by Jules McKeen, Sarka London
Maternal mental health is something extremely close to our hearts at Sarka London. The impact on a woman of having a baby is monumental, even for those of us lucky enough not to suffer from a new or existing mental health crisis. Having a baby in the ‘new world order’ provided unhelpfully by the arrival of Covid-19, however, must feel to many like a step into the abyss of despair.
Putting to one side for a moment the current situation we find ourselves in, having a baby – particularly your first – has a huge impact on women’s sense of identity and self. You’ve spent nine months with everyone cooing over your belly, already wrestling with the growing bump which so often now seems to define your whole self to those around you. Then – WHAM – you’ve a baby in your arms and you feel like a deflated balloon in both the physical and mental realms.
From many of our customers at Sarka London, we hear similar stories. Stories of feeling abandoned and bereft as friends and family dote on the new arrival while she sits unnoticed and exhausted. Stories of guilt, judgment and confusion as she struggles to work out how best to manage her baby’s day. Stories of the erosion of self, as that upbeat, professional, fulfilled woman about town is now unrecognisable in the mirror, with hair falling out, a completely different body shape and a seemingly ungraspable new persona to reckon with. And of course, stories of utter warmth and overwhelming love for this new being which has come into their lives.
The impact of body changes can be underestimated too; it can be devastating to a woman who’s enjoyed fitness to hardly be able to walk whilst recovering from birth; it can be frustrating for a woman who loves the clothes she saved up for and hasn’t worn for nine months to realise they still aren’t fit for purpose on her postnatal body. She can feel her body has been entirely given over to the service of birthing. Sure, some women are super cool about these changes, but occasionally it’s those in your friendship group you thought would take motherhood in their stride who struggle the most.
As Dostoevsky said, all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. So it is with maternal mental health. Very few of us, encountering a new mother walking down the street with her baby, have any idea the possible torment she might be going through: ‘Can I ever love this baby?’ ‘Will I ever see the ‘old me’ again?’ or even ‘Who am I?’. Add on sleepless nights, possible breastfeeding and C section challenges and – oh yes, the great Judgement of the People she faces every day – and you have a recipe for mental health disaster.
I’m not a mental health professional. At Sarka London we simply make soft, ethical, adaptable clothes specifically for her changing body and feeding access needs. We can’t help their babies sleep better, but we hope we can take one little compromise away from them so they can retain a sense of their own stylish self whilst going about the difficult business of being mother to a new baby. When I had my first child, I felt like the fashion industry suddenly forgot about me; my tops didn’t work for breastfeeding, I didn’t want to see my maternity clothes ever again and I wanted my own style back. That mattered to me. For some women, that’s an important part of reclaiming themselves as individuals again, outside of motherhood. For others the issues of course run much deeper.
Our customers tell us to that some small things can help make the big things feel more manageable. When it comes to what to wear with a baby, they tell us some simple tips which might be worth passing on:
- Go for softness – the feel of a buttery-soft fabric against the skin makes you feel enveloped in luxury even in tracky bottoms, not least because if it feels lovely against your skin, it will feel lovely against baby’s too
- Machine washable is a must – ain’t no normal new mother dropping silks in for dry cleaning on a regular basis.
- Go for breathability – ethical, sustainable fabrics like those we use at Sarka London are naturally breathable as they’re made from wood pulp, meaning they wick away sweat and keep your temperature regulated. If you’re breastfeeding or post-operative, this is a real issue for many new mums.
- Shop for longevity – can you imagine this piece working well beyond your first year of postnatal? Does it feel like ‘you’? If it doesn’t, it’s a compromise.
- Don’t let everyone buy for baby and not for you – make sure self-care and self-confidence feature unapologetically in your postnatal plan and verbalise that to those you care about.
As we all navigate new societal norms, now more than ever we need to look out for the new mothers in our families, in our street, in our friendship groups, to make sure they have the mental health support they need, big or small.