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
Sunday, 7 April 2019
If you’ve ever been referred to a psychiatrist, chances are you’ll have received a letter after every appointment. This letter is not addressed to you: it’s from the psychiatrist to the GP - about you. You are copied in. These clinic letters are one-sided and they are subjective, and subsequently they have the potential to be all sorts of upsetting. They can include observations about your appearance…
Saturday, 23 March 2019
I wanted to share with you this shiny new video from Netmums, who interviewed me over Skype about birth trauma and maternal mental health. I explain about postnatal PTSD, talk about my own experience very briefly, and signpost to some support available. (I tell you this from memory: I have a policy of not watching or listening to myself at all as I know I will only dissolve into…
Sunday, 3 March 2019
This is a little off-topic but bear with me. I suspect the maternal mental health / feminist parenting overlap is a significant one. And I want to talk to you about vulvas.
It’s been niggling at me for a while that, whilst little boys almost universally have a ‘willy’, there is no equivalent for little girls: there’s no child-friendly word for vulva in common enough usage to be…
Sunday, 17 February 2019
Birthdays after birth trauma are funny things. They’re times of joy and celebration of a much-loved child, and yet they’re also ‘crappiversaries’ – a concise if rather twee name for the anniversary of a traumatic event. I’m not sure why crappiversaries have to be a Thing, and yet somehow they are. You can ignore them, but they insist. In a way, it’s like the events of a year ago…
Friday, 4 January 2019
Hope you all had merry Christmases and happy new years. I’ve not been particularly in the mood for festivities this year, if I’m honest, but I’m looking hopefully to 2019. I am just picking up the crowdfunding again – we've just reached both 35% and 200 supporters. That’s more than a third of the way there. Yay. Writing has really taken off this past month or so. I finally followed…
Try to have your writing make sense.
Monday, 17 December 2018
Back in the day, it was all about webforums. I frequented numerous of these online establishments – despite, of course, the fact that I was deeply trendy and had many, many friends in the real world, obviously… My favourite was a poetry forum called The Poetry Free-For-All, or PFFA. I wrote angsty poems, like most teenagers do, and it probably comes as no surprise that I was exceptionally…
Monday, 26 November 2018
First of all, thank you for your beautiful, heartfelt, overwhelming responses to my last update. I’m sorry that few of you got more back from me than variations on “Thank you x” - I was just so depleted at that point, and had used up all my words. I am still quite short on conversation, to be honest. But please know that your kindness and support really does mean the world, even…
Snowdrops and witch hazel
Monday, 19 November 2018
I'm learning that a book is two stories: the story within the book, and the story of writing the book. The two merge and fuse and blend in all sorts of unexpected ways. I'm currently reading Tom Cox's Help the Witch, a collection of ghost stories and almost-ghost stories. They’re unsettling in a way that I find strangely satisfying. And as I read them I remember his blog posts from…
I trust you this much.
Thursday, 25 October 2018
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
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
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…
Friday, 7 September 2018
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.…
Thursday, 23 August 2018
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…
These people are helping to fund All My Worldly Joy.