Supporting the journey of motherhood, in style
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Jessica Urlichs On Exploring The Journey of Motherhood Through Poetry

We spoke to Jess about becoming a Sunday Times Bestselling Author and how she uses poetry to explore the beauty and chaos of motherhood.

Poet and Sunday Times Bestselling Author Jessica Urlichs grew up in Christchurch with her mother, father and two younger brothers. Her childhood was simple – she loved playing sports and writing poetry.

When her parents separated, Jess and her siblings moved around a lot. Her father chose to be absent from her life, but Jess is thankful for the love she received from her grandparents who helped to fill the void her father left. 

“Growing up I saw strong women. My mum, especially,” Jess tells THE INARRA. “Becoming a mother has given me a whole new appreciation for her. She very much inspired my book, You Hung The Moon.”

Jess still lives in Christchurch, although she spent several years in Australia where she met her husband, with whom she has three children, aged six, five and eighteen months.

“I actually didn’t dream of becoming a mother,” Jess says. “I sort of expected that maybe one day I would, but it was never something I dreamed of. 

“It’s funny because the best way I could describe it was if someone walked into the office with a puppy, I’d be out of my chair instantly. With a baby, I was always intrigued but maybe nervous around children. I was just never the clucky type.

“It wasn’t until meeting my new husband that the idea of my own family actually sounded quite lovely. That’s around the time we moved back to my home to be around family when we started our own.”

“I loved my children but not every moment of motherhood. I loved being with them but I craved time alone. I wanted to explore these feelings in a society that still screamed ‘enjoy every minute’. And I built this beautiful community and we validated each other, and it was the same community that encouraged me to write my first book."

Jess has built a successful career as a poet – a talent she has nurtured since primary school. “I have had a love for poetry since very young and dabbled in it growing up, mostly just for fun, but I had a few pieces published in magazines here and there,” she says. “My career really began after starting my Instagram page and sharing my poetry there, which was my husband’s idea actually.”

Jess self-published her first three poetry books: From One Mom to a Mother: Poetry & Momisms (2020), All I See Is You: Poetry & Proses for a Mother’s Heart (2020) and My After All: Poetry & Prose for Mothers (2021). 

She has also written children’s poetry and picture books: The Rainbow in My Heart (2021), My Superpowers (2022) and Let Me Be Frank (2024). In 2023, she published You Hung The Moon – a love letter between children and their mothers.

Penguin approached Jess about creating an anthology of her poems, and earlier this year she released Beautiful Chaos – selected published and unpublished poems tracking the experience of motherhood, from pregnancy to school age. It has become a Sunday Times Bestseller.

Motherhood was a catalyst for Jess’s career. “I didn’t anticipate that I would write a book one day, but I started writing one because I felt lonely in motherhood, though not in the way I expected. I had a lot of feelings I couldn’t reconcile.”

“I loved my children but not every moment of motherhood. I loved being with them but I craved time alone. I wanted to explore these feelings in a society that still screamed ‘enjoy every minute’. And I built this beautiful community and we validated each other, and it was the same community that encouraged me to write my first book.”

“Writing has not only been extremely cathartic for me to work through things but also has become my career path. It also never feels like work because it is something I am passionate about.”

Since becoming a mother, Jess’s perspective on the world has shifted. “On the one hand, I see the world through their eyes: colours are more vibrant, I take things slower because I go at their pace, I take things in, I see the beauty in simple things.”

“On the other hand, it scares me because I want to keep them safe. I want to keep their innocence as long as possible and shelter them from all the horrible things that happen in this world. I know that one day they will find out, and as much as I want to frame this world as a beautiful place, a place they can question and mould with their strong voice, I also feel defeated by it and by humanity. I am still grappling with how I will respond when the inevitable questions come.”

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Image by Hannah Findlay

One of the biggest challenges Jess has faced being a mother is postnatal anxiety and not being able to breastfeed her firstborn in the fourth trimester. “I really felt as though I had failed him, possibly from societal pressures,” she says. “I felt guilty attending mother’s groups where everyone would be breastfeeding and I’d pull out my formula. I felt like no matter how hard I pursued breastfeeding it would never be good enough and I had let him down.”

Jess turned to writing to process her postnatal anxiety and not being able to breastfeed and went to counselling sessions. “Both of these avenues really helped. Counselling gave me the tools to combat some of the intrusive thoughts I was having, and writing helped me pick apart the reasons I had felt like a failure. Not because I had failed, but because societal expectations had failed me. “

“I found there to be ample support for mothers who needed help with breastfeeding, but not mothers who needed help mentally when they were unable to.”

Jess’s book Beautiful Chaos explores the common experiences, emotions and struggles of motherhood. “I touch on the highs and lows we go through with our partners, how no one talks about how having a baby can actually hold you at arm’s length.”

“I talk a lot about the push and pull of motherhood, wanting them to stay little forever and recognising the immense privilege we have of watching them grow.”

Jess also talks about the importance of embracing imperfection, and that it’s OK – important, even – for kids to witness it. “So long as they see me apologise when I mess up and that repair happens, I think [not being perfect] is a valuable lesson for them to learn,” she says. 

“Even in a partnership, my husband and I don’t agree on everything, and in trying times sometimes our voices get raised. Our kids don’t see us perfect all the time, but they see us agree and disagree, make up, laugh and hug. They hopefully will see that relationships don’t have to be ‘perfect’ to be happy.”

Jess hopes readers will take from Beautiful Chaos “a feeling of not being alone, but being seen, heard and gently held.”

Knowing you are not alone is a powerful feeling for mothers, and support can be provided in many ways. Jess will never forget a beautiful moment of kindness from a stranger many years ago.

“I was out with my son and daughter, aged two and one at the time. My son had a meltdown in the middle of a museum and I really struggled with how to navigate what to do with the baby while trying to console him,” she recalls. “He was in a red zone so there was no reasoning with him, and it’s not easy with two-year-olds at the best of times. 

“A staff member came and just stood by me. She did ask if she could help and I was flustered and tried to shrug it off, although I had tears in my eyes. She said, ‘That’s OK, I will stand here with you anyway’. I don’t know, something about just having someone there who was supporting me silently and not judging will be something I will remember forever. 

“I called up the museum later and talked to her boss and asked her to thank her for me properly. She was an angel!”

Like many mothers, Jess has had to learn the mum-juggle: balancing work and family life. “My husband works full time, so I usually find time to work during naps, in the evenings or on weekends. My youngest starts daycare next year, which will be emotional as she is my last baby, and I’ll have more time to write then.

“The irony is I can’t write about a life I don’t live, and I’m too busy living right now to write! There is no balance in this season but that’s OK.”

Taking time for self-care to maintain wellbeing is another common challenge amongst mothers, but Jess makes the time. “I spend time with friends that fill my cup or take walks with the dog alone. Sometimes it’s just something like getting my hair done and that nice basin massage!

“I think it’s important to schedule time out for you, however that looks. It makes me a better mother so it’s a win-win for everyone. 

“One thing [my husband and I] struggle with is finding time for each other! Now that our youngest is sleeping much better, we might be able to get a babysitter and have a date night outside of the house.”

Amidst all the chaos of motherhood, Jess has learned some valuable lessons from her children, such as how quickly they can forgive. “It’s a true testament to their core values at such a young age, and in times where things are hard, I always remember this.”

Looking ahead, Jess is excited to keep living life and writing about it – whether she shares it or not. She hopes to encourage her children to follow their passions, too. “Even if they forget their passion for a little while, that’s OK. Come back to it, because you never know where it may lead, and no dream is too big or too small!”

To find out more about Jess, or purchase one of her books, go to her website or follow her on Instagram.

Words by Ellie Wiseman

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