Jen Faulkner is 37 year old mum to three beautifully independent children aged 12, 4 and 19 months. She is a primary school teacher and has just returned to work after an extended maternity leave. Passionate about encouraging parents to trust their instincts she started blogging about it a year ago – and now also writes about recipes, education, as well as writing poetry. She likes anything creative and in her (rare) spare time loves to paint, make jewellery and bake! (and then eating everything she’s baked! Today she tells us what inspired her to write A Monster Ate My Mum, a book about post natal depression for children. We have details about how to win yourself a signed copy at the end of this blog.
Postnatal Depression affects many families; and it affected mine. I am a mum to three beautiful children and have suffered either pre or postnatal depression with each of them. It is a debilitating illness that affects the entire family and I was painfully aware of this after the birth of my third child when I was at my most ill. I witnessed my older children, then three and eleven, look at me with confusion when I was crying again and asked me why I was so sad. I saw them shy away from me when I was irritable and tip-toe around me when I was locked in my own anxiety ridden hell. It wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t anything they’d done, yet I know they were affected by it. I know they were confused by what was happening to their mum, who was once such a confident and lively person.
Reaching out to them, and anyone in fact, when I was ill was hard. I hated asking for help and for a while battled with the reality of the illness, refusing to believe it had taken me in its grasp. Yet I did want to reach out to them as I believe mental health should be openly talked about. I did want to explain what was happening to me and that it wouldn’t be like this forever, even though it felt like it at the time. So, in the middle of an insomnia fuelled night, I wrote the poem ‘A Monster Ate My Mum’ which looks at Post-Natal Depression through the eyes of a child. My children loved the story and it prompted some very honest and open discussions about the illness. It helped us all, even me, so much – and even my husband understood a little bit more about what I was going through after reading the poem.
A Monster Ate My Mum tells of a little boy whose mum is not the same as she was. The young boy hunts the different monsters who have taken parts of his mum; her smile, her spark, her laugh.
“Excuse me but have you eaten my mum?
I want her back I want some fun.
I want to see her smile mum mum.
Is she in your big round tum?”
The brave boy meets a wise monster and learns that they didn’t mean to eat his mum and that in time, all of the things they have taken will be returned. There is hope in the book, and reassurance that it won’t be like this forever, and that it’s no-one’s fault.
“No she’s not here I just ate her smile.
I’ll give it back after a while.
I’m sorry I was hungry you see.
I don’t know where your mum could be.”
When I first published the poem on my blog Instinctivemum the response was overwhelming. There is nothing like this out there to help children and families and that’s when I first thought about contacting publishers and agents in the hope that the book would be real, would be in my hands and in those hands of many other sufferers and able to help them and their families. I believe mental illness should be talked about without stigma, and find it upsetting that so many people suffer PND in silence. I wanted to reach out, and provide away for families to be able to talk about the illness openly and honestly.
I met a literary agent last year at a blogging conference and she was wonderfully supportive. We’ve been in touch ever since and she gave me the encouragement I needed to self-publish. As the poem was complete the next step was to find an illustrator; someone who believed in the book as much as I did; and someone who would be able to draw some monsters that weren’t too scary (it was for children after all!) I needed someone I could trust and when I saw Helen Braid from All At Sea advertise her services as a graphic designer I knew she would be the lady to ask. She is so wonderfully talented and has exceeded all of my expectations for the illustrations. They are stunning and I’m so honoured that she agreed to work with me. Not long after we’d first been in touch the print-ready CD arrived in my hands and then it was down to me.
Publishing the book was relatively straightforward and so far has been brilliantly received and reviewed. Doctors, health visitors and PND charities have all been in touch and have all been very supportive of me and the book. It brings tears to my eyes every time someone tweets me to say thank you, and that I’ve helped them and their family.
Luckily I am better now, but the shadow of post natal depression will always follow me around. It has undoubtedly left its mark; I will never be the person I was before it took hold of me and I will constantly live in fear of it returning. Now I have recovered, I hope to speak out and help as many people as I can, through the book and through my blog. I also hope that if children are spoken to about mental illness in an appropriate way, then maybe over time the stigma will disappear, and if they ever become ill themselves they will be able to recognise the signs and ask for help.
Post Natal Depression does not mean you are a failure as a parent, and it does not need to leave you feeling isolated and alone. There is always someone there to listen and to help I promise. Those monsters will not keep you forever – taking that first step and asking for help can be very hard, but is a sign of immense strength and bravery.
You can follow Jen on Twitter @InstinctiveMum and @MonsterAteMyMum and find out more about her book here.
Win a copy of A Monster Ate My Mum
Whether for a friend’s childen or your own, winning a copy is simple. All you have to do is answer this question in the comments below – ‘If you could tell yourself one thing as a new mum what would it be?’
The competition closes at midnight on Tuesday 28 January and the winner will be picked at random on Wednesday 29 January. Entries from the UK only please.