Laura Godfrey Isaacs, midwife and artist and Samantha McGowan, communications and content producer, explain the aims and development of the newly published Maternal Journal book, alongside the global journal groups.
Introducing the Maternal Journal : supporting wellbeing through pregnancy and beyond
Hello, we’re two mothers from South London, Laura and Sam.
We’ve worked in the arts, midwifery and creative communications for more than 30 years between us.
We set up Maternal Journal because we’re passionate about creative journaling and how it can act as a superpower to support wellbeing in pregnancy, birth and beyond.
How it started
Laura is an artist and practising community midwife in London. On her daily visits and clinics, she soon noticed that although there were places and pathways for people with severe maternal mental health issues and general support for people who felt they were coping just fine, there wasn’t much of anything in the middle. And that meant a lot of people!
With lots of experience of creative strategies, for more than 20 years, in community and participatory arts projects, an idea sparked for Laura. Was there a simple approach that could support people in new parenthood?
Journaling seemed like a no brainer. It was practical – chuck your journal (or whatever you use to record your stuff) in your bag and go. Flexible – it fits it in around the busy life of a parent. It’s political – with a rich feminist history of writers and diarists. It’s cheap – scrap paper will do. It’s accessible – anyone can try it. And then there are the proven therapeutic benefits for mental health and general wellbeing.
Maternal Journal was born.
Sam took one of Laura’s first workshops. She was pregnant at the time and loved the concept; like-minded women making art and talking about how they felt, not just the baby stuff (though babies were welcome too!).
It was such a relaxing, nurturing and non-judgmental space that she wished more people could try it. Working for more than a decade on communications campaigns and with experience producing participatory creative projects, she decided to put her professional skills to use.
When we start out on our parenting journey, whatever that may look like, we go through such enormous changes in our minds and bodies that it can be challenging to know what to do with it all.
Suddenly, it seems we must magically understand what to do/say/be all the time, often with the bonus expectation of holding it all together, maybe with a smile.
It’s tricky. And without a standard-issue manual, we could be left wondering where to take all these new thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Here’s where journaling comes in.
Making art with other people is empowering, and the act of working creatively with people who share similar experiences holds amazing value. It can help us feel seen and heard in our lives, which is massively important, and sometimes all we need.
As well as this, journaling has been a significant feminist practice throughout history. Politically speaking, women have kept diaries for hundreds of years, often secretly, sometimes publicly – and almost always as a way to raise their voices.
Maternal Journal is a combination of these things. It encourages people to create and connect in a safe space. It’s also a personal practice that you can develop for yourself and use whenever you feel like it.
The story unfolds
Maternal Journal started out as journaling groups, with each session centred around a creative journaling task with time for shared thoughts and reflections at the end. People loved them. After the mini-pilot in 2017, journaling groups started to sprout up all over the place, and journaling groups were meeting regularly, hosted by incredible group leaders. Arts Council England also funded us to make a website with free online resources and support.
Women from the first workshops, all with lived experience of mental health challenges, came together to form the Founding Mothers group, which still drives the project today. And a project board developed, made up of mothers, academics and artists.
During the coronavirus pandemic, journaling became even more important. Mothers and carers who couldn’t meet with all the restrictions in place were now meeting online. We set about making daily journal prompts in the lockdown, working with artists, mothers and midwives to keep people’s creativity going in darkly strange times.
More and more people wanted to start journaling. We were getting tons of requests to set up virtual journaling groups, and we ran live journaling sessions on Zoom – meanwhile, a vibrant online global community was developing.
And the movement continued to grow.
As we write this, there are more than 60 journaling groups worldwide in over 20 different countries, including The Netherlands, Argentina and the U.S.
We didn’t realise the full potential in the beginning, but as things have shifted and grown, the whole thing has become so much more than journaling. Ideas, friendships, and connections have grown together, and it’s been amazing to watch the continuous unfolding.
The Maternal Journal Book
We’ve collaborated with more than 50 artists to create the Maternal Journal Book – a creative guide to journaling through pregnancy, birth and beyond. This publication brings together varying styles of journaling drawing on different elements of the parenting journey and is designed to boost creativity and wellbeing.
We are so glad to bring this all together in a book for you, where we have been able to commission new journaling guides and compile all the inspirational material we share in groups, such as reading lists, artworks and reflections on creativity and motherhood and parenting. We hope you love exploring journaling in all its different styles with all the wonderful people featured in these pages as much as we do.
Journaling takes you on a journey, and there’s something beautiful, poignant and extraordinary in looking back on how far you’ve come.
We are incredibly grateful to the very talented and dedicated people in the Maternal Journal community who, without their hard work and commitment, this book would not exist.
You can buy the Maternal Journal book at all book sellers or through the publisher Pinter & Martin https://www.pinterandmartin.com/maternal-journal
Free guides, a toolkit for setting up and running a Maternal Journal group and other support and inspiration is available on our website: www.maternaljournal.org
Follow us on social media @maternaljrnl
Find out more about Laura on her website: