Here I am at Kingston and St Georges midwifery conference, 2018. Today there will be ten talks and events exploring the concept 'I Have a Voice' and I’ll be reporting on each of them in ‘Notes on Midwifery Voices’.
Laura Godfrey-Isaacs is one of my favourite midwives ever. I love people that have a huge mix of professionals skills and interests – Laura is a midwife, artist, activist, author, feminist, advocate and academic.
Laura tends to dive so deeply and broadly into topics that you come out like you’ve stuck your head in in a pro-midwife washing cycle (that’s a good thing...sort of clean, excited and feminist infused).
Today she discussed the Maternal Journal; 'A project that explores the tradition of women’s diary and journal keeping as a vital, expressive, creative and therapeutic practice. The project works with groups of pregnant women and new mothers, who have a history of mild to moderate mental health problems, and introduces them to the practice of ‘journaling’ as a way of expressing feelings, reflecting on their experiences and as a means to promote good mental health and wellbeing.'
There is a video which shows what the project is about here:
Laura described journaling as a particularly female activity; writer Fanny Burney said 'To have some account of my thoughts, manners, acquaintance and actions, when the hour arrives in which time is more nimble than memory, is the reason which induces me to keep a journal: a journal in which I must confess my every thought, must open my whole heart!'
The women who came to the sessions were encouraged to find their own forms of expression; poetry, drawing, prose and textiles were all available.
Hollie McNish is an extraordinary poet who was involved in this project and led some sessions. If you haven't come across her, 'Embarrassed', a spoken word poem about breastfeeding is a great way to start with her intimate yet political work on motherhood:
One woman commented on Maternal Journal, saying:
'I realised to my amazement - through doing this workshop - that I no longer feel broken by the pregnancy and becoming a mother.'
Two women from the project, Amy and Mo, came to talk to us and it was brilliant.
Amy described how there was a morning when she woke up and finally realised she was facing postnatal depression.
She put her feelings into art which helped her process what was happening. Amy mentions that many people don't have such an outlet - and finds this concerning. Maternal Journal helped her realise she spent a long time in 'survival mode' and needed to process things.
From the gloom and tension of 'writing on bread slices' (a part of her art when depressed), Amy has progressed to art of 'pert breasts sprinkling milk like fireworks'.
Amy also brought a quote from a mother which mentioned pregnant women are always being told what to do or what not to do - the Maternal Journal was the opposite of this. It validated feelings and reassured mothers they are not alone. And in fact, the feelings they have were transformed into art - so they meant something.
Mo brought us a piece of writing - unfinished, as usual, because she was 'busy with nappies and wiping snot this morning' (she might send this writing to me at some point to publish on the blog).
Mo has worked through her postnatal depression and rechristened it 'postnatal blues' - she started to see it as a cloud moving across her life as opposed to something which would stay.
She was allowed to bring her daughter to Maternal Journal, a deal breaking factor for Mo to be able to take part. She says: 'it took me back to days of creativity, days which had been stolen from me...I could say very intelligent things and be myself....people would hear me as I was trying to build up again and it was great'.
Mo is from Nigeria and she experiences 'racialised motherhood' and she says she 'can't find the words to explain how important it was to feel heard on issues that were so deep....and through them you have to keep surviving.'
Maternal Journal was a way of giving Mo the space she needed to understand herself and give her hope that 'one day I might be whole as a mother again and thrive'.
As you can imagine, we were all in bits.
And on that clear note, the women drew the talk to a close.
Feminist art at it’s best. However you do it, we should have ways of staying on good terms with our bodies and minds, through art or something else. It might sound really hippy but I think it’s where your true voice comes from and will help you advocate for the women as a midwife. And of course, the Maternal Journal project and other such projects are fantastic for women with mental illness - but I'm beginning to think the something like the Maternal Journal might be an excellent element of care for all women going through childbearing.
We’d love to hear from you - are you here at the conference? What was the most insightful thing you learnt from Laura, Mo and Amy?
Or what was the best thing you learnt from this post – leave a comment below!
*If you have got your own midwifery art to share, have you come across this project? I’d love for you to be involved!