In a collaboration between artist/midwife Laura Godfrey-Isaacs and King’s psychiatrist Professor Carmine Pariante, journaling was tested as a creative, psychosocial and therapeutic tool for women at increased risk of mental health problems in the period before and after childbirth.
A team of visual and craft artists, poets, cartoonists and writers devised and delivered creative workshops at which pregnant women and new mothers were supported in the creation of their personal journals using sketchbooks, diaries and scrapbooks and through looking at digital platforms such as video diaries, blogs, Twitter and Instagram. Participants were invited to share their work through discussion with the wider group to develop a long-term strategy of journaling for good mental health and wellbeing.
Research in this area has focused on the general psychological benefits of keeping a diary, the use of music, song or dance by women with postnatal depression, or on the use of creative forms to explore maternal experiences, such as poet Hollie McNish’s Nobody Told Me. There is also a proliferation of blogs, social media groups and websites such as Tell me a good birth story, which suggested that testing journaling for expressing complex experiences of the maternal experience had great potential. Journaling differs from keeping a diary because it is not just about recording experiences but also thoughts, feelings and reflections in a variety of genres.
Women taking part in Maternal Journal reported a positive effect on their mental health and wellbeing, and most intended to continue their journaling. Participants also reported that they valued the opportunity to reflect, share, document and understand their experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and mothering in a safe, non-judgemental space.
The approach and its findings have been disseminated to maternity care providers, pregnant women, mothers, and those working in perinatal mental health, through workshops and presentations, exhibiting the journals, and through online resources, including short films.
Since the initial pilot project ran in 2017 as part of the Arts in Mind Innovation Programme, the project has developed with the support of a National Lottery Grant Award from Arts Council England, and has been recognised with a number of awards:
- Winner: Basil Lee Bursary for Innovation in Communication 2019, The Royal Society of Medicine.
- Shortlisted: The Royal College of Midwives Excellence in Maternity Care, 2019
- Shortlisted: The Maternity & Midwifery Forum for Innovation, 2019
The Maternal Journal app is now available through the King's College Hospital Maternity Notes app and NHS North West London Mum & Baby Mum & Baby app.
Artwork by Amy Dignam, 2017
Maternal Journal is a collaboration between King’s College London’s Department of Psychological Medicine and Laura Godfrey-Isaacs. It is supported by the university's Culture team.