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Speaking of unmentionables 

Three friends have created a patented postpartum undergarment that can hold an ice pack.

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click to enlarge To create FourthWear Underwear—which has both a design and utility patent—Nyssa's founders consulted with new mothers, ob-gyns, and doulas.

To create FourthWear Underwear—which has both a design and utility patent—Nyssa's founders consulted with new mothers, ob-gyns, and doulas.

Tawatha Conley

Also known as the "fourth trimester," the postpartum period is an incredibly challenging time for people who give birth. Up until recently, that challenge included finding appropriate underwear. With that neglected need in mind, friends and thirty-something new mothers Aubrey Howard, Eden Laurin, and Mia Clarke set out to create FourthWear Underwear, an undergarment with an opening for an ice or heat pack to address often "unmentionable" issues that affect postpartum bodies (and souls). "We felt compelled to start this business due to the separate and distinct traumas that the three of us faced throughout the process of childbirth and postpartum," Howard says. 

They launched FourthWear Underwear last fall as the flagship product of Nyssa, their new brand. The name reflects their thoughtful approach to the business: Nyssa means "new beginnings” in Greek and is derived from the word "woman" in Arabic. "We wanted an ownable name that sounded friendly and approachable while being deeply tied to our brand purpose," says Clarke. While the brand name is a nod specifically to women, “FourthWear Underwear is intended for anyone who has given birth,” she says. “We know that plenty of people who give birth don't identity as women or mothers, and we do our best to recognize that by being purposeful about the language we use and the people we profile on our social media and podcast (such as transgender parent Trystan Angel Reese). Being inclusive of LGBTQ+ people is extremely important to us, too. So is being inclusive towards people of all sizes and races.”

To create FourthWear Underwear—which has both a design and utility patent—the three friends consulted with new mothers, ob-gyns, and doulas. They also drew from their own experiences: "The thing about the healing postpartum body is that most garments, including underwear, are incredibly uncomfortable to wear. The allure of the flimsy mesh hospital underwear is that it doesn’t provide any points of irritation on the skin, but that also means that it barely holds a maternity pad, and definitely not an ice pack," explains Howard.

click to enlarge Nyssa cofounders Aubrey Howard, Eden Laurin, and Mia Clarke - KIRSTEN MICCOLI
  • Nyssa cofounders Aubrey Howard, Eden Laurin, and Mia Clarke
  • Kirsten Miccoli

"Between us, we had a mix of vaginal and caesarean births at varying levels of recovery time, so we experienced a wide spectrum of needs that are commonly shared between those who have experienced birth. Almost everyone bleeds for days, weeks, even months after giving birth—that is why we chose fabric that is also leak resistant, and widened the gusset so it could better accommodate oversize pads. If you had a C-section, you will have pain at the incision site, which can be greatly soothed through the application of heat and ice. It is a little known fact that over 90 percent of first-time mothers who give birth vaginally will experience tearing, which can range from minor (first degree) to debilitating (fourth degree). Ice is an essential support to help with pain relief," says Clarke. "We also wanted to address an emotional need," she adds. "After being in a hospital (for those who don’t give birth at home), it can feel pretty demoralizing to continue to wear the very clinical-looking hospital mesh underwear. It makes you feel as though you are still a patient. We wanted our underwear to help women start to feel like ‘themselves’ again after going through a very intense physical and emotional experience."

Though there are currently many other options of postpartum underwear available, none feature an opening for an ice or heat pack. Besides that, thorough consideration was given to fit and fabric; FourthWear Underwear fully covers the buttocks and has an adaptable waistline that can be lowered or raised according to the wearer's preference. It is made with post-consumer recycled plastic, a surprisingly suitable choice: "Our fabric (and product) needed to accomplish four very important things: stretch (and recover) enough to accommodate a postpartum body, be incredibly soft and silky to the touch, have as little environmental impact as possible, and be able to securely hold an ice/heat press against the skin. We tried everything: bamboo blends, Lyocell, organic cotton, charcoal-coated fabrics, even wool! Though polyester gets a bad rap as people associate it with uncomfortable and rigid garments, the actual feel is akin to a luxury athleisure product. To top it off, recycled polyester is actually one of the most environmentally sustainable fabrics," Howard says. The undergarment is machine washable, costs $32—the three-pack sells for $85—and comes in gray and navy blue. More items are expected to be added to the line this summer to cater to customers beyond the fourth trimester.

Nyssa goes beyond just commerce for the three entrepreneurs: their production follows ethical and community-driven values that can be seen in many aspects of their company. Their garments are made in Chicago and will soon be produced at a local women-owned and -operated manufacturer; returned underwear are triple-washed and donated to a women's shelter; their "Women Werk" program is an effort to employ women who are officially in retirement.

“When we started Nyssa, we had two goals in mind: create a company that provides incredibly effective, empathetically designed products that support people during times of transformation, starting with the fourth trimester. The other was to create the community we wish we’d had while we were pregnant and postpartum," Clarke says. In her opinion, one of the highlights of their podcast, aptly called The Unmentionables, is an interview with Brown University economist Emily Oster. "Her data-driven approach to parenting really helps mitigate some of the anxieties first-time parents have," she says. One of those anxieties used to be hoarding mesh undies distributed at maternity hospitals. Fortunately that won't be necessary anymore.   v

FourthWear Underwear can be purchased at Moon Voyage in Wicker Park and at nyssacare.com.

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