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Young carers don’t live in any particular postcode or come from any particular type of family – neither do poets

My new poetry book, Uncommon Labels, is based around all the labels I’ve been given, forced to accept, chosen and outright refused. Then there is the label I passed to my children: young carer.

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Mirrie Hutchings / Sheffield Young Carers

Writing a poem about the fact my children are young carers was not a choice I made.

The first couple of lines had popped into my head one evening and refused to go away until I wrote them down. As soon as I opened my notes app the rest of the story poured out. Deciding to share the resulting piece was a harder decision to make.

I'd been a young carer myself and I never wanted my own children to experience that, but then I survived a brain haemorrhage (just) and none of us had any choice about adapting to the aftermath. Now a chapbook of my poetry called Uncommon Labels is being published by Written Off Publishing and I knew I had to include the poem ‘Being My Carer’. There are an estimated 800,000 young carers across the country and more than 7,000 here in Sheffield. Two of them are my children.

The collection is based around all the labels I’ve been given, forced to accept, chosen and outright refused. The poems talk about having a Sheffield accent, being working class, queer and disabled. It takes in brain surgeries, rare diseases, being a parent and mean dinner ladies. Then there is the label I passed to my children.

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Cover Design & Photo: Samantha Sanderson-Marshall

The few people I’d shared ‘Being My Carer’ with had said it was powerful. The trouble was it also hit straight at the heart of what I struggle with the most when it comes to being disabled – the fact my tiny children, at the ages of three and five, were plunged into the most traumatic of circumstances and then had to deal with a total role reversal. The weight of responsibility on their shoulders remains heart-breaking. Sure, I can stand up and wax lyrical about cheating death, but the impact that had, and continues to have, on them occupies a much more vulnerable place in my heart.

Both of my children have been supported by the charity Sheffield Young Carers and they are passionate about more people being aware of and supporting young carers. Including this poem in the book, sharing it online and reading it at open mics offered me an opportunity to amplify their voices and support them in return.

Too often young carers pass by unseen, their particular circumstances not understood by their peers, teachers, other professionals or even their wider families. Young carers don’t live in any particular postcode or come from any particular type of family. Neither do poets. In a collection that attempts to take on assumptions and stereotypes, the needs and experiences of my young carers fits.

Right now there is also an exhibition at Western Park Museum which brings together Sheffield artist Pete McKee's piece 'Self Catering' alongside artwork by Sheffield Young Carers and their families. McKee's piece shows an exhausted child trying to eat some typically cheerfully-boxed breakfast cereal, surrounded by piles of washing up and laundry, responsibilitied that dwarf her slumped figure. It's beautifully brutal in the way it sums up so much.

Then there are the drawings and words from the young people themselves. Is it hard to look at your own child’s depiction of feeling they have to present a sunny side while storm clouds hover over their head? Yes it is. But thank god they’ve been supported to express the way they feel. They do it their way and I do it mine.

Learn more

The Sheffield Young Carers and Pete McKee exhibition runs at Weston Park Museum until Sunday 24 March.

The launch party for Uncommon Labels is happening at Sheffield independent bookshop Juno Books on Chapel Walk on Thursday 15 February, 6.30pm.

The Uncommon Labels chapbook is available to pre-order now.

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