On my birthday, when I was a child, my mother would read to me from a notebook where she had written out the details of the night of my entrance into this world. I remember laying on the couch with my feet in her lap, listening as she described the events of December 2, 1983, searching for some clues to my identity and my existence in her carefully constructed sentences.
I was born two minutes after midnight. Was I supposed to have been born December 1? Mom and Dad were watching "Hill Street Blues" when Mom went into labor, and there was a snowstorm that night. Was I destined to be a police officer or a champion skier? These details became a kind of litany and a road map to my identity. I twirled the diary’s contents in my head, sniffing out meaning, searching for something in the pages to tell me more about who I really was.
While I got wrapped up in the story of my birth, what was really going on in those moments was that I was bonding with my mother. Looking back, the birthday ritual allowed both of us to reflect on how much time had passed and relive the experience as though I were able to remember it, too. What I really felt, at the deepest hidden point of my heart, was loved. My mother had taken the time to record the story of my birth, and that struck me as extremely caring.
When I became pregnant with my daughter, I vowed to show her the same tender care through words that my mother gifted to me. I started journaling around the same time that we announced the pregnancy at the end of the first trimester. “Hi Baby! You have been in me for 11 weeks now. You are the size of a lime!”
Maybe you’ll burn the notebook when you’re done. That’s OK.
At first, I thought I would confine the journal to my experience of being pregnant and recording the major milestones. I wrote about every two weeks or so and noted things like ultrasound appointments or what foods I liked at this point and which ones made me sick (I’m surprised I can eat chicken again). However, over time, other elements crept in that I didn’t anticipate.
I wrote to my daughter about world events, such as the terrifying, destructive path blazed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. I told her about the Paris attacks, and I was very forthcoming about how scary the world feels when you have a baby you’d do anything to protect. I also found myself sharing with her my own personal fears and perceived shortcomings.
“I’m apprehensive about a lot of the aspects of parenting. What if I don’t get it right? But, I can tell you that as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, your parents love you!”
In describing those worries I felt relieved of a burden in expressing these truths to a child who can’t read yet and won’t look at the journal for years to come.
Many of us quit writing in a diary when our teen angst dried up, but I want to encourage the moms out there to get scribbling. You see, there was a reason I feel emotionally resilient writing to my daughter: There are proven health benefits to journaling. Journaling helps you sort through complicated feelings and problem solve. Stress relief is a direct effect of this mental processing.
Perhaps you aren’t interested in writing to a specific audience, like your future-grown-up child. Maybe you’ll burn the notebook when you’re done. That’s OK. Just write. Let it out, and you’ll see the benefits almost immediately. Being a parent is stressful, and the mindful activity of journaling can bring some relief, some perspective and self-understanding.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, give the baby journal a try. Someday, when your child is old enough, you can sit together and share what you wrote, and discuss it. Your child will be hungry for clues to the past, and you can use the time to bond with them.
Recording their journey into the world and through childhood demonstrates a concerted interest in your child’s life, and they will be able to pick up on how much love you’ve poured into the pages. You will have an accurate record of events for when memory fails, and, most importantly, you will become a more emotionally resilient person by the sheer act of journaling. So pick up the pen and give it a go. As soon as you do, and decades from now, you’ll be so glad you did.