I thought it was just me.
Just me who was struggling with motherhood, even though I’d planned for it. Just me who missed my life before baby, even though I knew it would be different.
Just me who saw a stranger in my reflection in the mirror, even though I hoped becoming a mom would change me.
I thought it was just me who felt guilty in the moments I expected to feel free. Just me who felt lost, alone, overwhelmed, and resentful when I thought motherhood would be filled with happiness, connection, appreciation, and direction.
And, I thought it just me who constantly compared myself to others leaving me feeling insecure about my ability to be a mother when I expected to feel reassured and confident because of maternal instincts.
Turns out it wasn’t just me. In fact, many, many women feel this way as they transition into motherhood and beyond.⠀
We plan for the arrival of our babies. We talk with friends and family who have kids, read books, and take classes. We research and purchase everything, and more, that our baby will need. We take care of our bodies and change our spending habits. We make decisions about how we will and will not parent. And, we talk with our partners about the things we will value and want to teach our new family member.
So why, with all of this preparation do we end up feeling so different than we expected?
It’s called Matrescence. And it’s defined as “The transformation into motherhood”.
Most people, including women, think that a mother is just a woman with the added responsibility of a child. The agreed-upon expectation from society is that this added responsibility and the associated demands will be quickly and easily be taken on by the woman because of maternal instincts.
Well, I’m here to tell you that this is a complete misconception. Becoming a mother is a time in a woman’s life when she goes through extreme physical, psychological, social, and emotional change.
Every woman, no matter how prepared she is for motherhood, experiences change as she becomes a mom. Some women are affected more by these changes than others simply because of her hormonal and chemical tolerances. Other factors that affect how we react to the process of becoming a mother include social and financial status, support, and pre-existing physical and mental health.
With the first baby and the babies that follow, a woman will grow, learn, and change both on an internal and external level in order to become the mother and woman she is destined to be.⠀Becoming a mother may seem like it happens instantly, but the truth is that a woman needs time to adapt to all the changes in her life both externally and internally.⠀
In 1973, medical anthropologist Dana Raphael coined the term Matrescence.
Since then, many other clinicians and academics have continued to research and expand her work.
Clinical Psychology and Matrescence
Aurielie Athan, is a Clinical Psychologist in Reproductive Psychology at the Teachers College at Columbia University. She is reviving Matrescence through graduate-level courses and certificate programs. Her working definition of matrescence which is;
“The process of becoming a mother. 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.”
Reproductive Psychiatry and Matrescence
Dr. Alexandra Sacks, is a Reproductive Psychiatrist and a leading expert on matrescence, she whose interest in this topic was spiked when;
“Women would regularly call her to ask if they had Postpartum Depression. Though they may not have met the diagnostic criteria for this condition, Postpartum Depression seemed to be the most familiar term they had on hand to frame their distress.
Dr. Sacks said they would often say the following to her; “I love my baby but I don’t have the right maternal instincts” or, “I’m not enjoying this, mostly I feel tired” or, “I feel so guilty because I wanted a baby more than anything, but sometimes I find myself feeling bored and even resentful.”
Dr. Sacks then began her mission to find an explanation for these women because telling them they weren’t clinically depressed was not helpful. After learning about and researching matrescence, Dr. Sacks states that “These descriptions of discomfort are natural to matrescence”.
Motherhood is a time of intense love, bonding you to your baby at a level you’ve never experienced before.
But the truth is, even with the role and identity as “mom”, you’re still a human being with needs, wants, and desires. You still have basic survival skills that are pushing you to eat and sleep. You are still an individual somewhere in there who wants to look good, have sex, see your friends, continue your career, cultivate meaningful relationships, and grow as a woman.
This is why it’s so necessary to allow time after the birth of your baby for you to grow, learn, and adapt to your new world the same way you allow your baby to do.
As you can clearly see, there is a secret that no one has told you about motherhood and that secret is Matrescence.
Remember whatever you’re feeling, thinking, wanting, or needing. It’s normal, natural, and one hundred percent expected.
You’ve got this mama.