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Julia Sarewitz and Victoria Trinko met in a graduate school course specifically focused on the concept of matrescence. As they bonded over their shared interests, they found themselves wondering why the concept of recentering the mother wasn’t taught in prenatal courses or among their community. Together, they founded Seed Mother, an evidence-based maternal education program at Columbia University that explores the emotional, psychological, social, ecological, and spiritual dimensions of becoming a mother.
Victoria and Julia, what can you tell us about you?
We are both matrescence educators, researchers, and together we co-founded Seed Mother, an evidence-based maternal education program designed and researched at Columbia University. We met at Columbia where we both recently graduated from Teachers College with a Master of Arts in Psychology in Education and a concentration in Spirituality, Mind, and Body.
Julia: I am also a Shamanic practitioner at Journeys Meditation, mother to 3-year-old Nash, and have another baby due in a few days.
Victoria: I am a certified yoga teacher and an adoring aunt to my 3-year-old nephew Monty! I also have an Advanced Certificate in Sexuality, Women & Gender: Reproductive and Maternal Well-Being from Columbia University.
What motivated you both to create Seed Mother?
Julia: So much of what brought me to create Seed Mother with Victoria feels like it was bound in fate and serendipity. Having a son amid an unprecedented global pandemic, beginning graduate school, being a teacher and curriculum writer in my previous career, and having a deeply rooted personal spiritual and wellness practice… All of these things may seem unlinked but, upon reflection, it is clear that each one has been essential to my contribution to the creation of Seed Mother.
I had my son at the end of 2020, at a tricky time in the pandemic when there was no real data about COVID’s effects on babies and children. I chose to stay very isolated to protect my newborn, at least until more information became available, at a time when many new moms tend to already feel isolated. So, I became a mother without really having anyone else to reflect back to me whether I was doing it “right”, or whether the path of my mothering journey was “normal”. At about 7 months postpartum, I enrolled in the first course of my graduate school experience, The Mother-Child Matrix, taught by Dr. Aurélie Athan, who is a Reproductive Psychologist and a Research Professor in Clinical Psychology at Teachers College. This is where I was introduced to the concept of matrescence. I remember feeling so relieved and empowered by everything she spoke about - that my matrescence is unique to me, that the crux of the course was really to re-center the mother. I felt I was given full permission to be me, exactly how and where I was; and not only that this permission was an option, but it really was the only option: to allow my matrescence to be what it is.
As a Shamanic practitioner, a lifelong teacher, and, at the time, a graduate student in the SMBI program, I felt a strong calling to bring this wisdom above the surface to breathe and be seen. I felt that my personal wellness practices really buoyed me during my postpartum period- I don’t know what I would have done without them. And, as I reflected on this and the impact that that initial matrescence course had on me, I wondered why this wasn’t taught in prenatal courses, or even via community connections, from mother to mother. The next semester I enrolled in a workshopping practicum in which we were required to partner with another student. As I perused a list of my classmates’ interests, I noticed someone named Victoria was interested in maternal mental health and well-being. And this is how the fates brought me to Victoria - my trusted, utterly brilliant ally and partner- and where we planted the seed for our company. Her passions for maternal wellness, transformational education, and spirituality come from different sources than mine, and yet our aspirations and goals intersect so perfectly. We are like Yin and Yang in every aspect of what we do with Seed Mother. That’s what makes us such a natural and whole fit as partners, and why our matrescence education offering strikes such a keen balance between heart and mind.
Victoria: What led me to create Seed Mother was largely inspired by an experience of loss, rather than one of bringing in new life. The same week that I was accepted into the MA program in Psychology in Education: Spirituality, Mind, and Body program at TC, I lost my brother very unexpectedly - the synchronicity of which was not lost on me. Experiencing this loss completely upended my world - however, as I moved through my grief, I found that my journey of loss was also a journey of personal growth. A journey that broke my heart, but that also broke me open to new perspectives and new ways of being in the world.
Being in the SMB program at this time was an instrumental part of what allowed me to be transformed by my grief, rather than stay stuck in it. It provided me with a safe container to acknowledge and process my experience, the tools to more easily navigate it, and the permission to accept wherever I was in it. Through this, I developed a profound understanding of the transformative nature of major life transitions. Simultaneously, I started to develop a serious interest in maternal psychology. While I’m not yet a mother myself, I observed firsthand many of the challenges faced by new mothers today when my sister and best friend became mothers during the early days of the COVID pandemic. However, the turning point came when I discovered Dr. Aurélie Athan's work, particularly her Mother-Child Matrix course. I couldn’t quite understand or explain it, but there was something about her work that resonated deep within me.
Enrolling in her class during my first semester at TC was pivotal in illuminating a path forward for me and helped me connect the dots between my personal experience and my professional passions. I realized so much of what I was learning about becoming a mother mirrored my own experience of losing my brother, including the feelings of disorientation, grief, loneliness, and loss of identity that often accompany both of these experiences.
At this same time, I met Julia and we immediately connected over our shared passion for matrescence. Through our workshop practicum, we became partners and brought our commitment to supporting others through their transformative journeys to life. Julia's unique background as a mother, conscious educator, and shamanic practitioner was an invaluable part of what made us such a successful partnership. Together we began to build a curriculum and create a safe space for mothers to navigate the transformative experience of new motherhood.
Julia, how does Matrescence’s Mission to “mother the mother” resonate with you as a mom?
In one of our recent Seed Mother workshops, a participant shared something that continues to resonate with me. She said that, yes, being a mother “takes a village” but noted that, in our current culture and society, modern mothers often have to pay for that village. In the US, at least how my family and community are structured, many people don’t live within a village to teach them how to become a mother. And there is such an overwhelming amount of information and opinion floating around on the internet and social media- much of it very well-intentioned, but often not helpful- that sometimes I just give up on trying to stay informed or intentional about the choices that might best serve me as a mother.
This is how Matrescence Skin’s mission to “mother the mother” feels so hugely impactful and helpful to me. I trust that the company has done its due diligence to create safe and self-honoring skincare products, so I don’t have to think about it. This may sound small or insignificant, but to take something off of my plate, particularly in the invaluable name of self-care, so that I might be able to feel a little bit more peaceful or beautiful or connected to Self, that has a radical impact. This idea of “mothering the mother” is something that I thought about often after having my son. Matrescence is a time in which we are “becoming”, we are letting go of old parts of ourselves to make room for the new parts to emerge. Something I had been practicing long before becoming a mother, through my Shamanic practices, was to listen to and care for past parts of myself: all of the little girls in me who sometimes need extra love, care, and support. So, as a new mother, if I felt lost for a time, or overwhelmed, or confused, I would talk to these younger parts of myself. In a way, I became a mother to myself as much as I became a mother to my son. I think it’s not only possible but essential to turn the concept of “mothering the mother” back onto ourselves. It’s incredibly empowering.
Lastly, there is absolutely a collective amnesia when it comes to that first postpartum year. It can be disheartening to share about something you’re going through and have someone’s response be something like, “You’ll get through it; we all do,” or “Just wait, it gets worse before it gets better.” This societal narrative to just white-knuckle it because it eventually gets better can make a new mom totally shut down, not even want to ask for help, particularly in something secondary to their child’s needs. Matrescence Skin’s mission of “mothering the mother” reflects back to a new mom that, no, you do not have to grin and bear it, yes, you do deserve something luxurious, and, yes, your needs at this moment in time, right now, are important.
What is your favorite part about motherhood? What is the most challenging part?
My favorite part about motherhood is seeing how my son has brought out completely new personas in the people closest to us. I see not only how he grows and changes and becomes something new every day, but I see the same in my husband, whose joy, groundedness, and spirit have grown exponentially as my son does; the same goes for my parents as they have become grandparents; in my sisters and in-laws. Motherhood is an epic reminder of the butterfly effect that just one life has on everything around it. It’s a rule of nature. The most challenging part of motherhood is that it never ends. With every drop of expanded love that comes from it, so exists the many shadow sides, like worry or fear. Motherhood is a LOT... another rule of nature.
What helps you find gratitude in your journey - especially on the hard days?
Victoria: In the months following the loss of my brother, I really struggled to return to my gratitude practice. It was hard to recognize the moments of joy and happiness amidst the pain, sadness, and loss of meaning I felt in his absence. However, I had enrolled in another course during my first semester at TC called Positive Psychology - a course which delved into the field of psychological theory and research, aimed at enhancing subjective well-being and exploring what makes life worth living. Initially resistant, I gradually noticed how the theories and practices began to alter my perception of the world. One pivotal assignment involved taking the VIA Character Strengths Survey, to help us identify our unique gifts. It revealed that my top character strengths were "Love of Learning" and "Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence." By recognizing these strengths, I found it was a bit easier to uncover moments of gratitude when I viewed my day through the lens of the things that make me feel more connected, authentic, and alive. It allowed me to see the world in a new way and re-infused my life with meaning.
Even on the most challenging days, during moments of darkness, I remind myself to apply that lens, if only for that moment. It helps me always find something to be grateful for - whether it’s as simple as a poignant quote from a book that helped me learn or connect a bit deeper to my inner self, or the ethereal beauty of the setting sun piercing through the clouds that I just happened to notice on my walk home.
Julia: Gratitude is a practice. We notice what we look for, so why not look for the things you’re grateful for?
Julia, what is the best advice you received about parenting and who did you get it from?
I think this expands far beyond motherhood, but that everything is a cycle. Something is either in a state of growth or decay and it is impossible for anything to stay the same. This helps me get through the harder times, whether it may be a lack of sleep, unexpected social changes, or adjusting to new physiological realities. It also helps me to stay present in the moment when something is utterly perfect- this won’t last, so let’s drink in every drop of it.
What struggles have you encountered finding balance? How do you navigate them?
In my first pregnancy, I was extremely attached to feeling in control, and that kept me really out of balance. It took a lot of hard lessons during that part of my matrescence journey to teach me how important it is to let go of control and to just let things unfold. I am currently 39 and a half weeks pregnant and am really practicing letting go of control over wanting to know when the baby is going to come, worrying about what position he is in, or creating an absurdly detailed care plan for my 3-year-old son for when I am giving birth (which I definitely did, lol). But, to stay better in balance, I ask for help (my dad flew here early to help), I remember my ritual personal practices, and I allow the feelings that come up to be there, rather than resisting them. All of these are learned practices.
How is Seed Mother different from other maternal education programs out there?
As we know, matrescence is a multifaceted journey that encompasses a multitude of profound changes in the biological, social, psychological, ecological, and spiritual domains. Navigating these changes and meeting the demands of new motherhood, especially against the added pressure mothers have to meet societal expectations, can lead to feelings of distress and disorientation. This is actually a very normal and characteristic part of any developmental push - but unfortunately, many mothers today find themselves unprepared for these changes and lack the language to articulate their experiences, which can keep them feeling stuck in it. The absence of adequate maternal support structures in modern-day society further exacerbates these challenges - mothers are often left to navigate this transition entirely on their own, which again can prevent them from moving through the distress and disorientation towards integration and reorientation. Many have argued this may be one of the reasons why we are seeing such high rates of perinatal mood disorders and experiencing such a substantial maternal mental health crisis today. To address this issue and offer a solution that recognizes, educates, and guides new mothers through this profound transition, we developed Seed Mother.
Seed Mother is an evidence-based maternal education program focusing on the transition to motherhood that we designed, developed, and researched during our time at Columbia. Unlike traditional prenatal or childbirth education courses, Seed Mother delves beyond the physical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. It explores the emotional, psychological, social, ecological, and spiritual dimensions of becoming a mother, acknowledging that this process continues well beyond the arrival of the baby. In our program, mothers gain a wealth of new knowledge, engage in self-reflective ritual practices, and connect with others to share their experiences. This fosters their sense of self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-empowerment. We empower mothers to shift and expand their perspective, build resilience, and support their personal growth during the journey of new motherhood.
What sets Seed Mother apart is its strong foundation in science and the backing of our robust academic and professional experience. During our graduate studies, we had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Athan at her Maternal & Reproductive Psychology Lab at TC. Our graduate-level education and training, combined with our professional backgrounds (Julia in instructional design + curriculum and Victoria in communications), provided us with the unique ability to translate theoretical insights and research findings into programs that enhance maternal health literacy and effectively address the diverse needs of mothers today. We are also in the process of conducting a research study through the lab under the guidance of Dr. Athan to measure the effectiveness of the Seed Mother intervention in improving maternal well-being and reducing maternal stress. While we're still analyzing the results, the early findings, both qualitative and quantitative, are very promising and have only continued to reaffirm the importance and impact of this work!
Victoria, what do you want the reader to take away from this?
Preparing for and/or better equipping oneself for the changes and challenges of new motherhood is both possible and essential. Simply just learning about matrescence can give us the language to actually be able to name our unique experience of the transition to motherhood - and offer us a new frame of reference for understanding it. Beyond that, there is a lot we can do to build our toolbox - including building out our ritual practice and social support networks. And these are exactly the kinds of things you can learn if you take our workshops - remember that knowledge is power! Check us out online and on Instagram to learn more about our upcoming offerings.