A mom on a mission

Local mother authors children’s book about her disabled daughter to further CMV awareness

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Jessica Rachels is no stranger to educating people on the lasting effects of a virus — in her case, cytomegalovirus, which she contracted while pregnant with now nearly 15-year-old daughter Natalie, who was born with cerebral palsy and other disabilities due to CMV.

Author Jessica Rachels and her daughter, Natalie. Courtesy photo

Rachels believes she contracted CMV while working in child care, but her doctor never made her aware of the risks associated with working with kids — the primary spreader of the virus — while pregnant. To help keep future Idaho mothers from experiencing the same difficulties, Rachels worked with the Idaho Legislature, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2017 to pass a bill allocating funds for more CMV awareness materials to be distributed to pregnant women across the state.

The latest project on Rachels’ advocacy journey is a children’s book titled Natalie Bug: My Life With Cytomegalovirus — written by Rachels from Natalie’s perspective, and illustrated by her other daughter, 13-year-old Makala. Rachels said the book has been two years in the making.

“There are some books out there and those are from the parents’ point of view,” she said, “but I thought this would be a unique way to look at life with this virus from the child’s point of view.”

Natalie is nonverbal, but expressive in her own way. Rachels said that by giving Natalie a voice, she hoped to create a greater connection with the reader. Rachels said “it wasn’t too difficult” to empathize and channel her daughter’s experiences into written words.

“Especially with children, they would connect more reading this through Natalie’s voice, hearing it through her voice — seeing what her life is like through her eyes,” she said.

Natalie Bug, titled after the Rachels family’s affectionate nickname for Natalie, features Makala’s vibrant paintings alongside commentary from Natalie’s perspective about her lifestyle, the effects of CMV and what people can do to both avoid the virus and make those with lasting disabilities feel respected and loved.

“Some people — kids, even adults — will see someone in a wheelchair with disabilities and they kind of ignore them or don’t know how to interact,” she said. “[The book] touches on that, [saying], ‘We may not say hi, but a smile means a lot to us.’”

Aside from making expectant mothers aware of CMV, bringing attention to how people view and treat those with disabilities is a huge part of Rachels’ advocacy work.

The cover of Rachels’ book, “Natalie Bug: My Life With Cytomegalovirus.”

“It’s something that definitely needs to be addressed — that they’re people, too,” she said. “They’re different, they have different abilities, [but] versus focusing on the disability, they just have different abilities.”

Rachels will donate a dollar from every book sale to the National CMV Foundation.

“God took us down this other path for a reason,” she said, “and Natalie has inspired us to advocate for her and others.”

Find Natalie Bug: My Life With Cytomegalovirus at Vanderford’s Books and Office Products, The Corner Bookstore, Sandpoint Superdrug and on Amazon. To learn more about CMV, visit idahocmv.com.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.