Matrescence, a life transition

motherhood

In the last month, I travelled to France to spend time with my grandma. Unfortunately, her health declined, and she passed away. I feel very lucky to have been able to spend time with her and accompany her in her last days. Emotions and tiredness are now kicking in and I feel the need to go inward, reflect and replenish. So it is the perfect time to start the mothercalm blog.

Transition

We often see death as an end, and yet I strongly believe that it is another transition, a transition for the person but also everyone around them.

We experience many transitions in life and one of the biggest transition many people experience is the one of becoming a parent. There is in fact a word to describe the transition into motherhood, the becoming of a mother: matrescence.

The Cambridge dictionary describes it as:

the process of becoming a mother:

Those physicalpsychological and emotional changes you go through after the birth of your child now have a name: matrescence.

The process of becoming a mother, which anthropologists call “matrescence has been largely unexplored in the medical community.

We often underestimate the changes we experience when we become a mother. Society, our families as well as ourselves often focus on the birth of the baby. In the early weeks we might also care about the physical recovery. But we forget that our whole lives have changed, our brains and even our body on a molecular level will have changed.

Many mothers experience an amazing feeling of love and happiness but also feelings of grief, exhaustion and resentment. We often leave very little time and space to explore and accept these feemings. We need to care for ourselves in a new way, we need to know our new self.

“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.

In his book Daniel Stern explains how all aspects of our lives can change when we have a child, he describes really how we are born as mothers, the transition happening slowly, sometimes naturally and sometimes with some aspects being difficult or needing time.

What now ?

It is well accepted that during life transitions most people will need time or help to adapt. If you move in another country, you will need help to move your furniture, you will need time and maybe someone to help you with getting used to the surroundings, know where to go, learn a new language. If you experience loss, it will be widely accepted that you take time off work or your social life.

Yet there is very little available for mothers to adapt during their Matrescence. We might be busy going to baby groups yet feel very lonely with our emotions and new feelings.

Maternal wellbeing

Everyone will have their own unique way of nurturing their wellbeing, but everyone will always start from the beginning: physiological needs, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows us.

  1. Sleep, hydration, food.
  2. Physical and emotional safety for yourself and your family.
  3. Close family and friends who love and accept you. Socialising.
  4. Confidence in your parenting. Respect from family, friend, partner. Feeling useful/needed as a provider, caregiver, lover, friend.
  5. Time to think, read, create, hobbies, passion.

While you might miss time for you, it is easy to forget the first steps of caring for yourself. In the first few months of a baby’s life, your energy will be focused on the survival of another human being. You will need to make sure your basic needs are met and you might not have much time for other needs. If you make sure your basic needs are met you will slowly with time find a way to meet your need for growth.

Find mothers, parents you can share this transition with; you are not alone. You can meet others through baby groups, come to a Mothercalm wellbeing circle or reach out through apps like Peanut or Mush.

Some people also find they need more help from a professional, I have worked with parents for 12 years and offer individual coaching to help you find YOURSELF. I have also worked with women who have found helpful to work with the perinatal mental health team. You have priority when you are pregnant or have had a baby in the last year. Reach out to your local IAPT or your GP or health visitor.

If you want to access private support, Laura Hans provides Perinatal CBT.

Most importantly you are becoming a mother, it is a journey. Take your time, you only need to be good enough, no one needs a perfect mother.

Discover more :

Alexandra Sacks, A new way to think about the transition to motherhood: TED talk  and New York Times article

Stern D., N. Bruschweiler-Stern, A. Freeland (1998) The Birth Of A Mother: How The Motherhood Experience Changes You Forever. Basic Books

Raphael, D. (1975). Matrescence, Becoming a Mother, A “New/Old” Rite de Passage. In D. Raphael (Ed.), Being Female: Reproduction, Power, and Change (pp. 65-72). Mouton Publishers.

Photo by Bethany Beck on Unsplash

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