Life as a mother can be isolating. Even for those lucky to be surrounded by family and friends, the experience of looking after children, while often joyful, can feel fraught with questions, insecurities, concerns, and worries that are often difficult to share.
Singing Mamas, a national nonprofit, aims to break through this silence by bringing together women through song. It seeks to combat the loneliness, feelings of depression, and sadly, high rates of suicide prevalent amongst UK women during pregnancy and one year after birth.
“There’s so much evidence of the benefits of singing for wellbeing,” says Grace McGeoch, a local GP who runs a Singing Mamas group at the Hornsey Vale Community Centre on Tuesday mornings. “It releases endorphins which makes you feel good, it reduces stress hormones, and studies have shown it even helps as a treatment for post-natal depression. It’s really powerful stuff.”
The group was started around 10 years ago by nurse Kate Valentine, who struggled to find a child-friendly choir after moving to a new town. It’s now a national movement with 70 groups, and a network of leaders. Grace was alerted to the nonprofit by her sister, who found it an incredible source of support after having her own baby, and decided to train as a group lead in 2019. “I don’t have children myself,” she says. “At the time I did my training, this was something I was really working with and adjusting to, and it helped me feel connected to other women, and discover a space that was really nourishing. The organisation is a community …all about supporting each other, through difficulties.”
Grace was able to launch her group at Hornsey Vale this January, having been waylaid by the pandemic. While Singing Mamas is primarily marketed for mothers of young children who may be struggling, the group is open to women, and people who experience living as female, of all life stages. Grace hopes to make connections with other groups, such as those living with dementia, to expand her group’s network and impact.
Singing ability isn’t an entry criteria for Singing Mamas. “Everyone can sing,” says Grace. “Sometimes people feel really nervous about coming to a group with people who are singing – people have memories from school where they’re told they can’t sing. That can really set you back your whole life. But if someone reads this and thinks, ‘This sounds great, but I can’t sing, I would encourage them to come anyway. What we do here is really accessible’.”
“It’s a group which feels inclusive and also like it is for the adults as much as for the babies and toddlers,” says one participant. Another describes it as “a place to go beyond the ‘hand to mouth’ of everyday; to sing for the sake of singing; to be with other adults and with my toddler, without having to choose one or the other; a place to give my brain a break from hamster wheel activity by making myself concentrate on the exercise of learning new songs and singing in parts; a place where, for once, someone else is holding the space for me instead of me holding it for others.”Grace McGeoch
Participants can join Grace’s group for a small subscription fee, but she ultimately hopes to make her group available on prescription, that is, funded by a charitable group as a social benefit, as it already is in some areas.
Grace describes the community centre’s acoustics as perfect, and the centre’s team as welcoming and fully supportive of her dreams for the group. Speaking after a recent session of singing followed by tea and cake, with the sounds of a child’s rattle in the background, she describes engaging with the community through Singing Mamas as energising. “I think the work I do here is as important as the work I do as a GP, but it’s just not valued by society the same way … it just feels very worthwhile. Women share experiences, tips, information, moral support – that is priceless, creating those connections in a local community. A lot of women feel very isolated, it’s so hard when you have a small child, creating a space where you feel support and connection is really important.”