Matrescence is a concept you'd might like to know

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Matrescence is to becoming a mother as adolescence is to becoming an adult
The transition from woman to mother, from person to parent, from "me" to "us" with our offspring is a period of deep changes
When a child is born, also is a mother and a family

Your brain is unleashing a great amount of hormones, which causes your body to undergo irreversible changes and promotes you feeling a new wide array of emotions. This period of one's life it's usually accompanied by an identity scrutiny process and relationship changes, where you question many aspects of your life, your story and what you want for the future.


I think most people would guess that I'm describing adolescence. Floods of hormones, body changes, new emotions, relationship shifts and questioning of the self: sounds like the familiar period we went through after we were kids and before we became adults. But a transitional stage of physical and psychological development doesn't necessarily happen only once in a person's lifetime. Getting pregnant, birthing a child and/or becoming a parent also involve the changes described above.

Matrescence is a new field of study focused in the transitions of pre-conception, pregnancy and birth, surrogacy or adoption, to the postnatal period and beyond*

(*) Aurélie Athan, Ph.D. Source: www.matrescence.com


The genesis of Matrescence

I heard this concept for the first time about three weeks ago, while I was doing some investigation to reply reliably to the questions of an interview. I had been invited to join the podcast AmsterDames as a guest and I was thoroughly trying to find out what was the history of doulas. Turns out that the very same person who first coined the term "doula" also thought it was necessary to come up with a term that would allow to address the period of intense changes that results from becoming a parent. This concept-loving person was Dana Raphael, born in the United Stated shortly after the Great Depression, writer and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the Columbia University, NYC. According to my sources (Wikipedia), she spend some of her energy advocating for breastfeeding and also promoting the recruitment of people, 'non-medical care givers', who would support women during labor and after childbirth. In another words, she was a pioneer in the professionalization of birth companions and advocated for the importance of labor support. Without having read any of her books yet, I declare myself a Dana Raphael fan. Love forever.


The term this post is about appeared for the first time in her book "Being Female: Reproduction, Power, and Change" and Dana gave birth to it as follows:

The critical transition period which has been missed is Matrescence. The time of mother-becoming... Giving birth does not automatically make a mother out of a woman... The amount of time it takes to become a mother needs study.

Dana Raphael PhD; "Being Female: Reproduction, Power, and Change" published in 1975 by Mouton Publishers, The Hague USA



If Matrescence was a person, it would now be a toddler

In 2008 Aurélie Athan, a clinical psychologist and Ph.D. in Anthropology (yet again from Columbia University) applied the term to maternal mental health in an attempt to establish a theoretical paradigm for the psychology of mothers. The term Matrescence allowed to offer mothers a nonpathological description of their experiences at the same time as normalizing them.


Aurélie Athan described Matrescence in 2015 as "an experience of disorientation and reorientation marked by an acceleration of changes in multiple domains: physical, psychological, social, and spiritual"(**). I am fascinated by the scope of this definition because it's using space/time terms: orientation and acceleration. Orientation requires noticing several points: where one was, where one currently is and where one is going towards while acceleration tells us about changes in speed and direction related to time. I also love it because it acknowledges the changes is many aspects of a person's life, not only the visibly obvious physical changes that pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum entail for the body. The transition from individual to parent touches us deeply and may shift the perception we have of our priorities, our relationships, our wishes and fears, our hopes for the future and our frames of reference for the things we've done in our past. Most of the things we believe in might be challenged, all while we're probably seriously sleep deprived.


(**) Aurélie Athan, "Feminism & Psychology", February 2015


Another perspective

Molly Millwood is a psychologist and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology of the University of Montana. Her book "To Have and To Hold: Motherhood, Marriage & The Modern Dilemma" is born from both her experience as a therapist and her mothering of two sons. Its starting point is the idea that our society has romanticized the experience of motherhood and from there she explains how does that impact the way people experience parenting these days. She also reviews the incidence that a baby has in a couple's dynamic and provides very interesting insight over the non gestational parent's experience (the husband or partner). Her book I did read and I really enjoyed it. I was so impressed by her knowledge, eloquence, honesty and her boldness to challenge the status quo. I strongly recommend this book. Through it I learned about many different aspects and nuances of the experience of motherhood; the ones that are not so unfortunate to be considered cases of postpartum depression but that are very far from the picture-perfect idealization. Less than a month after I read her book I heard about Matrescence, and I couldn't believe she didn't use that word in her book! At least not enough so it would stick in my brain. Here is some of the jewels she expressed:


We're shaped by persistent myths about motherhood that sets up to criticize ourselves and to believe the illusion that everyone else is doing okay. We'd be so much better off if we knew to expect a full array of messy emotions in motherhood

Milly Millwood PhD; "To Have and To Hold: Motherhood, Marriage & The Modern Dilemma", published in 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers Inc, New York USA


The aftermath of knowing about Matrescence

There will be joy and there will be sorrow

If you've become a parent and find yourself entangled in mixed emotions or thinking 'this harder than I expected', know this: you are experiencing Matrescence. This is a crucial period of your life where it's normal to feel overwhelmed by all the deep and substantial changes happening inside, around and within you.


You are likely to fall in love with your child and find out a completely new dimension of love and devotion. You can experience joy, but maybe also other things. Sadness, sorrow, grief, confusion and exhaustion are all likely present in this period and more common than you (unfortunately) know.


You are not alone feeling like this and you're not an unfitted parent because you experience feelings besides joy. Motherhood is rewarding and heart melting but ALSO hard, confusing, messy and challenging. Be gentle to yourself, find the support you need and remember: this too shall pass.


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Sources

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dana_Raphael

  2. https://www.matrescence.com/

  3. http://www.pbbmedia.org/matrescence.html

  4. Milly Millwood PhD; "To Have and To Hold: Motherhood, Marriage & The Modern Dilemma", published in 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers Inc, New York USA


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