What is Matrescence?

A three syllable word that has the power to heal and the power to transform the way mothers view themselves and their experience.

It’s a term everyone should know but so few do yet understanding it could completely change the way we as a collective support and view new mothers. Because when a baby is born, so too is a mother. 

Matrescence is the developmental transition a woman goes through as she becomes a mother.

Similar to adolescence, it involves a complete shift in identity in which every aspect of a woman’s life begins to change. While for some, it can be a challenging time associated with a loss of, or, confusion about their identity,  others may feel like they’ve finally found themselves. 

“I Feel Like I’m Losing Myself Now I’m A Mum”

Matrescence transforms you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s no wonder women often feel like they’re losing parts of themselves when they become mothers.

It’s important to show yourself compassion, understanding, and patience while you go through this life altering transition because just as you need time to get to know your new baby, you also need to take the time to learn and understand this new version of yourself.

Although it may be difficult, in time, it may very well be the making of you.

“I Love My Baby But….”

If you’ve ever said these words to yourself you’re not alone.

Ambivalence plays a big part in the motherhood transition. You’re letting go of what you’ve always known and trying to find space for what is new.

It feels like an internal tug of war where you’re being pulled in two directions – Desperately trying to hold onto the old version of you while being pulled towards your new life as a mum while also juggling competing devotions such as staying home with your bub or returning to work.

Is What I’m Experiencing Matrescence or Postpartum Depression & Anxiety?

It’s not uncommon for a woman to believe she is suffering from Postpartum Depression & Anxiety because she thinks there must be a reason that she’s not loving everything about motherhood.

She may experience thoughts such as:

  • “I love my baby but I don’t love being a mum.”
  • “I miss my old life.” 
  • “I don’t know who I am anymore.”
  • “Motherhood isn’t what I expected” 

 Matrescence is not considered a health condition therefore it’s not in the medical vocabulary which explains why healthcare professionals aren’t talking to us about it.

When a woman is told she doesn’t have Postpartum Depression and Anxiety but is still struggling with thoughts similar to those mentioned above, she is often left feeling extremely confused and alone.

Though many women experience these thoughts and feelings, they often feel too ashamed to share them out of the fear of being judged.

Here’s the difference: Postpartum Depression and Anxiety interferes with your ability to go about day-to-day life whereas matrescence won’t. 

Some symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety may feel like:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling numb and empty
  • Intense mood swings
  • Anger outbursts
  • Irritability 
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling like you want to run away
  • Lack of concentration
  • Indecisiveness 
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

The above is not a complete list of symptoms, but if you experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, please reach out to your GP and seek help.  

Some symptoms of matrescence might feel like like:

  • Ambivalence: “I love my baby but I miss my old life”
  • Disappointment that your reality is different from how you pictured motherhood to be: “I didn’t expect to be so bored and lonely at home all day with my baby.”
  • Uncertainty: “I don’t know how to be a mother, am I doing this right?”
  • Guilt and shame: “I don’t want to give up my career but I should be home with my baby.”
  • Changes in interests: “I don’t enjoy doing the things that used to bring me joy.”

The History

The word matrescence originated from an Anthropologist by the name of Dana Raphael in 1973. Ms. Raphael said “The critical transition period which has been missed is matrescence. The time of mother becoming. Giving birth does not automatically make a mother out of a woman. The amount of time it takes to become a mother needs study.”  

Psychologist Dr. Aurelie Athan revived the term in 2008 and continues to share her knowledge around the term through her writing and teaching at Columbia University.

Dr. Athan stated that “The process of becoming a mother, 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, reoccurs with each child, and may arguably last a lifetime.

The Take-Away

The journey into motherhood and beyond is one filled with great highs and challenging lows and it’s okay not to love every minute of it. Please remember during those testing times that you aren’t alone and you are not failing. Learning to mother takes time.

No matter whether your child is 6 weeks or 6 years old, you have never known this version of your child before and every day is a new learning experience for you both. Be kind to yourself as you learn to find your way. Because that’s what matrescence is… it’s mother becoming. 

Recommended Matrescence Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about matrescence check out the below. 

Got questions? Connect with Courtney via the links below and don’t forget to follow along on Social Media too!!