Laura Godfrey-Isaacs is an artist, community midwife at King’s College Hospital, London and a project producer for Maternal Journal.
Maternal Journal was created by myself and psychiatrist Professor Carmine Pariante. It is an interdisciplinary collaborative project with Kings College London’s’ Department of Psychological Medicine & Department of Women’s Health, Ovalhouse and The Royal College of Art. Maternal Journal explores the therapeutic potential of journaling as a way to promote wellbeing and positive mental health for pregnant women and new mothers, who have a history of mild to moderate depression and/or anxiety.
The project pilot involved a series of workshops, facilitated by myself and Carmine, that included creative activities introduced by visual and craft artists, poets, cartoonists and writers; including Hollie McNish and Kate Evans. The three-hour workshops were held weekly over five weeks and included pregnant women and new mothers with children ranging from five months to eight years old. At each workshop, artists devised creative exercises that supported participants to create a journal as a creative and therapeutic aspect of their care through pregnancy. In addition, the sessions involved participants sharing work they had made in between the meetings, and any experiences or concerns they had, therefore building in psychosocial support for participants and cohesion within the group. This led to a strong practice of sharing and support within the group, with participants feeling safe enough to reveal and explore thoughts, feelings and experiences openly. Discussions ranged from personal accounts of physical, psychological and emotional struggles with pregnancy and mothering to social, political and cultural issues referenced through media, art and medical frameworks.
Maternal Journal builds on the history and tradition of women’s journaling, which has a strong legacy as a powerful creative tool, and social document employed by women in their everyday lives, even by notable artists and writers including Virginia Woolf. We looked at a range of creative forms which encouraged women to find their own way to use the journal and their own ‘voice’ within it.
Journaling can also act as a therapeutic device by providing a means to check in on feelings, help to understand triggers towards poor health, document good and bad days, and put experiences into perspective.
Journaling in pregnancy also has particular poignancy as it relates to the inevitable marking of time, the nature of the experience as ‘a journey’, the sense of being in a liminal space (a threshold between one state and another), and the creativity of making a baby.
Outcomes and Women’s feedback
The women involved in the pilot project seemed to find journaling to be a positive experience, as this quote from one participant, Hannah, explains:
“I feel energised and given permission and support to continue to find and establish my own space and voice creatively, at home and outside. Which in turn makes me feel already less anxious and fearful about the impact of this baby on my sanity. Like I will have more tools at my disposal should I feel myself teetering on the edge of depression again.”
Maternal Journal was conceived as a pilot project – however, we are now looking at research funding to re-design and run a larger project so it could possibly be integrated into more routine NHS care. Journaling can be introduced in antenatal education classes and with individual women who are at risk of perinatal mental health problems. Contact me at Laura.firstname.lastname@example.org for project outline with journaling ideas.
Films documenting the project:
The Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/maternaljournal/
King’s Cultural Institute page:
Arts in Mind Festival – There will be displays of the journals, taster workshops and a panel discussion including artists and participants from the project on 6th June, 6pm-8pm at King’s College Hospital, organised by The King’s Cultural Institute and the Institute of Psychiatry. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/news/special-events/arts-in-mind/festival-2018.aspx