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A memoir of motherhood and mental health

When I was pregnant, I thought that motherhood would be the making of me. And I was right - but not in the way that I expected.

I bought the books, went to the antenatal classes, bounced away on an inflatable ball… and was entirely unprepared for what was about to happen to me.

My son’s birth was wrought with complications, culminating in an emergency caesarean section that saved my life but left me profoundly traumatised. A month later, I broke down completely. I was admitted into a psychiatric mother and baby unit, where I could be safe and could remain with my baby. Once there, as I was able to rest and begin to recover, I was confronted with some startling truths about my own history.

All My Worldly Joy is a memoir of how I lost my mind and found myself as a mother. More than that, it’s the book that I needed to read in the midst of post-traumatic stress -- something I hadn’t realised that childbirth could trigger -- and in those long months afterward when I simply couldn’t imagine that I would ever be anything but miserable. It’s the book that I wish those around me had read, especially the midwives and doctors who were ill-equipped to help me when I was struggling.

A recent survey by the NCT suggests that half of new mothers experience some kind of emotional or mental health problem. And only half of those who do receive any help or support. As we chip away at the stigma and shame of perinatal mental illness, a movement is gathering momentum. Women are raising their voices and the message is clear: we have to do better by our mothers, babies and families.

I have been speaking and campaigning on this issue for a couple of years and now I invite you to join me as I explore further. In All My Worldly Joy, I consider not just what happened to me but what society tells us about birth and motherhood, and what we tell ourselves. I reflect upon the impact of birth trauma, how others can help or harm in the aftermath and how traumatic experiences change us and direct us.

To be honest, sharing what happened in detail feels pretty terrifying. But I believe that, unless we have these tough conversations about motherhood, nothing will change. I am crowdfunding this book because this is not just my story: thousands of women are affected, to varying degrees, every year, and there is a vibrant community of passionate people who are striving to improve what care and support is available. We need to do this together. And, for me personally, I think Amanda Palmer was spot on in her TED talk, when she compared crowdfunding to crowdsurfing: writing this book feels like launching myself from a high place. I have to trust that you, my readers, will catch me.

The title - All My Worldly Joy - is a phrase from a letter to Henry VII from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who gave birth to him when she was just 13. As you might imagine, it was a difficult labour. Henry was her only child and she was devoted to him - “my son and all my worldly joy.” I came across her phrase whilst researching for my PhD. At the time, I was writing it up with a sick toddler, on forty minutes’ sleep, and I was feeling pretty wretched. It reminded me just how the centre of my universe has shifted, and of the thousand tiny joys my son brings me every day.

Portrayals of mothers, and fathers, with mental health difficulties can be pretty damning. This book aims to counteract some of that stigma. It’s an unflinching account of the struggle of parenting through mental illness, but it is ultimately hopeful - a story of self-discovery, of purpose, and of profound love.

Laura will be donating 50 per cent of her profits from this book to the Maternal Mental Health Alliance

Laura Wood writes, speaks, and advocates for better maternal mental health care, having become acutely unwell after the traumatic birth of her son in 2014. She was subsequently admitted to a psychiatric mother and baby unit, where she was diagnosed with Complex PTSD. She now works with a number of organisations, including Mind and the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, to raise awareness and to improve support available for new mothers. In her other life, she is an early career researcher in medieval history and enjoys wearing brooches, stomping about with headphones on, bullet journalling, and pretending with her son that the floor is lava.

All My Worldly Joy is her first book.

I trust you this much.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

2018 10 05 16.16.18

Dearest everybody,

Last week was quite a big one for AMWJ. We surpassed both 150 supporters and 25% funding, and, at the time of writing, we’re currently cruising a cool 28%… I was also interviewed by the NCT about the book, which was grand. Welcome on board to all the new supporters, and thank you – it means everything that you’re here. If you’d like to, you can catch up on the journey so far.…

Growing Up Mental

Saturday, 29 September 2018

2018 09 18 08.44.08

Friends,

Yesterday two rather brilliant book-things happened: we smashed 20% - and 21%, in fact – and I finished the first draft of the first chapter.

This chapter has been a bit of a tricky one: basically what happens in it is I get pregnant. (Spoiler alert!) But there’s also some necessary background info about my decidedly colourful mental health history and I need to present that without…

The Fraud Police

Monday, 17 September 2018

2018 09 13 22.35.40

Morning folks,

I guess this is less of a book-writing update and more of a not-book-writing update… Truth is I’ve been feeling somewhat flattened the last week or so. Part of this is that my husband, Jon, has been working away in the Netherlands, and I missed him. He called to tell me how enthusiastic the Dutch are. The company he was visiting declared it ‘British Week’ in his honour. ‘British…

School Daze

Friday, 7 September 2018

2018 09 07 19.14.45

Dearest everybody,

So today we reached 15% and we are rapidly approaching 100 supporters. Tremendous. The Positive Birth Movement also very kindly featured me on their blog. Thank you and welcome on board to everyone who has pledged recently. If you fancy, you can catch up on the previous update here. And do let’s be pals on Twitter, if you are of a tweeting persuasion. I am @cooksferryqueen.

Ten!

Thursday, 23 August 2018

2018 08 16 12.00.06

Dearest everybody,

We’re at 10%!

Ten may not sound like a lot of per cent but this is a big project and I'm awed and thrilled that we've reached it so soon. Thus far 62 glorious individual humans have pledged for the book. When we launched, Fiona (the commissioning editor at Unbound) said to me, “10% is your first target,” and it felt impossibly distant. Then we hit 5% in the first 24 hours…

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