Becoming a Mum – Matrescence

This blog is based on a talk given by one of our instructors, Lucy Wylde. Lucy is a Matrescence Activist having studied with Amy Taylor-Kabbaz – a mother of 3, Author, Journalist and Podcaster

We all know that being pregnant or having a baby causes huge change – physically and emotionally. But the vast scope of that change is not something that is commonly fully explored or understood, even by mums themselves. And that can make the transition into motherhood and beyond quite difficult for many women to deal with – because if you don’t understand and can’t describe how you’re feeling, then it’s very hard to come to terms with how you feel, and even harder to communicate how you feel to the people in your life who might be able to help you.

Many pregnant and new mums find that they feel massively different in a range of unexpected ways. Emotions, how you look, relationships, priorities, lifestyle and lots more all shift, and this can bring a host of new, conflicting feelings:

  • You might experience a sudden paradox of the love you feel for your child and the desire to be with them all the time, but also the need for time for yourself – which you could feel guilty for wanting.
  • You might feel an ‘inner split’ of the mum you want to be, but also the woman you used to be pre-children – whether in your career or social life.
  • You might marvel at the power of your body for growing and delivering a baby, but find the physical changes of having your stomach, boobs, posture, even your feet really hard to handle. You might struggle with how you look and feel after having a baby.
  • You might find that becoming a mum highlights things about yourself that you previously had no idea about – and you might not like all of it.
  • Your social structure might change as family and friends also struggle with the changes in you as a person; your new priorities and the time constraints of having a baby.
  • Your economic standing and independence might change – you might find yourself reliant on a partner to support you, which can be difficult to deal with.
  • You might be earning less and have systemic issues relating to maternity pay and childcare to deal with.
  • You might feel far more emotional than ever before. Motherhood changes the ‘me’ to the ‘we’ and opens you up to huge sensitivity to other people’s situations and emotions. That explains those unexpected tears when watching the news, or a cute advert on television which would never have triggered you before.

Becoming a mum is hard, and all these feelings, especially combined with the new levels of tiredness, can be profound. The good news though is that:
a) you’re not alone – many, many other women experience this huge developmental passage in their new life as a new mum and the emotional overwhelm that can come with it, and
b) there is a growing school of thought around what this transition into motherhood is, and how it affects us. That school of thought has termed the transition “matrescence” – and it’s fascinating! Moreover, knowing more about it can help prepare you for the changes that motherhood brings so that it’s not a total shock to the system!

Matrescence can be likened to adolescence – the transition of a child into teenage years and adulthood between the ages of around 10-19. It is the transition into motherhood, but it goes way beyond that, starting from pre-conception and constantly changing as your child develops and grows.

The term was coined by Dana Raphael way back in 1973 to describe the biological and spiritual transition to motherhood and the continual changing needs of children. But it is still nowhere near as widely recognised as it needs to be in order to help women to adapt to this huge change in their lives. We need to honour this change in ourselves and take time to acknowledge how we’re different as expecting or new mums. If we do this then it will make the transition easier to manage, and also to communicate all these new feelings to those around us.

Some people can experience the transition to motherhood as a trauma. A trauma doesn’t have to be a big, dramatic event – but it is literally described as when the reality of something you’re expecting is completely different to how you imagined and planned for it. Motherhood definitely ticks that box! So it doesn’t have to be something like a traumatic birth which makes your experience of motherhood harder – although that can contribute to how you experience your matrescence.

Your matrescence will also depend on who you thought you were and your sense of identity before having a baby, how many children you have and how many other demands are being placed on your time and emotional capacity, and what kind of support system you have around you. You’ve probably heard the well-known phrase ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child. We were not designed to have babies alone, but to have a wide network of other adults around us who could help us.

And it’s certainly true that new parents need far more support than they receive. And maybe it’s not always possible to return to that ‘village’ set up of other generations and cultures. But perhaps a wider and deeper understanding of this tremendous shift that we go through as new mums – by the women themselves but also by partners, families, friends and society as a whole – will go some way to helping new mums adapt without a huge internal struggle.