There is no bigger turning point in life than finding out you're pregnant. In a matter of months you'll be a mother, and then -- as everyone keeps telling you more often than you want to hear it -- nothing will ever be the same. This is the perfect time to get in the habit of keeping a daily journal.
Not only will it help you remember the ups and downs of this extraordinary period, it can be a wonderful legacy to pass on to your children. They'll love reading how you felt after you broke the news to your family, which friends came to your baby shower, even your food cravings. My daughters spend hours pouring over my pregnancy journals and their baby books, looking, I'm sure, for clues to the person I was before I became simply "Mom." Their favorite page? Currently it's the list of names I kept on the inside back cover. "Mom," they protest, "You weren't really going to name me Emmett if I was a boy, were you?"
The first step to making sure you actually keep a journal is making it a priority. It's too easy to tell yourself you'll write in your journal after the dishes are washed, or after you've finished answering your email. Instead, set aside 15 minutes in your busy day and designate it as your writing time -- when you're having your morning tea, for example.
Next, buy a few well-chosen supplies. Ah, the power of guilt: You'll be amazed how much easier it is to make yourself sit down and write when you have an elegant little book that you spent your hard-earned money on to write in. You don't want it to go to waste, do you?
What do I write about?
Some women find it helps to start each entry with a simple notation; the date, of course, but perhaps also the time of day, or where you are sitting. You could also jot down any relevant events, such as your weight that day (if you are keeping track), or what you ate. Some of my entries start with notes such as "Braxton Hicks contractions all morning" or "Only slept five hours last night" or -- on a particularly memorable day -- "Morning sickness seems to be gone, finally!!! Ravenous all day!!"
If you have a prenatal appointment and learn anything noteworthy, it's always nice to record such details. Remember, if your son or daughter reads this someday, they'll be thrilled to learn about the first time you heard their heartbeat or glimpsed them through ultrasound. Here's Anne Lamott writing about the sight of her first ultrasound, a journal entry that made it into her book Operating Instructions: "[The doctor] pointed out the vertebrae, a sweet curved strand of pearls, and then the heart, beating visibly as a pulsar, and that was when I started to cry ..."
You may also want to write about how you felt when you first found out you were pregnant. Here's health industry worker Nikki Harris Salcedo's entry after getting a positive reading on a pregnancy test she took at home in Atlanta:
"... I was prepared to wait 3 minutes, but instantaneously two pink lines appeared. Immediately my brain echoed the phrase. 'I'm pregnant, I'm pregnant, I'm pregnant.' I thought I was fairly rational, but when I look around, all I can think is, 'This is what a pregnant woman sees.' I feel the early insanity setting in.
"There is almost no difference between how a pregnant woman and a non-pregnant woman drinks a glass of water. A regular woman drinks, and her thirst is quenched. I raise the glass to my mouth, but I hear a sound like raindrops or the buzzing of bees. When I listen closer, it is still the echoing. All week long, I hear it. A mantra: Pregnant, pregnant, baby, pregnant, baby, baby, baby. I find it difficult to think of anything else."
Once you've captured the "news" about your pregnancy, allow your mind the freedom to wander. Write down your dreams, record your conversations: It's all fodder for your journal. Soon after Salcedo found out she was pregnant, she made this entry:
"Around midday, one of my co-workers stops by my desk to say hello. Before long, she asks if I am married or if I have any kids. Sometimes I forget how direct Southerners can be. She tells me that half the department is engaged or expecting, and that 'it's catching.'
"I don't know if I am wearing my pregnancy like a sign. I laugh off her comments and tell her I won't drink the water. She doesn't know that I already caught it, a firefly in my own belly jar."
What if I don't know what to write about?
"Lose the censor" is one of the first rules laid down by Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, which has inspired millions of would-be writers. We all have a voice in our head that tells us what we are writing isn't smart enough or funny enough, Goldberg says. Do whatever it takes, she says, to block out that inner censor.
One time-tested way to get started writing is to give yourself a set amount of time -- say, 10 minutes -- and just write anything that comes into your head. You can use an oven timer or just look at the clock and give yourself a stopping point. Many writing teachers use this as a way to jumpstart creativity and silence the inner critic. When you're writing to beat the clock, you don't have time to worry about whether you're writing prose fit for The New Yorker.
Put your journal by your bed at night, so you can jot down dreams as soon as you wake up, when they are fresh in your mind. Many women find their dreams are particularly vivid during pregnancy. Also, the frequent waking that is a hallmark of pregnancy may help you remember your dreams better. If you only remember tiny fragments, write them down anyway. Looking back, you may be able to spot an intriguing theme or recurring image.
From time to time, step back and ask yourself what you'd like to find in this journal if you were to pull it out of a box 20 years from now. Some women write a letter to their unborn child, or a letter to their own mother, since impending motherhood tends to change our feelings about that relationship. You may want to describe a typical day in your life, or set aside a section to write about your childhood and what you remember about your life when you were a toddler, grade-schooler, and teen. You may also start an entry by asking yourself a question, such as "What am I most afraid of about motherhood?" or even "How do I feel today?"
Anne Lamott recalls her feelings on a day six months into her pregnancy: "I woke up with a start at 4:00 one morning and realized that I was very, very pregnant. ... What tipped me off was that, lying on my side and needing to turn over, I found myself unable to move. My first thought is that I had had a stroke ..."
I'm still not sure I'm up for a daily journal. What else can I do?
Not everyone is cut out for a daily pregnancy journal, but writing a few notes from time to time might still be worthwhile. What about doing this on the computer, or dictating entries to a tape recorder? What about having your partner or older children do a few entries? Or having the prospective grandparents write in the journal once in a while?
What about pasting in some photos of yourself and your family and friends during various stages of your pregnancy? How about including pictures from your ultrasound or a copy of your birth plan? Baby stores have a number of pregnancy journal and scrapbook kits available. There are a lot of different ways to keep memories of pregnancy and the years that follow -- a daily journal is just one of them.
When should you reread your journal?
Looking back through past journal entries can be both discouraging and inspirational. Sometimes it may prove to be a distraction, when what you really need is to force yourself to get a memory down on paper before the inspiration fades. The best advice is probably to save rereading for the days when you don't have anything particularly urgent to say. When you feel an urge to write, give into it with a vengeance.
Lamott, Anne. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year. Ballantine.
Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Shambhala Publications.
Salcedo, Nicki Harris. Unpublished pregnancy journal.