Today I want to talk to you about a very important term for all mothers, although still uncommon and unknown to many. I’m talking about matrescence. I know you’re thinking, what is she talking about? I’m talking about Matrescence, the birth of a mother. The term was coined by the anthropologist Dana Raphael in 1973, the same woman who first defined the role of Doula. Years later (2008) it was popularized by perinatal psychologist Aurelie Athan, to define the incredible transformation that motherhood entails and to make it easier for women to feel more supported and understood as they blossom as mothers.
“The critical transition period that has been missed is the Matrescence. The time to become a mother. Giving birth does not automatically make a woman a mother. You have to study the time it takes to become a mother.”
– Dana Raphael.
The support in this critical period is essential for the well-being of the mother. Either by family, friends, couples, doulas, lactation consultants, or trusted health personnel. In most cases, mothers are required to be able to handle everything alone, and this can often cause a lot of anxiety, or even worse, postpartum depression. It is not natural to be able to do everything in a postpartum period. We used to live in a tribe, where wise women accompanied us at this time to teach us how to take care of our babies. When we often saw one or several women around us breastfeeding, when we slept with the baby next to us and mothers were not judged for following their instincts. Although it is not only instinctive, becoming a mother is a constant learning experience.
We go through a morning period, for who we used to be before giving birth, for our old habits, for missing moments for ourselves, and for many more things that are personal to each mother. Matrescence comes with a certain uneasiness or desolation, hence the similarity with the word “adolescence”. In both phases of life, there is a great physical, hormonal and emotional change. I do not want to say that it is a negative phase since there is a huge rise in oxytocin after childbirth. Nature is smart and knows that you need this love hormone to create a strong bond with your baby, and thus ensure their survival. This attachment is incredible, and even after delivery, you and your baby are still one being. But now, instead of feeling them inside your belly, they are on top of you, crying, nursing at all hours to increase milk supply, peeing and pooping, and waking up every hour. This all sounds super difficult, and it is. I’m not going to deny it, nor invalidate the mothers (and fathers) who are having a hard time right now. Motherhood can be very enjoyable, and at the same time very challenging.
The focus after giving birth is usually on the baby, and the mother is often left behind, after having all the attention during the pregnancy. Here I repeat, the mother and the baby are one being. If the mother is not well, the baby is not well, and vice versa. Being able to become aware of the existence of this change – Matrescence – can already generate a great change in our vision and experience of this new motherhood. Our society thinks that if you’re not super happy after having your baby, something is wrong and it’s out of the ordinary. Shall I tell you something? It is the most normal thing in the world to have mixed emotions. Don’t feel bad for feeling bad. Your feelings are valid. Let yourself feel all the emotions since each of them is part of this transformation.
“When people are more aware of their emotions, they can have more control over their behaviors. So even when the focus remains on the baby, understanding the psychology of pregnant and postpartum women can help promote healthier parenting. Mothers with greater awareness of their own psychology may be more empathic with their children’s emotions.”
– Alexandra Sacks, M.D.
The conclusion that I have drawn after my own matrescence, reading stories, and talking with new mothers, is that when we return to our mammalian being and trust our instincts, everything becomes easier. Let us normalize the matrescence. Let’s normalize co-sleeping and breastfeeding on demand without a schedule. Let’s normalize feeling our emotions, both happy and sad. Let’s normalize asking for help, and admitting not being able to do everything without feeling guilty. Our duty as a society is to accompany the new families so that they feel totally supported and so that the mothers can live their matrescence in the most positive way possible.