Former legal professional, Leanne Howlett shares her inspiring story of why she swapped a career in wills and probate for supporting new mums struggling with their mental health following her own battle with postnatal depression.

Leanne smiling

This is Leanne’s story.

“I had been working in law for six years before I fell pregnant, and life was good. I had lots of hobbies, I ran the London marathon, I was very outgoing with lots of good friends who had mostly all had children the year or so before I did. My eldest was a planned baby and my pregnancy was great, I loved every minute of it!

The first time I experienced postnatal depression was after she was born. Looking back, it was really hard because I had no prior experience of mental illness at all and no understanding of how the services worked. I felt really scared of asking for help as it was all so unknown to me and I didn’t really understand myself how I felt, so I found the idea of putting it into words quite difficult. When I eventually accepted that I needed help, my midwife supported me with a mental health referral.

Initially I found a lot of the terms such as ‘psychiatrist’ and ‘community psychiatric nurse’ really intimidating. For my partner, it was tricky as he felt a huge sense of responsibility to keep me safe and would often say the wrong thing, not really knowing how to help me.

As is often the case with perinatal mental illness, I completely recovered and remained well for around two years until I fell pregnant again with my second child.

Second time around I was referred for support to pre-empt any potential illness quite early on in pregnancy – which was a huge help. However, once I became unwell it wasn’t always easy to put into practice the things I needed to do to help myself. I had an amazing nurse who looked after me from the perinatal team, she worked hard to tailor her care to what suited me best. When I told her I felt too scared to call the crisis team when I needed them out of hours, she even helped me write scripts so I could use them to remove that barrier. The kind of care she gave me made me feel like she cared about me as a person, not just another patient, and this gave me faith that I would get better. She always told me she was holding the hope for me that I would get better until I could hold it myself and I never forgot that when I was recovering. Now I look forward to being able to hold that hope for other mums.

After my first experience of having postnatal depression, I set up a peer support charity By Your Side as I wanted to work in perinatal mental health – I just wasn’t sure where that would be or what it would be doing.

Later on, I decided that I wanted to study to become a mental health nurse, to help those who are going through the same things that I did. I applied to university within a few months of recovering and started that September. I’ve never looked back. I was so excited to land a newly qualified role at the Mother and Baby Unit located at The Barberry.

“If I could say one thing to someone going through a similar experience to what I did, I would encourage them to share how you feel. Reaching out for help is the hardest step, but once you’ve done that, just accept what the professionals say and let them help you. I fought against it a lot which made my recovery more protracted and more stressful than it needed to be! Also, recovery is possible with time, I’m living proof of that and afterwards you will be stronger than you were before for going through it! Some of the strongest mums I know are those who have struggled with a mental illness at a time when society expected them to be at their happiest… and raising a baby at the same time!”

If you are struggling with your mental health following the birth of your baby, it’s okay, if you are not okay. Our Perinatal Mental Health service provides a safe, high quality, family friendly, mental health service – including assessment, treatment and care for women suffering from psychiatric disorders associated with pregnancy and childbirth.

Please visit our website page for more information on how to access our service.