The word ‘Matrescence’ was first used in the 1970s by medical anthropologist Dana Raphael. The term describes the psychological birth of a mother, much like adolescence, which is also a time of transition, shifting identities, relationships and hormonal changes.
More recently the American Reproductive Psychiatrist, Alexandra Sacks has reintroduced this term in a piece she wrote in the New York Times called ‘The Birth of a Mother’ in an attempt to plant it firmly into our vocabularies. There are many mothers who struggle with the challenges that can arise from their new identity. Motherhood is an all-encompassing developmental transition, both physiologically and psychologically and I believe it deserves our attention and awareness.
Dr Sacks describes there being 4 key components to the period of matrescence.
1) Changes in family dynamics
When two become three. The parental couple will no longer exist in the way in which it did previously and this can take a lot of working through. Roles will need to be renegotiated and disagreements often arise as your ideas about parenting become a reality.
2) Maternal ambivalence
Sacks refers to this as the ‘push and pull’ that many mothers experience as they try to balance the often competing demands of being a mother (and partner). This ambivalence is a very normal part of being a mother, yet one which often leads to maternal guilt and shame.
3) Fantasy v reality
Ideas about motherhood/parenthood develop both pre and postnatally, often based on our own experiences during childhood. These ideas often differ between mother and father too. Sometimes when the fantasy or the image of the baby (or motherhood) differs from the reality of what is presented this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and helplessness.
4) Guilt and shame
When we set ourselves up to achieve unrealistic standards or when we seek to become the perfect mother we are often setting ourselves up for disappointment. Women are frequently presented with images in the media which portray the perfect vision of motherhood and when we do not match up to this unobtainable image it can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.
I think it can be enormously helpful for women to have a term to describe what they are experiencing and to reassure them that this is a very normal phase of development. What women need at this time is support, empathy, connection and understanding. Talking and sharing your experiences with other mums can help to change the dialogue on maternal mental health. It’s something we are hugely passionate about at the Mummy Space!
Written by Charity Moss