Matrescence – ‘The Process of Becoming A Mother’
We often have all of these thoughts, ideas and images when expecting our first child. We might imagine how it will feel to be a ‘family’, who baby might take after, how our life may be changed. Often we look to our friends, siblings, even social media icons and celebs to get a sense of what life may look like AB (after baby). Some of us, without ill meaning… might even pass judgment towards the above loved ones on all manner of things – their parenting styles, how they feed/sleep, the behaviour of their precious ones, their ability to cope. I have heard the comment a few times in the past in some variation by well meaning mums and dads to be, ‘Trillions of people wouldn’t do it, multiple times if it was that hard?’ Well, you have a point, BUT…
During pregnancy, many of us have our intentions and set out our stall, making plans around how we are Going To Be, whilst living as we always have; excited, hopeful, watching our bellies swell week by week.
Having lived some 33 years without being a mother, I was guilty of all of the above. Did I expect an easy ride? No. At the same time, AB, I believed in an ideal of us continuing a life we had cultivated around hard work, harder play and adventure (but with a cute little baby in tow). Needless to say this was quickly grounded in a pretty brutal way! I laugh with my mum now, at what she must’ve have wanted to say, or at an image of her likely suppressing maniacal laughter as I sat at the kitchen table, 36 weeks pregnant writing out the first 6 months of Gina Ford routines on A3 cards (in various coloured pens). I had it sussed!!!
Lucky enough to witness a number of friends becoming first time mothers in the past year or so, as well as working with mums to be as a part time pre and post-natal practitioner, I have seen a pattern AB that was evident in my own early motherhood journey. There is a moment, after birth – hours, days, sometimes weeks where something shifts and new mothers are forever changed. It might be in the tone of a text message, or a look in the eye, but there’s a 'knowing' of sorts and a transformation that can never be undone. Physical, mental, spiritual AND emotional. The brain physically alters to make room for the components needed for motherhood and to protect one's young; this was a mind-blowing discovery for me. Traits that could traditionally be considered as more ‘alpha’ or masculine make space for increased nurture, compassion, instinct and sometimes more challenging behaviours such as worry and anxiety.
I have spoken with other mums about that constant PUSH/PULL feeling that suddenly appears and according to my own mum, never really goes away. Of course, it is uncomfortable to feel two opposing things at the same time. These feelings and being a mother is not necessarily then Good or Bad – it is Both.
‘I need to sleep / My baby is crying and needs me’
‘I need space / I miss them so much’
‘This is the best thing that ever happened to me / I miss my life before’
‘I’m looking forward to going back to work and using my brain / I can’t bear the thought of them starting nursery’
This conflict is a key part of MATRESCENCE; a term coined by anthropologist Dana Rafael. Dr Alexandra Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist explains it as “The developmental phase of new motherhood, like adolescence – a transition when hormones surge, bodies morph and identity and relationships shift.”
During this transition, many women may find themselves being lost somewhere between who they were before motherhood and the image of who they think they should be now. Furthermore, a baby is the catalyst that will open up possibilities for more intimate connections – but on the flip side, new stresses in a woman’s closest relationships with her partner, family and friends as they discover a fresh dynamic and sometimes a lack in what they are able to give to loved ones and other parts of their lives, compared to before.
There are in fact numerous elements and layers to Matrescence, the physical, biological and spiritual process of becoming a mother – yet it is largely unexplored in the medical community. With the continued rise of post-natal depression, this raises a question mark. How much of what happens to a mother, immediately AB is understood? Perhaps a woman’s story, in addition to her psychology (which affects her parenting) is important to focus on too, knowing that women who go through the hormonal changes of pregnancy experience a neurobiological shift.
Perhaps knowing the common challenges and experiences of Matresence will normalize and validate how some new mothers may be feeling as a natural process, rather than a condition, or for some an illness?
Of course, everyone’s experience is different and we go into motherhood as individuals, as such having a unique response to the multiple changes happening in our bodies and minds. However, having just scratched the surface on this term and concept, it seems like there is much more to learn about Matrescence, a process that may be enlightening to many and that could be shared and understood much, much more.
If nothing else, it brings to light in a more ‘defined’ way that care, sensitivity and empathy for women at this time is vital. Where the predominant focus is still understandably placed upon the new baby, more space needs to be made to support essentially the second birth, that of The Mother.
Mamabox offers a unique range of gifts for new and expecting parents, with a focus on the Post-partum period. Our bestselling ‘Heal Me, Mama’ and all other boxes are available to buy on the website with Free Next Day Shipping throughout the month of November. For every box sold, a care kit is sent to a new mother in need the UK, containing essential items to be placed in their hospital bag, via the charity Ourmala.