Every Pregnancy is Everyone’s Business

Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week 2019 has just started, and we are going to celebrate it today with the launch of the Maternal Journal website.


It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, dedicated to raising awareness about mental health problems in pregnancy and in the postpartum.

Thus, today is the perfect time to celebrate the success of Maternal Journal, with its website launch today, and to tell the stories of Hannah and Laura.

Laura, is an artist and midwife who has decided to use art to help women with mental health problems during the perinatal period.

Laura’s successful initiative, Maternal Journal, promotes creative journaling as a way to explore thoughts, feelings and personal experiences around pregnancy, birth and mothering, with the aim of promoting mental health and well-being.

It helped Hannah so much in September 2017, when she first met Laura.

Hannah experienced mental health problems after the birth of her second child, and so during her third pregnancy this was a big concern for her.

And this is why she attended the Maternal Journal project, and met Laura.

 

Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week is a global initiative, offering an opportunity to reflect on how society can protect mothers, and their babies, from mental health difficulties. Social support (information, advice, practical help and emotional reassurance) from partners, family, friends and the community is one of the strongest factors in protecting women from depression and anxiety, in both pregnancy and the postpartum, something we recently discussed alsoin another blog on InSPIre the Mind. It is not surprising that many traditional cultures advocate a ‘protective’ period around birth and for the first few weeks after delivery. During these periods, the mothers and babies are confined to their homes, discouraged from engaging in household chores or work activities, and surrounded by women in the extended family who help by preparing food and assisting with postnatalcare.


While of course some of these restrictions can have their own negative consequences, they are at least a testimony to a time when motherhood was recognised as an experience that involves a large network of relatives, friends and local community. In 2017, Laura had a simple idea: to transform motherhood again into a collective, sharing experience, through a series of free creative workshops for pregnant women with a history of mental health problems. She called it Maternal Journal, because it focussed on exploring the history and practice of journaling.



In the meantime, Hannah was going through her antenatal care, and finding that the preparation did not include much discussion of mental health.

She had one extremely dissatisfactory counselling session that was difficult to organise, and antenatal courses that did not provide the space or support to explore her concerns.

Her experience was not so different from that of Lynn, on whom I have written about before, who had previously developed severe postnatal depression, and who also participated in the Maternal Journal.

When Hannah stumbled across the chance to participate in the Maternal Journal, she felt, in her own words:

“like a door had been opened and the light flooded in”

 

Hannah felt relieved that the focus of Maternal Journal was not just on the babies, but rather on the women mothering, as part of a long trajectory of collective female experiences, identities and voices.

The group was mixed in terms of first-, second-, and third-time mothers: some had already given birth and others were at different stages of pregnancy. This made the sessions rich with a pool of experiences to share, reflect on, and gather support from.

Hannah’s experience was further enhanced by seeing how the invited female artists, such as Holly McNish, Kate Evans, Rebecca Fortnum and Fran Burden, could channel their experience into acerbic comic creations, bringing relief and levity to a mother’s experience without undermining or downplaying it.


Maternal Journal explores the tradition of women's diary and journal keeping as an expressive, creative and therapeutic practice for pregnant women with a history of mild to moderate mental health problems. Film-maker: Martim Ramos Maternal Journal is a collaboration between King's College London's Department of Psychological Medicine and Laura Godfrey-Isaacs, brokered and supported by the Cultural Institute at King's.

The artists’ contributions encouraged all the participants to experiment with their own creative skills, and to value their own voice and experiences.





All together during a Maternal Journal session: Laura (first from the left), Hannah (sixth from the left) and me (the only man) sitting on the left of ‘Cartoon Kate’ Evans. Photo: Martim Ramos.




Furthermore, Hannah felt strengthened by this time to reflect, with other pregnant women, on the wider politics and history of motherhood, feminism and creativity.


Maternal Journal explores the tradition of women's diary and journal keeping as an expressive, creative and therapeutic practice for pregnant women with a history of mild to moderate mental health problems. Film-maker: Martim Ramos Maternal Journal is a collaboration between King's College London's Department of Psychological Medicine and Laura Godfrey-Isaacs, brokered and supported by the Cultural Institute at King's.

When Hannah had her 8-week postnatal check-up, she was given the widely-used Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to complete. While reading its questions (has she been able to laugh and see the funny side of things? Anxious or worried for no good reason? So unhappy that has been crying?) she felt more equipped to maintain better mental health herself, through participating in a project that introduced her to the benefits of creative journaling, as well as a widened network of inspiring, supportive women.

 

Maternal Journal featured in the Arts in Mind Festival in June last year, and today it launches its website.

There are nine journaling guides, each produced by a different artist, introducing interested women to creative techniques and ways of using a journal. The guides are also designed to generate ideas and conversation around the tradition, history and culture of pregnancy, birth and parenting.

Most importantly, Maternal Journal is described as an ‘inclusive project’. The websites says

‘We welcome all pregnant women*, mothers and people that birth, positively encouraging inclusion and diversity of experience. On this website, and in our promotional material, the use of the word ‘woman*’ is intended as inclusive and generic to cover any person who ‘births’, identifies as a ‘woman’, ‘mother’ or as a ‘gender non-conforming parent’.

Which is a powerful reminder that pregnancy, and maternal health, is more than just ‘inclusive’: it’s everyone business.

While maternal mortality (that is, mortality around the time of giving birth) fell by almost half between 1990 and 2015, it is still incredibly determined by social and economic factors, with rates that are 80 times higher in low income countries than in high income countries.

In the meantime, maternal mortality is rising in the United States, and infant mortality is rising in the UK. This is at a time where the predominant view among (the current) political leaderships in these countries is that we should cut public services.

But, if we — the citizens, all of us — do not think of mothers and of the future generations, and take responsibility for their health and wellbeing, who will?



 

A previous version of this blog was published on The Mental Elf platform in 2018.

 





header image source: Hannah Lamdin, with photo by Lara Peake