Matrescence – The word all Mothers need to know

October 20, 2022

Matrescence…I’d never heard of it before and It has literally transformed my life. It’s a word that every woman needs to know about and this is why…

I remember sitting in my hospital bed after giving birth to my little girl feeling like a completely different Woman. A Woman that I no longer recognised and had no idea how to be. All of a sudden, my world had been flipped upside down and I had landed in the most incredible, joyful and love-stricken place which also brought with it a new identity, a role which id never played before and responsibilities so big and important that it scared me.

I remember feeling out of my depth like I was (and still am) making it all up and that surely I should feel more natural at this. Once returning home and throughout the first year of my little girl’s life, the questions that kept reappearing in my mind were “Am I the only one that finds this hard?” And “Everyone else seems to just be getting on with it…why is it taking me so long to feel like myself again?” and “who am I now?”

I tried to talk to friends and family who were so supportive in their own way, but I was often met with silence, fixing comments like ‘you’ll feel more settled soon don’t worry’ or a concerned smile as though I should be loving every moment and be content and happy all of the time. A few asked – ‘are you ok? Do you need to speak to someone? The truth was that I did. 

I needed to speak and listen to other women who were honest, open and willing to share the unpleasant feelings and questions around motherhood. Who had been through this transformation and not found it easy. Who also questioned their identity and who didn’t enjoy every minute of being a mum. Who didn’t try to fix or correct it. I needed a village of women who understood and who held space and listened.

One of my good friends and fellow Matrescence activists brought my attention to a lady called Amy Taylor Kabbaz who recorded an episode on the Mother kind podcast. She spoke about Matrescence and her book Mama Rising.

I sat and cried. 

She understood. I wasn’t alone. And neither are you… 

Matrescence describes the transformation that we go through as we become a mother. It highlights the change that occurs in our identity and the profound effect that this new and exciting and overwhelming role has on our lives. 

Amy Taylor Kabbaz is a mama of 3, A Matrescence Activist and Author. Amy is one of the incredible Women leading the conversation around Matrescence and supporting thousands of women across the world as they navigate motherhood. Amy defines Matrescence as –

“The complete transformation and identity shift of a woman as she moves through motherhood – it affects us on many levels – psychological, social, emotional, physical, economic, cultural and spiritual”

Amy also shares that:

“When we become a mother, we split in two – the women that you used to be and the mother that you are becoming”

We are never the same again. It really is the birth of your baby and the birth of you too. This new version of you. 

There are many Women who are leading this conversation across the world. 

Dana Raphael, the Mother of Matrescence, first coined the word Matrescence in the mid 70’s. Dana was a Matrescence activist and Doula, an American medical anthropologist and Breast-Feeding Advocate. She said that- 

“The critical transition period that has been missed is Matrescence. The time of the Mother Becoming, or giving birth does not automatically make a mother out of a Woman. The amount of time it takes to become a mother needs study”

At times I remember the voice in my mind saying – “Surely I should find it easier than this. It should all come more naturally than this. Why don’t I know why she’s crying? I should know what to do…I’m no good at this”. 

Truth is it takes time…or it did for me to feel like I knew what to do. And then when I did, it would all change as my little girl grew and developed. I now know, it’s ok to feel like I don’t know what I’m doing because I don’t…and how would I? I’ve never done it before!  I am learning as I go and always will be. I am figuring it out day by day. I am a fantastic mum and so are you. 

Dr Aurelie Athan is a Clinical Psychologist in the USA and says: 

“A theory of Matrescence provides a de-stigmatising and agentic lens for mothers of all kinds to identify, explore, cope with and shape their destinies according to their own individual differences. The same gift was once given to adolescents who before were merely thought to be children going mad on their way to adulthood.

It also gave birth to a whole new field. Matrescence, while in its infancy, holds this same potential.”

Throughout my little girl’s first year, I remember thinking “I should be back to normal now and be feeling like myself again. I should have lost my baby weight by now. Surely, I should feel more settled by now. How long will it take for me to feel like me again?”  

I didn’t realise that it takes time to feel settled and that that is ok. The pressure on women to bounce back is huge and I felt it so many times throughout the first year of my little girl’s life. Now I trust in the process. 

When we become mothers, the way that we see ourselves and the way that we are seen changes. It’s like getting to know ourselves all over again. 

Matrescnece has been compared to Adolescence and Dr Alexandra Sacks is another Matrescence activist from the USA who says-

“Like adolescence, it is a transitionary period. Being pregnant is like going through puberty all over again: your hormones go nuts; your hair and skin don’t behave the way you’d like, and you develop a new relationship with a body that seems to have a mind of its own.

The difference? Everyone understands that adolescence is an awkward phase. During Matrescence people expect you to be happy while you’re losing control of the way you look and feel.”

It seemed so obvious to me once id heard Dr Alexandra Sax say this. It’s messy, it takes time, and we are so vulnerable. Yet we feel like we have to have it all figured out straight away.

Matresence gives us language to explain our feelings. It validates us. It acknowledges just how profound becoming a mama is and it gives us understanding.

Dr Athan says-

“It’s also important to know that words create worlds. And when we have a lack of language, and don’t know how to articulate our experience, and put into words what we are feeling, it makes the process incredibly difficult. We need words to heal”.

When we don’t talk about these feelings, when we self-silence because we think that we are the only ones feeling this way and that we should just be happy and content- we don’t just feel bad and blame ourselves, we feel like we are failing. 

Because it feels like we are the only ones ‘failing’, we become super mum. Amy Taylor Kabbaz says: 

“We don’t get angry…we get perfect”

We go for it. We don’t ask for help. We put more and more pressure on ourselves to cope, to appear ok and to present as super mum. To do all and be all to everyone because that is what a ‘good mum’ does. And in the meantime, we lose ourselves in the ‘shoulds’, the expectations and pressures that we place upon ourselves and that are placed upon us.  

We spin. We keep going and going and we burn out.

Matresncece asks us to slow down. To take our time. To accept this time as challenging and to be kind to ourselves. To trust that this inner split and shift in identity will feel like home once again. That it’s much easier if we take off our perfect mama armour and be vulnerable, ask for help and do less…and that this is not weak or a sign of us not coping. That this is a sign of our strength.

Matrescence is ongoing throughout our motherhood journey. It changes and shifts just as we do with the different stages of development of our children and the birth of each child. We enter it again and again. It is the journey from this split identity, back to feeling whole, happy, content and empowered.

We can love our children and adore being a mama and we can find it hard. We can not want to be apart from them and want space too. We can feel all of this without guilt or shame.

My little girl is the making of me. I love her with every inch of my body. I am grateful for everything that I have been through because it means that I get to be her mama. I get to spend my days loving the most beautiful little girl I’ve ever met.

If you can relate to anything in this blog, please know that you are not alone and that there are words and research to validate and help us to understand the enormity of motherhood. I will be sharing so much more on Matresncece. I hope that it helps you as much as it helps me.

Lots of love 

Kelly xxx

Kelly offers 1:1 coaching and group coaching with FLY Mama.

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