I’ve just got back from the Maternal Journal project in Cambridge. Sat here in my PJs. I got soaked on the way back but it was totally worth it and I wanted to write up while I remember everything.
This was the first session in a series supporting a group of mother to keep art journals.
This project is an awesome idea because:
- Cataloguing those raw, precious, early days using art is a wonderful thing – and creativity improves mood*
- In the long term, creativity helps you make sense of things, leading to better mental health**
- We got free lemon drizzle cake and I got to hang out with toddlers with some of the best hair I've ever seen
We started off with motherhood poetry session led by local writer Hollie McNish.
If you haven’t read Hollie McNish’s book ‘Nobody Told Me’, it's so worth your time. It’s a collection of funny, insightful and clever motherhood poetry.
I was going to get Hollie to sign my copy of 'Nobody Told Me' but it’s in bad shape, I’ve dumped a glass of water on it and dropped it in the bath, a clear sign it’s one of those books I keep going back to. As a writer, Hollie’s work reminds me to be honest and not to overthink it. As a midwife, Hollie reminds me that each woman brings an entire world to her care, not just a bump.
Hollie is a working poet and you can tell because she has a stock of ways to get herself writing.
She shared prompts with us like:
Tell me about bad advice you’ve had about motherhood
What about good advice
Tell me something about socks
Tell me something about comfort
Tell me something about your body you like
And then the women shaped their notes into poems, many of which made us cry.
So what did I get up to?
You could argue that a lot of what I was doing was running around after toddlers and making tea. One of the women even apologised and said I was overqualified to do this (why do we always apologise???). Sod that. If I’m in any way qualified to help women write I’ll grab at the chance.
As Hollie said, most of artists and writers throughout history have been men and that’s because they haven’t had little ones running around needing attention.
Women are the people holding families together (usually) so it’s a shame more women don't write. Motherhood poetry is often the most powerful work I come across.
Women have better stories to tell. The motherhood poetry we heard exhibited this, everything from the reflection that ‘having a baby is actually quite a violent thing’ to 'you unlatch and it's peaceful. I love you.'
Each woman was given a leather-bound journal to write their thoughts in. No pressure, there’s no homework and you don’t actually have to do any art at all. But you could see the women were loving fast tracking their thoughts and emotions to the surface. It’s about breaking free from perfectionism.
The project is led by midwife/artist/producer Laura Godfrey Isaacs and I couldn’t be more impressed. It reminded me a lot of when the famous obstetrician Michel Odent said we should think more about the ‘happiness’ of women – at his clinic, singing around the piano with other families was encouraged.
Wouldn’t it be great of one of the questions we asked at appointments was ‘and how’s your motherhood poetry coming along, anything you want to share with me?’
Jump at the chance if you can go and volunteer at a Maternal Journal group.
All my best,
P.s. Have you written any midwifery/motherhood poems you’d like to share? Leave me a comment!
I made one based on Hollie’s prompts which I’m reluctant to share because poetry is not my thing, I just do blog/novels.
But the women today were brave enough to share so here we go!
(I changed the prompts to be about midwifery because I’m not a Mum)
Things You Can’t Tell A Midwife
I’ve been told by TV that I’m prettier when I’m thinner
But when I see expanding bumps/milky boobs
I know that's not true
I’ve been told by senior obstetricians
that anyone can be nice, we’re here to save lives,
But being with women and actually hearing them
has taught me almost everything I’ll ever need to know
I’ve been told by Netflix
that you spark joy by de-cluttering your house and folding your socks
But the happiest I’ve ever been was when I was sat against the heating pipes on the floor of room 2 of St Marys Birth Centre
with a labourer in the pool
with snow falling outside
with my room at home a glorious mess
*/** Jaussi, K., Randel, A. and Dionne, S. (2007). I Am, I Think I Can, and I Do: The Role of Personal Identity, Self-Efficacy,
and Cross-Application of Experiences in Creativity at Work. Creativity Research Journal; Stuckey, H. and Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current
Literature. American Journal of Public Health