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.
About Laura Wood
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.