Matrescence – we all experience it so why have we never heard of it before?
Physical and emotional changes
We are all aware of the physical and emotional changes that a teenager must endure. We are sympathetic to the hormonal rollercoaster of emotions and the Kevin and Perry like tantrums. We excuse the midday lay in’s, the greasy hair and skin and talk openly about accepting and loving their rapidly changing bodies. We do all this as the effects of adolescence is not just accepted it is part of our vocabulary. It is a given, not a possibility, that our beautiful babies are going to soon sprout hair in places they could never imagine. We know this happens, we prepare them for it, and we allow them some leeway when in the thick of it.
However, did you know that there is another time in our lives when these physical and emotional changes also occur? For many years’ mothers have come to me to receive support. They might be feeling overwhelmed, they might be struggling with a rapidly changed body, they might be experiencing hormonal mood swings that would give my 13-year-old daughter a run for her money, they might be struggling to come to terms with their new identity or they might simply be feeling they cannot “cope” in the way they had hoped and feeling immense guilt about it.
Transition when becoming a parent
It became very clear to me that all mothers experience an immense transition when becoming a parent. The evidence was right before my eyes and incredibly obvious that not one mother I have ever spoken to has a mind and body that hasn’t changed in some way since before becoming a mother. Much like I have never witnessed a healthy person that hadn’t had a physical and emotional transition from childhood to adulthood. Every parent has had a transition from pre-parenthood to post parenthood, but I struggled to put a name to it making it very hard to explain to parents how normal their struggle was.
I decided to do a little bit of research one day, maybe someone else had also seen the uncanny similarities between new parents? During my search, I stumbled across a fabulous TED talk: “A new way to think about the transition to motherhood” presented by Dr Alexandra Sacks, an American psychotherapist specialising in pregnancy and early motherhood. She too had witnessed the similarities and was also struggling to find a label to reassure mothers.
During her research she came across an anthropological study from 1973 written by Dr Dana Raphael, this study described everything that we had been witnessing and had incredibly labelled this transition – MATRESCENCE. This word was a revelation for Dr Sacks and a revelation for me. Much like we can use the word adolescence to describe the birth of an adult we can use the word Matrescence to describe the birth of a mother.
Why was this word not part of our everyday vocabulary?
But it also got me thinking if this word has been in existence since 1973 why was this not part of our everyday vocabulary? Why were we not comfortable with this transition but comfortable with other transitions? Why do we still believe that we have to be the perfect mother? Why do we expect new mothers to be full of joy and confidence during such a difficult time?
Not only are we dealing with our own changes, but we are responsible for our babies, we have to juggle our physical and emotional transitions without the luxury of sleeping until midday and often without support systems in place to provide comfort when the emotional rollercoaster becomes too overwhelming. Surely, we should be more lenient or at least equally sympathetic towards new mothers and teenagers?
Part of my role as a Maternal Wellbeing Coach is to provide an understanding for mothers as to why they feel the way they do and help them discover their own reasons for their struggles. I must say that the vast majority of difficulties during this time is due to not understanding and not being sympathetic towards Matrescence and its attributes. Just like adolescence, we all experience it, some find it harder than others and that is OK. So, let’s try and talk about it, let’s try and normalise it and let’s try and give Matrescence the respect and place in our vocabulary that it deserves.