LU alum ’21 publishes children’s book on postpartum depression

They call it the “baby blues.” It’s a benign term for a serious condition that, according to the most recent data from the National Library of Medicine, affects one in seven women — postpartum depression, or PPD. Half of PPD in new mothers go undiagnosed because of stigma associated with the symptoms and motherhood. Many new mothers do not understand what they are feeling, so how can they explain it to their children?

Lamar University alumna Jessica Hensarling ’21 aims to combat the stigma and explain PPD to children through her new book, “Mommy, What’s Wrong?” — a heartfelt message for mothers and children to share together.

As a mother of two children and an educator herself, she’s no stranger to PPD.

“I never really had issues with depression before and so after my first daughter was born, I really had zero information about any of it,” Hensarling said. “I denied it at the first (doctor’s) appointment. I just automatically assumed that it was totally normal what I was going through and you hear the term ‘baby blues,’ so you just think, ‘Well, it will pass. It’s not that big of a deal.’ I thought maybe I just don’t really know as much about motherhood as I thought I did. Maybe it’s just overwhelming.”

But the new mother was struggling emotionally. Finally, her husband noticed that something was not right, she was not herself. The family decided that they needed to act fast.

“At my next appointment, my husband was there and (the doctor) was asking these questions, so (my husband) kind of put in his two cents and that’s when the doctor was like, ‘Okay, I think this is what’s going on.’ They prescribed me medication and that was very helpful, but I kind of just went through the motions,” Hensarling said.

And though she knew the statistics — if a new mother suffered with PPD with one child, they will most likely weather the condition with future pregnancies — Hensarling was not prepared for the ordeal ahead with the birth of her second child.

“My second daughter had health issues when she was born and she was in NICU for a week and it was just — it was just a lot,” Hensarling said. “It ended up causing even more postpartum depression because of all the stress included, so I ended up seeking out a therapist after that. I saw her for several months and kind of got into the groove of things. Things weren’t so overwhelming with a newborn, so eventually, I didn’t have to see a counselor anymore.”

The birth of a baby can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions. For some moms, she said, postpartum depression means mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, reduced concentration, appetite problems, lack of interest in the baby and trouble sleeping, to name a few. It can also give you the urge to hurt your own child. However, Hensarling stressed, everyone’s situation is different and everyone can experience an array of symptoms.

“For me, I was more secluded,” she said. “I kind of wanted to shut myself out from things. I also struggled with postpartum anxiety. I was super protective and constantly worrying about the what ifs and all the hypothetical situations.”

Drawing from those experiences, Hensarling was able to find that rare silver lining and accomplish a lifelong dream of publishing a book. “Mommy, What’s Wrong?” all started with a poem.

‘Right now she’s just feeling lots of things, but she feels love for you too.’

“I have this poem written in my phone so that I could say it to my daughters after my second (child) was born because I did have postpartum depression after my first (child) and I kind of expected it with a second,” Hensarling said. “I wanted something to help my older daughter understand what was going on. I knew she probably was wondering what exactly was happening with me because I wasn’t going to be myself completely; I was going to be different emotionally. Then one day I got a random idea that I was going to look up how to publish it.”

The book was accepted and quoted by three different publishing companies. What followed was an eight-month long process with Christian Faith Publishing. The first step was to send the manuscript to publishing companies. After it was accepted, Hensarling received quotes for how much it would cost to print the book. Together, the team worked on the illustrations to print her vision for the book.

“I had to give them very specific details, even down to the hair and eye color of the characters and what I wanted them to do at each scene and the background,” she said. “Those illustrators took all of that information and drew it. I really liked how hands-on (the process) was. They made my vision come to life.”

 However, publication came with a price. “Mommy, What’s Wrong?” almost never came to fruition after Hensarling learned of the costs associated with publishing the book. She had just quit her job and was having doubts. Her family and her faith assuaged them.

Jessica Hensarling“I tell myself that if it can help just one family, (it’s worth it). I feel like God led me to do this,” she said. “If it saves one person’s life, if it helps one person’s family, then it was totally worth it — every single penny, every single minute of eight months was totally worth it.”

A lifelong resident of Southeast Texas, Hensarling graduated from Spurger High School, received a bachelor’s degree in history from East Texas Baptist University in 2016 and a master’s degree in education administration from Lamar University in 2021. Hensarling said that her journey to achieve another lifelong goal would not have been possible without Lamar University. Working a full-time job and being a mother with another child on the way, she didn’t think it would be possible to obtain a master’s degree. She first learned of LU at a conference. She walked past the booth and something caught her eye: online courses. Hensarling was feeling more and more encouraged, so she decided to apply.

“I love the way Lamar University gave me the ability to balance it all. I was able to fit (courses) into my schedule. I wasn’t having to drive to campus and take classes, I could literally do it after work for a few hours and that was pretty much it. It just all flowed together,” Hensarling said. “It was always a dream of mine to get a graduate degree. I kind of gave up on it for a while, thinking it just wasn’t in the cards. Whenever I found out that there were options for online courses and especially through LU, it all just kind of worked out. I think it’s given me a lot of education when it comes to how to lead a school and help me be a better teacher. And if I want to continue writing books geared towards children, then they helped me to be able to understand age level education so that I can focus more on that age level when I’m writing.”

Without her education and experience as an educator herself, “Mommy, What’s Wrong?” may never have become a reality. It was through this lens that she saw the need for a book geared toward children to address PPD. It is written for kids and for parents to read to their children to help them understand what a mom may be going through — though everyone’s experience is different.

“I used some of my education background when I wrote it because I knew which age group I was writing toward. The whole purpose of me publishing this was to help other families because it was helping me and I knew there were moms out there that needed help. Especially with the stigma that’s on postpartum depression and anxiety, people don’t want to talk about it,” Hensarling said. “And I knew that if I spoke up, people would know that they can talk about it because there are so many moms that don’t discuss it and then they don’t seek the help that they need because they’re embarrassed. They say, ‘Oh, it’s just baby blues.’”

As for the future, Hensarling hopes that she may publish a book (a novel in particular, though she has yet to find her inspiration for it). In the meantime, she is focusing on her family and her faith that “Mommy, What’s Wrong?” will inspire an important conversation surrounding a prevalent condition.

‘But Mommy loves you very much, even on the days that are bad.’

“One of the reasons why I wanted to do this is because I kept hearing all these horror stories — moms that would drop off the baby and leave because they felt they were a terrible mom and they couldn’t handle it. Some moms take their own life,” Hensarling said. “So, I really wanted to create an outlet so that other families would know that this is more common than we realize and it is okay to speak up and to speak out about it so that you can get the help that you need and to build this community for all moms.”

“Mommy, What’s Wrong?” is available for purchase at traditional brick and mortar bookstores or online through Amazon, the Apple iTunes store and Barnes and Noble and more.