Though I make my living as a writer, I’ve never been very good at keeping a journal. Even as a kid, when well-meaning relatives presented me with chunky diaries replete with gold lettering, lined pages, and tiny padlocks, they would lay empty and neglected until the keys got lost and the dog chewed the handsome faux-leather covers. I made a few halfhearted attempts at journaling in high school, but gave up when, upon rereading my entries, I discovered – to my mortification – that instead of the witty, illuminating record of my life and times that I’d envisioned, they were full of self-absorbed ramblings and maudlin poetry. Today, in the era of blogs, texts, and tweets, keeping a journal seems akin to making an illegal U-turn on the information superhighway.
But when I found out I was pregnant, I vowed that I would honor the experience the old-fashioned way: by putting pen to paper. Even before I bought my first maternity clothes, I picked out a sturdy blank book covered in pretty floral fabric. Blame the hormones, but I had visions of myself curled up on a pile of pillows, patting my bulging stomach and recording my profound musings on the miracle of life. Later, when the baby was born, I would sit back in my new glider and watch him as he slept, jotting down heartfelt reflections on the true meaning of motherhood. Someday, when my son was old enough, I would read to him from my pregnancy journal, and he would know exactly how much he was wanted and loved, right from the very beginning.
It started off promisingly. After all, I was already in my second month, and I had a lot to cover: the way time stood still when I saw the little pink line that meant my life was about to change forever, my husband’s giddy reaction, the mild morning nausea that I was just beginning to experience.
My husband and I wanted the pregnancy to be our secret until we were safely into the second trimester; not even our families knew. The journal was my only confidant. I filled its pages with lists of names we were considering, foods I was craving, children’s books I’d loved as a kid, people I wanted to tell when the time came. After my first doctor’s appointment, I recorded the thrill of finally getting to talk about my pregnancy with the nurses and my new obstetrician and the wonder of seeing my baby’s furiously pulsing heartbeat, clearly visible on the ultrasound.
Subsequent entries were less buoyant. With my hormones in chaos, the journal became a painful record of embarrassing public meltdowns brought on by jewelry store commercials, malfunctioning parking meters, and shopping for maternity jeans. As the novelty of being pregnant wore off, the panic set in. I had trouble sleeping, and when I did sleep, I had nightmares like I’d never had before. Writing down my fears might have defused them; instead, I spent my journaling time dozing. Once I got past the first trimester and I could share the ups and downs of pregnancy with my family and friends, I often felt like I had nothing left to say in my journal. Instead of writing every day, I skipped pages, optimistically telling myself I’d come back and fill them in later. I didn’t.
Rather than a source of comfort and contemplation, the journal acted as a chintz-clad agent of guilt, mocking me from its entrenched post on my nightstand. How was I going to take care of a baby if I couldn’t even commit a few minutes a day to writing in my journal? How was I going to love a needy newborn when a blank book could inspire such resentment in me? Around month seven, when I thought I couldn’t possibly get any fatter or sprout any more varicose veins or pee any more frequently – yet I still had two months left to go – I banished the journal to a little-used drawer, out of my sight.
But as my due date approached, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I’d finished decorating the nursery, left my job, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and stocked the freezer with enough food to last until the baby’s first birthday; besides, I was too fat to sleep, walk, bend over, or do anything but sit on a pile of pillows. I forced myself to dig out the journal and scribble a few lines every day. Re-reading it now, it sounds like a countdown. When my contractions started, I threw the journal in my going-to-the-hospital suitcase – and promptly forgot all about it.
In the first year of my son’s life, I made exactly four entries in the journal. Watch him while he slept? Ha! Those precious moments were reserved for showering, napping, and e-mailing baby pictures. When he was awake, I wanted to hold him, not a pen. By the end of the day, I was too tired to write, even if I could find the journal under the mountains of toys, laundry, unopened mail, tiny socks, and dirty dishes. But I tried to mark the milestones – the ones that wouldn’t be covered in his baby book or the family photo album: the first time he smiled just for me, the first time I managed to tie the damn swaddling blanket correctly, the first time he made a noise that sounded a little bit like a word. The sixty-seventh time I fell asleep sitting up with the journal in my lap, its crisp, white pages spread out before me like a freshly made bed. The journal may be half-empty, but my heart is one hundred percent full. Some things you just can’t put on paper.