New children's book a reality check

The cloud over Jessica Williams has, like a plodding caterpillar, metamorphosed and taken flight. Its wings are the colourful pages of a bright, new children's book that talks about the darkness of motherhood.

When Williams and her husband Brad welcomed their first child a few years ago, a daughter named Neeve, the new mother was well aware of all the happy, sentimental, positive books for children that depicted loving, active parents. She just didn't see herself in those stories. She was a different kind of mom. She was also, she found out, shockingly common.

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Where was the children's book that talked about mom's postpartum depression?

Where was the bedtime story about the piercing blues that seemed to suck the joy out of mommy's life for weeks or months on end?

Mama's Cloud was Williams' creative and charming response to these conditions of parenthood. She wrote it from the point of view of a helpful little girl doing her best to rescue her mom from the grip of shadowy sadness.

The little girl imagined herself to be a superhero, a unicorn, a wizard, and other epic beings who might be able to bring back the happy mom she once knew.

The story, despite its dark theme, is a pleasant read and keeps a positive outlook from beginning to end.

"It started off with the fairy and the pixie, and that's because I had a daughter who was into all that, I was in the thick of it with her," Williams said. "I got the imagination by osmosis, really, just picking things up from her, but I also started to feel it was heading too much towards girly-girl things and I wanted it to be relatable to all genders, all interests, the parents of any kids."

Williams was a first-time writer on the Mama's Cloud project but she was a career storyteller who understood the nuances of human communication. She now lives in Saskatchewan but local residents will remember Williams from her days on the air in Prince George as a reporter and news anchor for the Vista Radio stations in this city.

She and her family reside now in Swift Current. Her parents reside in Smithers. They flew mom and babe back to northern B.C. for a prolonged duration when Neeve was still tiny, because Neeve wouldn't stop crying - for weeks and months on end.

And Williams wasn't hard to read even from that distance. Their daughter was absolutely suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety, and their granddaughter was absolutely suffering from colic. This combination has been known to be deadly.

Through the staunch support of Brad, the intervention of her parents and some other loved ones, the resources provided by healthcare professionals who also spotted the situation, and her own fortitude, Williams was able to battle the demons of the mind until Neeve got passed the colic and she counselled through her own chronic downturn with the help of some effective medication.

"I don't know about instant but it was over the span of a few months I was seeing the counsellor and it was awesome," she said. "I got a lot of really helpful information, and that, combined with allowing myself to go on some anti-anxiety, anti-depression medication compounded the helpfulness.

"Once I finally did, it gave me the clarity to ask myself why did I wait this long? And it's not because I have any judgment about mental health issues, but I did think for a long while that I should just be able to do it myself. But I did come to a realization that I wasn't enjoying things I ought to be."

That realization was recognition of the cloud that became the basis for the book. It was seeing herself in the midst of a good thing, a good event, but aware that, for some reason out of her control (initially), she could not shake her ever present misery.

What leaned her writing - something she'd been hobbying at for years - towards these topics were the other women who disclosed to her their own bouts of postpartum disorders or mental health conditions while new to motherhood.

"It was all unintentional, I think. I started looking into writing kids' books a couple of years ago, but didn't pursue it because, life. But in October I came back to the idea and started working on stories. I have a number of them in various states of completion. I don't know where the idea for Mama's Cloud came from, but a line must have triggered me to think about it. I know of so many women who have different kinds of mental health issues and some of them are around motherhood. It is such a big thing that effects so many people, but it's also such a big concept to impart on these little people. It's hard to explain all those aspects to kids. I was thinking about what these compassionate little people might be thinking. When I stub my toe, my daughter wants to come kiss it better. If a child skins a knee in daycare, they all come mobbing to give love to that hurt friend. That's how kids are, so how could I relate this to those exceptionally compassionate little people with exceptional imaginations."

Page by page, she found a way. Then she went looking for an artist to illustrate the words. She found painter Mateya Ark in Bulgaria and struck up an online relationship, since the artist was keen to share the project.

"Every time she sent me a new image I'd burst into tears. The happy ones. It was a constant feeling of 'you're getting it, you're getting it.' And I just love how it all turned out," Williams said.

Mama's Cloud is a happy and informative children's story that can be re-read time and again, the way kids like to do. It is published in hardcover, paperback and electronic forms by All Write Here Publishing.

For more information about the author and the book, visit her website at www.jessicawilliamsonline.com.

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