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Maybe you’ve heard the term. Or maybe it’s brand new to you. Either way, you might be wondering: what is Matrescence?
First coined in the 1970s by anthropologist Dana Raphael, the word is rapidly growing in popularity, but the meaning is something you know well, mama.
When we think of becoming a mother, most of us conjure up images of pregnancy or the birth of a child. But when your child is born, so are you: as “mom.” I will never forget when a mom friend first said to me, “your firstborn’s birthday is your “birth” day too, mama.”
This is the meaning of the term Matrescence. “The process of becoming a mother.” from the latin “mater” (mother) and “-escence” (becoming). It refers to the physical, emotional, and psychological changes that occur during pregnancy, childbirth, and the early postpartum period. Matrescence recognizes that becoming a mother is a profound transition that affects all aspects of a woman’s life.
Even today, our focus remains largely on the baby when we talk about parenting. But as a new mother, the changes you go through are all encompassing: physically, emotionally, mentally, socially. Even at a cellular level, we are not the same person after having children that we were before. For these reasons, new mamas need support more than ever during this crucial stage.
While we might all be familiar with the physical changes we encounter during this time, the emotional and psychological changes are often overlooked. It’s not all excitement, and that’s ok! Joy, fear, anxiety, stress, exhaustion and sadness are a normal part of the matrescence journey. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you! I remember feeling deep shame around my inability to bond with my first baby in the weeks following our traumatic delivery and prolonged NICU stay. It was only later that I learned that the changes in my body and brain were normal, and that there was help out there.
So how can you make your matrescence journey as smooth, rewarding, and memorable as possible, ensuring that you get the care and attention that you need? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Accept that “change” is the new constant, and give yourself grace.
This is a time of immense personal growth and transformation. You might find that your priorities and values have shifted: you’re reevaluating career choices, your relationship with your partner, friendships, your view on world events. You may develop new interests and passions, or experience a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. Take the time to explore these changes with curiosity rather than judgment.
2. Seek Out Support from Your Circle.
The transition to motherhood can also be challenging and stressful, particularly in the early postpartum period. Women may struggle with feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and isolation. Access to maternal health services and support from your partner and family/friends are key to help you navigate the challenges of motherhood. Your loved ones may not know you’re struggling unless you tell them, so don’t hesitate to speak up! We aren’t meant to parent alone. Make a list of a few people you can call in a pinch to help you, and talk to them in advance about what you might need.
3. Give Yourself a Break.
Parenting can be an amazing thing, but it’s also a job - especially in the early days. Like any job, you need breaks! Make sure you are planning at least 30 minutes a day to do something just for you: even if it means running a quick errand alone, enjoying a 5 minute skincare ritual, or locking the bathroom door and having a good cry (we’ve all done this one!). Allow yourself to feel the loss of the person you were before, and embrace the beauty of the new person you are becoming.
This will help you see that it’s okay, and even expected, to have ups and downs during this time. Every transformative experience in your life will be full of both positive and negative emotions, and motherhood may illuminate this more than any other change you’ve been through.
4. Reject “Bounce Back” Culture.
Prioritize rest and recovery, rather than pushing yourself to resume your pre-baby routines too quickly. Anti Bounce-Back Culture is about recognizing that every woman's postpartum journey is unique and valid. By challenging the unrealistic and harmful expectations placed on new mothers, we will create a more inclusive and empowering environment for all women. Remember that your changing body and mind are things to be celebrated, mama.
5. Pay Attention to and Protect Your Mental Health.
Do mental check-ins with yourself regularly. The stress and exhaustion we feel as a new mom can sometimes escalate to the point that it requires medical intervention. Know that this is completely normal - in fact, nearly 1 in 5 new moms will experience postpartum mental health struggles. Recognizing the signs of postpartum depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions is crucial for early intervention and support. Remember, access to maternal health services is available. We aren’t meant to parent alone.
Matrescence recognizes the profound transformation we undergo when becoming mothers. You grow, you change, you laugh and cry. Let’s strive to bring this term to the forefront of conversation as we support ourselves and other moms during this transition.