Updated: Apr 12, 2021
Matrescence: the process of becoming a mother.
Remember adolescence: the process of becoming an adult? The physical, hormonal, emotional and identity changes that occur naturally as we transition from a child to an adult over an undefined period of years. When a woman becomes pregnant, so begins the process of becoming a mother, matrescence. Physical, emotional, hormonal and social changes occur over years as your body grows a baby, a placenta to support new life, as your body births a new being into your world, the hormonal shifts that occur as your body communicates with baby and your environment, to make breastmilk, to bond, to protect and connect. It can feel like an emotional rollercoaster and feelings are often felt deeply. The transformation of matrescence is a natural process and there is nothing wrong with you, just like there was nothing wrong with you when you went through adolescence.
“The process of becoming a mother, coined by Dana Raphael, Ph.D. (1973), is a developmental passage where a woman transitions through pre-conception, pregnancy and birth, surrogacy or adoption, to the postnatal period and beyond. The exact length of matrescence is individual, recurs with each child, and may arguably last a lifetime! The scope of the changes encompass multiple domains --bio-psycho-social-political-spiritual-- and can be likened to the developmental push of adolescence.”
Aurélie Athan, Ph.D.
Yes there is a baby human developing and growing, AND there is a mother developing and growing. Becoming a mother does not only mean a woman has a baby, and the baby simply slots into her life as it was before and she remains the same woman. Her life is not as it was before. She is wired differently now. She is biologically, hormonally, intuitively connected to her baby and its survival and nurturing are her being’s main priority now. Although in my observations it is not uncommon for a woman to resist this as she attempts to return to life as it were before. Perhaps with awareness and space for the meaning of matrescence to be embraced and better understood, she could flow more naturally into motherhood with less guilt and struggle to be who she was before.
A mother is also still herself, with her own human needs such as the need to sleep, eat, and connect with other people. During matrescence these two streams of needs are occurring at the same time and this is what mothers are navigating. The blend of listening to and taking care of your baby’s needs and your own needs. Suffice it to say, the baby’s needs often come first as nature has it and mothers may be struggling to find sleep and to eat well, let alone having the time and energy to connect with other people.
“Many new moms find themselves feeling like they are in a push and pull, an emotional tug of war, as they try to figure out how to care for themselves and their baby’s needs at the same time.”
Alexandra Sacks M.D.
With all of the many shifts and transformations that a mother goes through on a physical, emotional and social level, her body and brain need to process all of these changes.
How do I feel about myself now that I am a mother?
Who am I now?
Should I go back to work?
Should I be with my child more?
Is what I am feeling normal?
Is it this hard for everyone else?
These questions can come up intermittently as motherhood continues to shift and change with time. Yes these feelings are all normal and yes matrescence can have us feeling confused. Especially when we mother in quite an isolated manner, apart from our village, behind our closed doors, we can feel alone and sometimes like we are the only one in the world, with our baby of course. Many mothers have this experience on their own behind closed doors. You are not alone.
Talking about our feelings, struggles, and experiences not only helps us to process and integrate what is happening, it helps us to feel that we are in this together. That we are not the only one struggling with care of a baby, sleep, eating, food preparation, house care, our mixed bag of emotions, our body, our difficulties, feelings of failure, disappointments, dissatisfactions, bewilderment and all the things that we experience on our own as a mother.
An awareness of matrescence, that it is an actual process of transformation on the physical, biological, hormonal, emotional, social, identity and even on the brain level, may help mothers to have compassion for them self and realise the scope of this transformation.
Becoming a mother is a natural journey for many of us women. It is precisely what our bodies have been designed to do, and without this journey there would be no life on earth. It’s quite profound and encompasses the mysteries of life. All my life I thought I was me, trying to survive in this world. Then my human body created a whole new human being and my body sustained and grew this life, and birthed him into the world all on its own- I just went along for the ride. This is the force of life, the mystery of life, the power of the universe expressing itself through us women, to create more life on earth, to feel, to love, be.