember not to put too much pressure on yourself, and give yourself some time off – a wise and wonderful person once told me that you do some of your best thinking outside of the office (S.Lewis).
Lastly, (what I keep telling myself!) none of your friends knows your topic better than you so have confidence in what you’re writing and what you’re researching!