Tag Archives: Journaling

Baby Stories: A Guide to Pregnancy Journaling

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 4.23.38 PMBy Zoë Colette Etkin

As a Los Angeles-based birth and postpartum doula, my goal is to bridge the gaps in care for mothers, babies, and families through the perinatal period by providing physical and emotional support, education and resources. My other life’s passion is writing, and a year ago I earned my MFA in poetry. However, the main type of writing I’ve done throughout my life is journaling. My first journal dates back to my 5th or 6th year of life! Journaling has always allowed me to explore my thoughts and feelings, or jot down a strange dream, or even complain. Now that I work with mamas, I see how important it is for them navigate the complex waves of emotion that come with pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood.

Sometimes it’s difficult for new moms to express those feelings out loud. Writing and journaling through our ups and downs can relieve stress, help center and focus the mind, and force us to carve out a little “me time” in our busy lives. Keeping a pregnancy-specific journal is beneficial in several ways: it helps you focus on and connect to the baby growing inside, keeps a log of your emotions and physical sensations, and helps you work through fears and anxieties. Depending on your relationship to writing, you may journal with ease. For women who need prompts, I recommend the following as a guide.

Pregnancy Journal

Today’s Date:

Emotional Landscape: Today I am feeling….

Physical Sensations: (Examples: hunger, morning sickness, kicks or flutters of baby, tiredness, belly is growing, I see the pregnancy glow, etc.)

Today I want to tell the baby….

Today’s affirmation: My body is strong and capable of birthing my baby.

Today’s question: (Here you can talk about things you aren’t sure about. Fears, concerns, questions, etc.)

Today I am planning for you by doing…. (Here you can talk about prenatal check ups, classes you may be taking, buying things for the nursery, hiring a doula, making a list of people who will help out once baby is here, etc.)

Birth Stories

The topic of birth stories is actually one where people have varying schools of thought. Many doulas write birth stories for their clients. Some take a practical approach, chronicling the various times and events that took place, others take a more narrative approach and make it into more of a story. Either way it can be nice to have someone else’s perspective on how the birth went, since time is experienced much differently by the birthing woman. However, it can be important and cathartic for the woman herself to write the experience down as it was to her. If you had a traumatic birth or an ideal birth, writing through the experience can help release feelings you may be having or can affirm and celebrate positive experiences.

Another angle on the birth story is to write it for your child. Some write it as a children’s book for a young child, others write it for when their child is an adult. Either way, it can be a beautiful way to share that experience with your child.

Postpartum Journaling

There will be much less time to write once the baby has arrived, but I still encourage postpartum moms to journal when they can. Just like the pregnancy journal, it’s a nice way to chronicle your emotional landscape, as well as record all the baby milestones. Certainly a baby book makes room for that sort of thing, but it doesn’t give the mother the opportunity to write through her changes and her experiences. I find that postpartum moms can often feel ignored in the bustle of the new baby. Friends and family are constantly visiting and doting on the baby and moms can kind of feel like, “Hey, what about me?” It’s important that the mom have certain support persons who are there to concentrate on her. Postpartum doulas do this job well. Journaling, too, can help moms to take a few minutes to turn inward and focus on themselves and their feelings. It’s so important that postpartum women feel supported and also have an outlet for their feelings. I want to say, though, that if you see a postpartum mom who seems disengaged, or showing extreme emotions, she might need to talk to a professional, as she might be displaying signs of a postpartum mood disorder. Emotions certainly run high for new moms, but it’s important that she have people who are supporting her and have an eye out for behavior that might need further attention.

Allowing some time to journal during the perinatal period can give a woman the opportunity to think through and connect to her experiences in a special way. It also creates a record of her experiences that she may choose to go back to in the future. The process of journaling encourages growth in that it affords the ability to go back and read about yourself at different moments of your life, through different patterns of thought, different approaches to situations. You learn from your past, reflect on your present, and dream about your future all in one space that you can return to when you want, or not when you don’t. Mamas, I encourage you to grab a pen and paper and begin your writing journey today!

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76773_582146197395_8154608_nZoe Etkin is an LA-based CAPPA trained birth and postpartum doula, poet, and teacher. She earned her MFA in Writing from CalArts, where she earned the Beutner Award for Excellence in the Arts. She is the editor of Red Sky: A Literary Journal, and her own poetry can be found in many print and web publications. She is committed to educating and empowering women, supporting families, and promoting good writing.

Photo credit: Gabi Menashe

How to Make Your Heart Speak Again

By now, it is common knowledge that we are living in the midst of a digital revolution during which the majority of our communication is conducted electronically. Gone are the days of writing letters to a friend when a quick email may suffice. Phone calls are replaced with text messages, greeting cards and thank you notes have been reduced to 140 characters. We use Facebook and Twitter to share our thoughts and feelings, social media becoming a digital journal of sorts when we can’t seem to express ourselves directly. It’s the norm to now use our phones as mini computers to enter notes and task lists, creating deadlines and reminders. Even our young children learn to guide their finger on an iPad or iPhone screen before learning to hold a pencil.

This is not a new trend. For at least the past 20 years we have been witnessing the slow death of handwriting. Today, it seems as if life’s fast pace calls for efficiency if we want to keep up with the pack. Many students need laptops in class simply to get through the course.  The demands of fast-pace production require creators to cultivate ideas and produce daily content, giving little time for brainstorming on paper. Essentially, we’re just accommodating our ways of operating in order to not fall behind. Have we traded creativity and intimacy for efficiency?

Do you remember what it felt like to write a book report, using an eraser or whiteout to fine-tune your words? Perhaps you were the type to write several drafts, almost memorizing your sentences by the time of completion.  Remember the feeling of receiving a letter in the mail, the anticipation of opening the envelope and perhaps even being able to interpret the sender’s mood or personality by observing the manuscript’s shape? Did you ever pass notes to your friends in class? I myself remember sharing special composition books with my closest friends. We would write notes to each other, sharing the latest news in our teenage life, sometimes doodling on the page’s borders. Many of us miss this personal connection.

Not only does writing with our hand allow us to enhance the impact of our communication with others, it also strengthens our ability to connect with ourselves, maybe even on a greater scale. There is something about picking up a pen and allowing thoughts and feelings to flow candidly that not only frees our emotions but also creates space for healing in the process. I myself have found that the act of journaling is one of the most direct ways towards personal exploration and self-realization.

As a yoga teacher, I tend to witness many processes from an energetic perspective.  Our hearts, not only the physical organ, but our center of love and wisdom, extends its energy into our arms and hands.  We have the opportunity to experience this on a physical level when we greet each other by shaking hands, embrace in a hug, or walk holding hands. Sometimes we can even sense what a person is feeling by the way in which they touch you.  If we play a musical instrument or create art, we are also familiar with this energetic travel from heart to hand.

In a very similar manner, every time we hold a pen and write, our hand carries all of the energy from our heart onto the paper. It is here where we have the chance to discover what we truly feel and already know to be true deep inside of us. Often times writing from the hand flows much easier than typing on a keyboard. When we write by hand, we hesitate less with our words, resulting in a more personal, raw and uncensored experience. Sometimes we may even feel as if our hand is trying to keep up with the language of our heart. This allows us to own our words and despite whatever comes out, we can’t backspace and delete the statement to satisfy the incessant chatter of our inner critic.

You may read this and still feel hesitant to suddenly begin writing everything by hand.  In all honesty, I too am part of the majority that types away and have even written this very piece from my laptop. Rather my intention is simply to introduce you to the experience of journaling by hand, a practice that has literally transformed my life when I commit myself to doing so.

I’d like to share an exercise that my coach and Hay House author, Jennifer Grace, introduced to me that has allowed me to tap into my deep personal knowledge and wise inner voice. Some of you may know this technique as shorter-timed version of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, a technique proven to enhance creativity as introduced in her best-seller, The Artist’s Way. The idea is to set a notebook right by your bedside and immediately upon waking, roll over, grab the pen and allow your hand to flow for at least five minutes. This precious time between sleep and wake is when many of our most significant self-realizations may come to light.  This is our spirit speaking, loud and unedited, before our ego mind attempts to filter our words.  The stream of consciousness style of writing brings out our very first thoughts of the day, as we purge the mind to clear up space for new brilliance. Do not judge what comes up. In time, the words on the paper may or may not transform. However, you may discover that you are able to access insights that you normally would not have dared to entertain and explore.

Whether you write for personal expression, creative process or in communication with others, I urge you to simply try introducing the use of your hand. Notice how it feels to compose thoughts onto paper. Does your body respond with increased sensation, your heart tingling or stomach excited? Witness your voice infused with the passion and honesty of your heart. As the classic author, Henry David Thoreau said, “Write while the heat is in you.” Allow your inner fire to bring intimacy and warmth to that which has been frozen.


photos by: SimplySteff, & .reid.

Share Your Story

May 2005, Miami, FL


“So, what happened with your father?”

I am standing in front of a small crowd in the bookstore and the question comes from an older woman sitting in the front row. This is the 2nd most popular question I get at book signings, right after “How did you get your book published”.

Everyone wants to hear a happy ending. They want to know that after writing that letter to my father and forgiving him for everything, he came back into my life and we all lived happily ever after. But that’s not exactly how the story goes…

As I said in my book, I realized that I had been waiting my entire life for this imaginary father figure to ride in on his white horse and make everything okay….. and he wasn’t coming. I realized that I had to figure out how to fill myself up and nothing ‘out there’ was going to do that for me. Not my husband, or my kids or my career. I had to fill myself from within. That moment, with my father, was the catalyst for me getting really serious about writing a book. That began the journey of figuring out what fills me up. The act of writing, as much as I resist it, writing is part of what fills me up.

But the bigger ‘a-ha’ came many months later, when, at yet another book signing, a woman raised her hand and asked;

“So what happened with your father? Have you heard from him since your book came out?”

My response was not planned and surprised me. After giving her the normal monologue I wrote in the book about filling myself up with good energy, blah, blah, blah… new words came tumbling out of me.

“Beyond your greatest pain, lies your greatest purpose. If I hadn’t been so hurt by my father leaving us, if I hadn’t been so driven to heal that part of me that felt broken because of it…. There would be no Journalution. And I know for sure that starting the Journalution is part of my highest purpose.”

That has become a bigger part of what I teach today. Whatever it is that is the most challenging to you in your life, whatever situation you are going through, that is where you begin to look for clues to your highest purpose. That is where your greatest lessons will come. And you are meant to go out and share your life lessons with the world. Each one of us comes to this earth to share our story. Your story is important. And whether you share your story in a book, or through a song or painting or in your business or just sitting around a dinner table with family and friends, I encourage you to view your life from this ‘larger lense’ and glean the lessons so that your life can be an inspiration for others.

Standing in front of almost 100 women in Santa Barbara this weekend and seeing the recognition of this truth in their eyes was confirmation. That no matter what you are experiencing in this moment, it is part of the purpose of your life. And you must go out and share this purpose with the world.

I guess that is a happy ending, after all.



5 Ways to Create Space and Release

The aura or energy of a human being extends 4 feet around him. This means that spending time with negative people in your life can adversely affect your positive outlook. This doesn’t mean we should judge others or put on a space suit before we leave the house.  But it does mean that we have the responsibility to ourselves to decide what or who’s in our best interest.  Sometimes it just means giving those in our lives some space to let their negative emotions subside on their own. In turn, we may also need that space to allow ourselves to receive much needed peace in our own lives.

Today, think about where you’re being negatively effected, and where you’re negatively effecting others.

Here are 5 ways to create some space and at the same time release any negative energy we may be holding onto:

1)  Rebounding: jumping on a trampoline (mini or full size) awakens each cell in our bodies as we feel a sense of weightlessness, even if for a nano-second each time. Release your inner child and jump!

2) Reading a meaningful book: Books that open our minds to the power of ourselves and the universe resonate within us; thereby, releasing our joy. I highly recommend The Game of Life and How To Play It, by Florence Scovel Schinn (written in 1925) and The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski

3) Walk your dog, or someone else’s:  Our pets live for us.  They don’t work or drive or hang out at the local bar (well maybe some do:).  They look to us for their activity of the day.  Mention a walk and there’s no turning back.  Their natural curiosity for life is something to be admired.  Going for a walk allows for a deeper connection with your pet as well as nature, two surefire ways to put a smile on your face.

4) Gardening: even if you’ve got a 2ft by 2ft dirt space in your front yard, plant something! Not only will you reap the fruits of your labor (whether it’s a juicy tomato or a beautiful smelling flower), you won’t even realize you’re releasing energy until you’re finished.  It’s that much fun!

5) Writing: Keeping a journal of your intentions for the day allows you to let go and let God do the work.  Keep in mind that once you formally and firmly establish your intentions in writing, the Spirit of the Universe will work with you and through you to manifest them in Divine Order—through specific actions you are to take and through positioning to assure you that you are in the right place at the right time to receive and express your good.

Negativity be gone!



Breakfast of Consciousness Again: Share a Mindful

Sunday morning: trigger time – paper on the doorstep, coffee brewing, snowed in (still, kinda), so, nowhere special to go – a recipe for a mindless eating morning.

I get a glass soup bowl and warm up some lentil soup. As I notice the second-day jelling of soup flavors and the aroma of the toasted sprouted grain bread (yesterday I totally missed out on its smell, must’ve been the flavor of the fresh-made soup that got my attention), I am seeing the fingertips of my right hand that craddles the glass soup bowl as I spoon with my non-dominant (left).

Each spoonful, more of my hand emerges, now the palm becomes seen – the hand empties, stomach fills up and the mind still stays open to what is.

I skip on Stevia as I get a second cup of coffee (this time with almond “milk”) – sweetness (whichever way you get it) tends to trump other flavors, eclipsing the eating experience.

And here I am (pausing to take a sip of coffee), punching in my “mindful tracker” card. A mindful breakfast with consciousness still online.

Are you tracking your mindfuls? Are you journaling about your mindful eating moments?



Track Your Mindfuls, Not Just Mouthfuls

Track Your Mindfuls http://www.eatingthemoment.com/mindfulness-tracker/
You are kindly invited!

For years we’ve been asked to track what we eat and how much we eat.  That’s all fine and good, but what about tracking how mindfully we eat?

I encourage you to try tracking your mindful eating moments.  First, set a simple goal: try to have one mindful eating moment per meal.  Mindful eating is often misunderstood as a kind of all-or-nothing approach to eating, where you’d commit to eating mindfully and then you’d have to eat mindfully all the time.  I think this is perfectionist overkill.  I think of mindful eating as an alarm clock.  A few moments of mindful eating  is enough to wake up the eating zombie.  After all, when we set an alarm-clock to go off in the morning, we don’t expect it to keep buzzing non-stop.  Same with mindful eating:  at a minimum, start the meal on a mindful note and appreciate the residual sense of presence.

So, set a modest goal: say, one mindful or one savoring per meal.  In other words, aim to have a few experiential calories.  And then, when the meal is over, at some point, journal a bit about this moment of mindful eating.  Most of us eat at least 3 times a day.  Imagine if you got into a habit of having at least one mindful eating moment per meal – that’s over 1,000 precedents of mindful eating per year!  You can also journal about lost eating moments – i.e. about the effects of mindless eating…

Mindful eating isn’t a one-time choice – it’s a habit.  Build the habit of conscious eating one mindful eating journal entry at a time.

Mindful eating – as I have recently written – is a kind of yoga that unites your mind’s intention with your body’s eating behavior.  As such, a mindful eating journal is also an opportunity for you… to rediscover yourself.  Mindful eating moments are moments of intimacy and self-synchronization.  When you document what you are consciously eating, you might also get a glimpse into what is eating you psychologically.  Enough said.  I think that the benefits of journaling about moments of conscious eating are self-evident (no pun intended).

As for specifics, you can journal the classic way – pen + paper – or, since many of us are nowadays online, you could start an online journal (even possibly a live blog) devoted to your mindful eating.  Alternatively, you can use Mindful Eating Tracker, a new free feature I am piloting on my site.  You are kindly invited!


The Power of a Weight Loss Journal

I hear a lot of people claim that they eat really healthy, but yet, they aren’t able to lose weight.  Call me a skeptic, but I never really trust those statements.  I’m not saying I think these people are lying, I’m just not sure that they are truly aware of how they are really eating.    For one, many people have misconceptions of what ‘eating healthy’ really means, and second, some people tend to focus on specific moments of being very ‘healthy’ and ‘good’ rather than the whole picture. 

If you are trying to lose weight, studies have shown that keeping a food diary has been proven to be helpful.  Here are some reasons to consider this method to get to the heart of how ‘healthy’ your diet really is and how you can use it to shed some of those extra pounds:   

  1. Awareness: Journaling what you eat every day makes you more aware of what you are eating, as compared to if you aren’t journaling.  As you become more aware of what you eat, you will start to see where extra calories might be adding up.
  2. Accuracy: Journaling helps you to accurately document what you are eating, losing the subjectivity that can sometimes creep into a diet.  Even if you have 1/8th of a brownie, you will still be capturing it.  It can’t escape your memory or be fluffed off as not really being ‘a brownie’ due to its size.
  3. Accountability: When you journal, you will be much more prone to think twice about the ‘not so healthy’ foods you might think about consuming otherwise.  It makes you accountable for the food choices you make, prompting you to potentially choose healthier options.
  4. Discovering your Personal Needs: Although there are a lot of general rules that can apply to almost everyone’s diet (E.g., ensuring you get enough fiber in your diet), there are a lot of needs that vary from person to person, as well (E.g. food allergies or intolerances).  Journaling what you eat can help you understand how your body reacts to certain foods, giving you data points of what might upset your stomach, make you tired, make you feel bloated, etc.  This information can be helpful in creating your ‘individualized diet rules’ that pertain to your body and its needs.


Every time I have journaled in the past, I find that I make better decisions and feel better.  Here are a couple of food journaling sites that you might find helpful:

Have you had success in food journaling?

Related Topics:



Writing in a daily journal has increasingly taken on a Zen aspect for me; I sit every day in its pages and see how thoughts arise and pass away, arise and pass away. This is the practice of shikantaza through journal-keeping, just sitting with the writing for the sake of the writing itself, going nowhere. I’m finding it to be a useful daily practice, allowing me to resist the impulsiveness of enthusiasm for an insight or experience. Journaling Zen is just sitting, taking note of thought, and just sitting…
The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new. – Pema Chodron

Oh, To Be a Princess!!

Oh to be a PRINCESS!   – It’s a dream of most little girls.  The challenge of inspiring these little would be princesses to give the same attention to inner qualities as they do hair, makeup and clothes is one that many parents know all too well.   The challenge becomes to define the princess world in terms that a young girl can not only dream but LIVE!


This challenge was the inspiration for Sandi Stonebraker when she wrote “On Being A REAL Princess, Secrets of the Happy Heart Princess”. This book is about how to be a princess from the Inside-Out!  It’s about how it feels to be a princess.


Featured in the book are sixteen princesses from around the globe who dance into your world with affirmations and messages on what it means to be a REAL Princess.  They understand that a REAL Princess is strong, smart and kind.  She knows how to think for herself and is proud of who she is and what she believes in.   She dreams big and knows that she can make her dreams come true.  She understands that everyone is different but each person is special.


The book includes interactive journaling activities dealing with values, self esteem and decision making.  It is a useful tool for parents, teachers, religious leaders and other caregivers to open a dialogue with little girls on all those important issues they face as they grow up in an increasingly complex society.


The author feels that it is never too early to begin the discussion on these simple values and feelings and although the book is targeted to ages 6 to 12, all ages seem to feel its power in reminding them of what it is to be a REAL PRINCESS!


If you are a parent, grandparent, religious leader, teacher or just someone who has a special little girl in your life, this book is a must!


Quantity discounts available

Happy Heart Princess, A Creation of FairyTale Kids



Essence versus content, how to connect to your life purpose.

Most people entertain random daydreams of future times of accomplishments and fulfillment and never take the time to root these dreams into conscious thoughts and actions. Others get started, but" life happens" and they lose the momentum. Very few realize that any true consistent change in life comes from a real conscious effort to change certain inner patterns of thoughts and behaviors. 
Here is a challenge for you: Wherever you are in your pursuit for fulfillment in your life, I dare you to spend some time everyday for four weeks, focusing on your life vision. You don’t even have to know what it is at this point. Just commit to spending a minimum of ten minutes a day with the following question: 
"What do I want to experience in my life, now, while I am alive and vibrant?"

As you ask yourself this question, it is important that you realize the timeliness of it. You are asking yourself what you want to experience not in a near or far and uncertain future reality but in the "now-ness" of this very moment. Contemplate what you really want to experience during this precious time that you are on this Earth. If you think that you don’t have ten minutes a day for this, examine this thought, recognize it as a limiting thought and move yourself beyond it. Make this time, ten or more minutes a day, consistently for one month. Start a journal, write the question and let your inner voice come through and forth. Can you give yourself that gift?

If you do this exercise (at least most days) you may start to notice that your mind has a hard time thinking out of the box. Maybe you hear the same self-doubting thoughts arise over and over: "I can’t do this, I’m not qualified for that, who am I to… , this is impossible…" If you are able to discern this aspect of your mind, congratulations, it means that you have awakened to your own unconscious self sabotaging process, and this is the first step to freeing yourself from it.

The next step is to go beyond your self limiting thoughts and to let your mind expand in writing all kinds of dreams and scenarios that would fulfill you in this lifetime.

Once you play with this exercise for a few weeks, I invite you to revisit your notes and to ask yourself what is the common thread which ties in all these fantasies? 
What are the qualities that want to be expressed? What is it that you really want? 
These questions are so important and you need to understand that they go beyond your heart’ s tangible desires of worldly things. 
What you are asking yourself here, is what you want to spend your life for. 
What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of life you want to have lived when you die? 
In other words, now that you have explored the content, I am asking you to extract the essence.

The content is who you think you are, and what you think you want. According to your conditioning and circumstances, you have certain dreams and desires, likes and dislikes, fears and ambitions…all this is content. When we derive our sense of identity exclusively from the content of our life we miss the point, and the paradox, is that no matter how much we achieve, we can never be satisfied because all content is subject to the law of impermanence (as Buddha already pointed out 2500 years ago). So if you try to discover who you are solely within the dimension of content, you will encounter frustration again and again. 
Essence is your true identity. 
When I ask you what wants to manifest through all these desires, dreams and aspirations, I am opening the way for you to get in touch with your essence, your inner self, your eternal, primordial "I". 
This month, why not go one step further and start listening deeper to your inner voice? 
After you have pinned down the essential qualities of the life you really want to have, start paying attention to what brings you joy and to what keeps making you feel unfulfilled.

Practice hearing your true desires, and go deeper in yourself: become more observant of how your essence lives within you, whether you are conscious of it or not.

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