As a Birth Doula, I meet women anticipating meeting their babies for the first time. Often these women are excited and seem put together. Sometimes their partners are more nervous than they are about becoming a parent or aren’t sure how they can help Mom. Sometimes the partner is the cool cucumber. Sometimes Mom is terrified and resistant to what’s happening and so she disconnects from what she is going to experience and instead views labor and birth as something that is going to "happen" to her and may not know it or just can't vocalize it.
I think that keeping a journal can be very beneficial in helping you process these emotions. Sometimes just writing down your thoughts helps you realize that you're nervous about being a good mom or maybe that you worry about not being able to handle the “pain” of labor. Maybe you'll realize that you've got too much going on at once and need to slow things down. It can be a light bulb turning on in your brain or help things fall into place.
In a journal you complain all you want about how achy you are or how you've been constipated. You can deal with your worry about saving money and the stress that it may put on a relationship. You can talk about how your partner is driving you crazy being overly attentive or not attentive at all. You can vent about how your pregnancy jeans push on your belly and make you feel like you constantly have to pee. Go ahead and complain about having to sleep with 5 pillows (2 under the belly, 1 between the legs, 1 under the head, & 1 behind the back) and only on one side. You can write down questions to ask your provider. You can write a letter to your baby. You can write about how terrified you are that you’ll poop during while pushing. You can be moody and no one will complain because your journal isn't for or about them.
I got a sudden urge to go through my attic recently after realizing how crazy crowded it was. I've lived in several different places since the birth of my first daughter and I've carried boxes and boxes of memories with me. Among the stuffed animals and clothes we brought her home in were the first two installments in the reference library of my children's lives. I was excited to go back and read their birth stories. I remember things from their births but so much seems hazy. It's amazing how our bodies seem to help you forget some of the details of birth. I wondered if there were details I'd forgotten or if I felt differently about my labors now that I'm a Doula.
I got pregnant with my older daughter at 19. My dad gave me a journal when I was about 6 months along so I could record all of my experiences. I remember a being little resistant at first, but it turned out to be a great idea. I didn't write every single day, but often enough that I fondly refer to it for some of my favorite moments in my girls' lives. Once the original was full, I started and finished a second. Life got busier, the kids got older, & I have let it go to the wayside more that I’d like to admit.
I wrote my journal to my unborn child. I was young and fairly clueless but I was excited. I didn't realize it at the time but it was also a way for me to connect with her. It was a way to feel less anxious about the unknown. It made it more real.
I’m sharing this because one thing I'd forgotten about was the way I felt about things along the way-as a 19 year old pregnant for the first time with no peers that could understand what was going on with me (actually there was one good friend who understood perfectly)-as a daughter who's Mom wasn't happy (at the time) about my being pregnant- as a recently graduated person whose high school friends were going to college and being young without responsibilities.
Having kept a journal during my pregnancy lets me go back to all those little things that I've forgotten about, like my amazement at seeing the ultrasound that told us she was a girl. They didn't print any pictures so I may not get to look back on it if I hadn't written about it.
"Dad was able to see you for the very first time. We saw your shoulders, eyes, nose, developing brain, & organs. Also, we got to see your rib cage, spine, & the best part was when we got to see your little toes"
Once your baby is born it can hold your birth story. It can hold the very truest of feelings that you had when you first laid eyes on your baby and the amazement you feel about having created a new life.
"I saw you and you were SO big, I couldn't believe it."
"I have so many moments in my days where I look at you and think, OH MY GOD, I’M A MOM! And then I have even more moments throughout my days where I get a sudden burst of happiness that I have you here."
My journals also contain the complaints about the rough days of a teething baby and the lack of sleep I got for so long. There's the frustration I felt when mastitis and “had to” supplement breastfeeding with formula and the disappointment I felt when I couldn't get her back on the breast after that. If only I'd have had someone that could've helped with those things. In those pages lies the proud sense of accomplishment I felt with the success of being able to successfully breastfeed my second daughter without problems. There’s the twinge of sadness at not having had many friends that understood that I couldn’t go out and party with them because I had to stay home and be a good mom. There are also my feelings of nervousness & anxiety about going back to work within my journal.
My favorite moments are the birth stories of course and the tender moments like the excitement my daughter felt upon finding out she was going to be a big sister-the kisses she gave my belly-the heart that my midwife drew on my belly so she would know just where to hold the Doppler so she could hear "her baby's" heartbeat for the first time-the excitement she felt on feeling her sister move for the first time-the excitement and immediate love he felt at seeing and holding her sister for the first time. There is pride in all the milestones they reached. It still makes me feel sentimental.
I love the silly or sweet things they said or did. I could write a book about those...the time my older daughter woke me up covered head to toe (along with the dog) in Vaseline because "she was hot."…the time I fell asleep while my younger daughter was napping only to wake up after she did and find an open melting container of ice cream on the kitchen table with a purple cauliflower in it. She was hungry and wanted ice cream for breakfast earlier that day.
The point of all this reminiscing and sharing is to show you how journaling throughout your pregnancy can not only help you process emotions but also become this link to some of the most precious moments in your life. It can provide a safe outlet for your fears and concerns.
If you’re not sure how to get started, all it takes is picking up your book and pen and Should you never want to channel your angsty high school self in your journal, you most certainly don’t have to include the opening “dear diary.” You can spend 5 minutes or you can spend 50 minutes on an entry. It’s up to you. You can write about how you met the baby’s other parent. You can talk about important current events or events in your own life. You can write about the horrible birth story some stranger just HAD to tell you when they saw your baby bump. You can write about how you feel about being pregnant. All it takes is just getting started.
Lastly, if in your journaling you notice symptoms of depression or postpartum depression, please contact someone that can help you through it (whether it's a medical professional, your doula, or a support group). Remember, you are not alone.
Cristina Evans is a Mother of 3, Wife, & Birth Doula