8 March 2024

Mary had a little plan that came home sparkling

| John Thistleton
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Co-author and Goulburn mother Mary Sotiropoulos

Co-author and Goulburn mother Mary Sotiropoulos with her book that counters the image of a mother with the perfect toy room, elaborate birthdays with balloons and a nicely dressed little girl. Photo: John Thistleton.

Anxious about their new babies, sleep deprived and needing support, two mothers met online in 2020 to turn their despair into an opportunity.

“Hey, I’ve got this idea for a book,” one of them shared on Instagram.

Mary Sotiropoulos, who had not long delivered her daughter Anastasia, was eager to find out more from her online friend.

That person was Jessie Ann Elliott, who was raising her newborn baby near the Hunter Valley and, like Mary, was having a struggle.

In Mary’s case, Anastasia was unsettled, hated sleep and was very vocal, reducing her mother to a shell of her former self. She felt like she’d been hit by a truck.

Both women had joined a group called The Liberated Mother Membership which motherhood studies sociologist Dr Sophie Brock was facilitating. Dr Brock was studying the idea of the ‘perfect mum’ and the overwhelming pressure on new mothers.

From the group’s discussions, Mary and Jessie started breaking down a lot of the things that didn’t make sense in their lives.

“I was conditioned from a very young age to what a good mum looks like and what is expected of a good mum, I guess,” Mary said. She was beginning to realise having a daughter with her hair always done and dressed nicely was not actually what makes a good mum.

Along with Jessie, she began looking at motherhood from a fresh angle.

“If I’m not feeling joy, if I’m not feeling happy, if I’m not thriving myself my daughter actually can’t either,” Mary said. “They are feeding off of us too.”

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Reflecting on that joking term ‘mum rage,’ she realised it was no laughing matter. “Overstimulated with mothering all day, you are putting your needs last constantly, not prioritising yourself at all,” she said. “And kids, you know, they push buttons, they want attention constantly, especially when they are young and it can feel super overwhelming.”

Jessie wanted to capture this in a children’s book, co-authored by Mary, a primary school teacher. Its original working title was The Mum Who Lost Her Expression about a woman losing something or feeling like she was lost and wanting to get back to her former self.

Their story begins with an overwhelmed mum, tired, stressed, snowed under with laundry and chores and feeling flat. Realising something is wrong, her children question her about what’s the matter. She says, “I think I’ve lost my sparkle”.

Back and forth the two authors’ discussions went until their manuscript began taking shape and the title changed to The Mum Who Found Her Sparkle.

Mary hopes by reading the book to her children at bedtime, a mother will realise that even though she may have yelled at her kids and not made the most nutritious meals during the day, she is still a good mum.

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After casting widely on social media looking for an illustrator, they drew up a short list from at least 300 applicants and settled on Jitumoni Goswami of New Jersey in the US, a children’s book illustrator who won their approval from the amount of thought evident in her drawings.

Jessie organised an online kickstarter campaign among their Instagram community. The outcome surprised them both, raising $8000 in good time to help with their publishing costs.

“People started just jumping in,” Mary said. “Some people were buying the book and giving us a little extra donation to get the book off the ground. I’m very proud of that; it was completely unexpected.”

Self-publishing through IngramSpark, The Mum Who Found Her Sparkle is being distributed through Amazon and Booktopia in Australia and Barnes and Noble overseas. Soon it should be available for ordering through Goulburn Mulwaree Library.

She said as well as producing a sweet picture book, she and Jessie had included an underlying message to help in maternal mental health. Sales have begun ticking over and she too has found her sparkle and confidence to begin planning a second book.

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