In March of 2019, Risa Kirschner wrote a children’s book called Feel Better Mommy. It was based on a personal story from 17 years ago. She never fathomed the impact it could have in the midst of a global pandemic one short year later.
The story centers on a little girl, Abby, whose mom is in the hospital because of a “boo-boo” she has “on the inside.” With a warm yet realistic approach, the tale reveals the hospital as a safe place that helps people heal.
Now, as the coronavirus has taken hold, the story has taken on new meaning.
“In a million years, when I wrote this book, I could not have imagined a time when we’d be living where we are,” says Kirschner, who calls Farmington Hills home. “The message of the book was really important before, but it’s even more so. Forget about visiting someone — kids can’t even go to the hospital, they can’t even see what’s going on. It’s more of the unknown.”
That’s why Kirschner recently gave away over 250 free copies of her books to local hospitals, including Beaumont and Ascension, to provide to kids whose parents are hospitalized with COVID-19.
“At the end of the day, the message is they’re in a safe place,” Kirschner says. “And the love doesn’t change just because the geography does.”
Feel Better Mommy is a story years in the making. It traces back to when Kirschner was a battling a heart tumor — and pregnant with her second child.
“I was very sick,” says Kirschner, who’s also an attorney, real estate broker and lecturer. “There was a very good chance I wasn’t going to be around. I lost the pregnancy, but the pregnancy saved my life. I was in the hospital for a long time.”
Once she was stabilized, family brought her then-toddler daughter, Alli, to visit mom at the University of Michigan Health System. “I was amazed by her response to a hospital as a 2-year-old — what she found interesting,” she recalls. “It turned into an adventure for her.”
Many of those adventures, like pushing her little doll and teddy bear around in mom’s wheelchair and learning about IVs, wound up in Feel Better Mommy.
While Kirschner wrote the book when she was discharged from the hospital, “life got in the way,” including a divorce and single parenthood. When Alli was heading into her senior year of high school, the timing finally felt right, and Kirschner quickly found a publisher.
“I didn’t really want it to be cartoony,” Kirschner says. “It’s still a children’s book,” with approachable illustrations and engaging words, “but I wanted people to look like the people, I wanted the things to look like the real things,” from mom’s hospital bed to the X-ray room.
She also made a point of having Abby’s grandma bring her to the hospital, vs. a dad — “family situations are so different” — and not mentioning a specific illness.
“It doesn’t say whether the mommy came home. It was intentional because, you know what, you just don’t know. You don’t know about a person’s disease.”
A new focus
Kirschner’s hope is that Feel Better Mommy can now take away some of the fear kids may feel if their mom, dad or loved one contracts coronavirus.
So far she’s dropped off about 160 copies to the Beaumont Health headquarters in Southfield, which she says will be distributed safely as needed throughout the network. Another 60 copies went to Ascension Providence locations in Novi and Southfield, and her husband, a physician, has provided 50 to his medical group.
“We wanted these books to be able to be helpful,” says Kirschner. She still has a couple hundred additional copies on hand is willing to work out discounts, too.
“We’re happy to donate them. We don’t want the money to stop somebody from having a book.”
As her family of three shelters in place — Alli was just finishing up her first semester at Michigan State University, and they’re keeping busy with puzzles and new recipes — mom reflects on what helped during her hospitalization.
“For the first couple weeks, Alli was with my best friend; it wasn’t a blood relative,” she says. “Right now, neighbors are watching people’s children” as they recover from coronavirus. “If you have a calming presence and a safe presence in your life, I think that makes a difference.”
To learn more about Feel Better Mommy and to contact Kirschner, visit her website, feelbettermommy.com. The book is available as a $9.99 paperback or $18.95 hardcover – as well as in a coloring book format.