Bridging the Gap

Krista Connor

Wilmington-based perinatal support program The Mothers’ Space is a judgment-free place where moms can slip off their shoes, relax with yoga, and receive guidance from licensed women’s health professionals

The only noise in the yoga studio, a bright, naturally-lit space despite the roiling tempest outside, is a continuously humming om playing from the instructor’s smartphone, while class participants like Rachel Stargatt and Courtney Loughney bend earnestly into a downward dog pose.

That is, until a baby lets loose a howl from his face-up position on the mat beneath his mother, prompting a chain reaction of infantile gurgles and squeals throughout the room. This can only be ignored for a second or two before yogic focus is broken by broad smiles and laughter from the moms. Strikingly, in this Itty Bitty Yogis class, nobody rushes her baby out of the studio with that familiar head-tuck of embarrassment so often seen of moms in public. Instead, the instructor prompts mothers to calm their babies with kisses until, impressively, om is once more the only sound in the room, besides the rain.

Here, at The Mothers’ Space on the outskirts of Wilmington, moms are offered a rare retreat. For prenatal care to mothers of babies in the 18-month range, whether they’re breast-feeding or bottle-feeding, exhausted or energetic, women are encouraged to arrive and simply exist in the judgment-free space. They have access to expert counselors and consultants, workshops and classes. The atmosphere is refreshingly honest and humorous and above all, an active counter to societal taboos and unrealistic expectations. As founders Libbie Fiechter and Loughney put it, it’s a place for unwashed hair, sore nipples and soft bellies, where it’s okay if you can’t orchestrate a Pinterest craft in the afternoon and a beautiful dinner in the evening.

Says Fiechter: “We wanted to be a safe place to go, where someone is not going to come up to you and say, ‘Put your boob away’ if you’re nursing.”

Really, within reason, all that’s banned at The Mothers’ Space are the tired expressions “enjoy every second” and “it goes by so fast.” What’s encouraged? Openness, understanding and eating—at any time.
Fiechter and Loughney, both mothers of three children under the age of 7, are committed to the benevolent proverb “it takes a village,” which, in this case, comprises 200 curious moms during The Mothers’ Space’s inaugural week at the end of March. That’s a lot, considering attendance was garnered by word-of-mouth alone. But in an urban sprawl inflamed by 21st century disconnect, the reach for something sacred—in this case, women empowering other women—is as necessary as ever.

Loughney, who is technically on maternity leave with her 8-week-old son, is a registered yoga instructor with a master’s in education and the founder of another Wilmington business, Le Petit Yoga for moms and kids, which she piloted in 2013. Fiechter is a registered yoga teacher who gave up a career in development and construction—a career she loved—to stay home with her children and now run this business.

Barefoot and smiling, Fiechter and Loughney will invite you to slip off your shoes, drink a cup of something caffeinated and commune with one another before or after a class. The space, seconds from Hagley Museum and Library at 162 Stone Block Rd., is a modestly-sized addition to a historic stone building. It’s a tapestry of pastels, whites and soft grays akin to stepping into—admittedly—a Pinterest dream, with yoga pants welcome.

“Sometimes getting out of the house is really scary and really hard,” says Fiechter. “Sometimes you just need a place to go, but Target isn’t necessarily the right place.”

Take Stargatt, who heard about The Mothers’ Space from her lactation consultant Katie Madden – an RN who owns the business Balanced Breastfeeding and also teaches classes at the Birth Center in Wilmington. Stargatt tries to get to The Mothers’ Space twice a week with her baby Calvin.

“Staying home with a baby can be isolating, and I’ve found the space to be very relieving of that,” Stargatt says. “It’s really nice to have a place to take him that is low stress. I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to feed him or ‘what if he starts fussing?’”

The Mothers’ Space is designed in three parts: First is support groups like 4th Trimester Moms, Formula Feeding Group, and, on weekends, Working Mom’s Group, all of which feature guided discussion. Next, workshops, which are a separate entity at three hours long, led by a selection of the area’s leading experts on post-partem health. Finally, scattered throughout the week are classes that typically revolve around yoga for moms and babies and toddlers, along with physical therapy and Mama Baby Bootcamp classes. There’s also Bubbles and Shit class (yes, that’s its name), a strictly sensory experience for crawlers and walkers with a guided discussion for moms.

“Theres so much pressure for moms to do all these structured, educational activities, but when you have a 9-month-old or 1-year-old, you don’t need to be doing certain activities—you’re not a bad mom,” says Fiechter. “My husband was asking if the class name is really on brand, and while I’m not sure if we have a brand, we do have a sense of humor.”

Don’t think it’s all bubbles and shit, though. Loughney and Fiechter and their panel of licensed experts also tackle grim topics like perinatal mental illness, including postpartum depression. In fact, that’s what drew the two founders together more than three years ago. They met at a “mommy and me” play group and bonded over each other’s stories of isolation and undiagnosed postpartum depression after the birth of their first children. It was a time, Fiechter says, when it seemed that professional and peer-related dialogue about conditions like PPD or D-MER wasn’t common.

Back then, Fiechter’s therapist simply told her she needed more sleep. The women puzzled over this lack of support for perinatal moms, which was astonishing, considering that one in five mothers experiences perinatal illness.

Prompted by the disturbing silence on the topic, in 2015 Loughney and Fiechter formed 4th Trimester Support group, bringing the mind/body concepts of yoga to mothers of newborns in a nurturing setting that evolved into The Mothers’ Space. Now, in Delaware, multiple perinatal, emotional and mental health programs do indeed exist for moms, but it could be argued their structures are a little more formal and formulaic when compared to The Mothers’ Space. Walking in barefoot, for instance, likely isn’t encouraged.

Bringing in licensed experts to lead workshops and classes is one of the most essential components of The Mothers’ Space. The all-female team includes local licensed therapists, social workers, psychologists, physical therapists, lactation consultants, a registered nurse, and registered yoga instructors.

“We brought them to one place,” says Loughney. “While if you go to the doctor they might refer you to someone over here or there,” and soon a mom is jumping around making appointments —or more realistically, skipping the appointment and neglecting herself. Not here.

“The programs give me an opportunity to really be present as a mother,” says Stargatt. “It’s also really nice to talk about the more challenging aspects with other moms. Yet Courtney and Libbie don’t take themselves too seriously, and I think that vibe carries throughout the space.”

Jokes aside, the power duo will continue pioneering for women’s wellness in Delaware, growing the space that, at the end of the day, “is a place where it’s okay to not be okay,” says Fiechter.

Classes and pricing: drop-ins are welcome at $17 per class; get a 10-class pass for $125; monthly memberships are $96. For moms who will attend more than two events a week, the founders recommend the monthly membership. For more, visit themothersspace.com.

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