By Stefanie Poole
If you’ve never heard the term matrescence you’re not alone. It’s a word, and concept, I wish I knew before my son was born. Becoming a mother was the most significant transformation of my life.
When I became a mother everything changed; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I struggled with my identity, expectations vs. reality, and feeling isolated and alone. Eight months into my motherhood journey I developed postnatal depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. At the time, I thought I was the only one experiencing the overwhelm and ambivalence around motherhood. What I know now is that the process has many ups and downs and that it is normal to feel a variety of emotions. We need to be gentle with ourselves. It takes time to adjust to our new role and build a relationship with our babies. Understanding matrescence provides us with more information and insight into this rite of passage allowing birthing people to feel understood, less alone, and more empowered.
What is a Matrescence?
“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.” (Aurelie Athan, PH.D).
We are all familiar with adolescence; a transition in which hormones shift and our bodies and minds undergo major changes. Matrescence is a similar experience in which the birthing person is learning to adapt to these changes.
Matrescence also helps to normalise emotions and feelings that can be pathologized as perinatal mental health issues. It is important to differentiate feelings of discomfort and distress that are common during this phase of matrescence versus more serious ongoing mental and emotional distress (i.e. perinatal depression or anxiety) that may need further assessment.
In our society, much of the focus is on the baby with less time spent focusing on celebrating and honouring the birthing person. Many times, we do not allow the time, space, communication and support to assist the birthing person to adapt to their new identity. Matrescence helps the birthing person understand that they are developing a new relationship with their bodies, minds and their babies.
Some tips for preparing yourself to enter matrescence;
- Create time for self-care: Self-care is not selfish! Nourishing yourself is so important to ensuring you can care for your baby and maintain aspects of your identity pre-motherhood.
- Share your birth story: Creating space to talk or write about your birth story (both the challenges and the joys) can be a powerful, healing way to honour the transition into motherhood.
- Seek out and be willing to receive support: It can be hard to ask for and accept support but it is crucial as you transition into motherhood. It can be useful to think about the support you will need prior to birth and postpartum. Developing a postpartum plan can help you explore your needs and the resources you will require.
- Explore your expectations: Be aware of the emotions and changes you may encounter and explore your expectations versus reality.
- Accept this time in your life: Know that motherhood is ever changing with moments that come and go. When you face challenging times think about them as lessons to be learned and an opportunity to explore your ideas, beliefs and values.
- Celebrate the birth of becoming a mother: Create meaningful ways of honouring your transition into motherhood.
I encourage you to start using the word matrescence with your friends and family. By changing our language we can help birthing people feel less stigmatized, alone and misunderstood. When we begin to share stories of motherhood that encompass the rewards AND the challenges we begin to reduce guilt and shame and normalise the experience.
Stefanie Poole is a Mental Health Doula™ who combines her many years of experience within the mental health field to bring birthing families innovative, holistic support with a specialised focus on mental and emotional health and wellbeing. She is the founder of Birth Education for a Healthy Heart & Mind™ and Mumma Bees™, Peer Support and Training for Birthing Families. She lives on the Mornington Peninsula with her husband, son, and fur babies.