Matrescence: the awkward adolescent phase of Motherhood

Updated: Aug 2

I recently came across the work of Alexandra Sacks, an American Psychiatrist who specializes in Women's mental health. She is especially known for her work around the pregnancy and postpartum period. She uses the stage of adolescence to aptly explain how pregnancy and becoming a mother is clumsy, awkward, unknown territory; where your mind, body and hormones are shifting drastically and you grapple with the unknown (post linked below). This resonated so deeply with me as I have been trying to find words to describe how it has felt to become a Mother and how I've had to navigate so much newness; in which I have felt underprepared and unsupported by society at large. I know this is true for so many new moms out there; heck, let's say new parents because it's certainly not limited to Mothers!


It has been really challenging trying to process and understand my own experience and I feel that comparing it to the period of adolescence is the most helpful description I have come across. In fact, I have noticed myself revisiting periods of my own adolescence during this time; reminiscing on various struggles I had to face during that vulnerable time period. Alexandra speaks into the phase of adolescence being a contentious time which both science and culture acknowledge and provide a depth of knowledge and support around what to expect about the physical and psychological changes adolescents experience in their bodies, the hormonal changes, relationship shifts, and identity crises. Women, too, go through radical transformations in these areas as they journey through pregnancy and postpartum yet there is not the same education nor acknowledgement around this period so the support is largely lacking for women as they experience this massive life transition.


The term 'matrescence' (term coined in 1973 by Dana Raphael) refers to this period of time and the radical shifts a pregnant and birthing person goes through; the 'rebirth' of a maiden to a Mother. Although there may be a term for it, there is very limited research on this period and not enough support for new parents navigating this phase. Often women will think that something is wrong, that perhaps they have postpartum depression or anxiety because of the big emotional challenges and hormonal surges which arise during this period. I want to share a little bit about my experience journeying through this phase to put things in perspective for anyone going through a similar period.


I, too, had moments of questioning whether my mental health was in check and each time I thought about the diagnostic criteria I would reassure myself that it wasn't that but then I would simultaneously question why was I feeling so out of sorts? The simple truth is that it's because it's a drastic life transition which impacts your body physically, your mind mentally and emotionally as well as your hormones. Everything feels different and new from life as you once knew it and this newness is hard to navigate. There is a real shift in ones identity and a need to recognize all the elements of ones old life that felt so safe and familiar. There is a grieving process of the past life that involves all stages of grief but not in the linear sense, rather randomly at unexpected (inconvenient) times. We move through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While this is totally normal to go through, if you are really struggling and you do feel that something is wrong or that you are not coping, please do reach out for support and guidance from a trained professional. Even if you are not necessarily diagnosed with any 'disorder' or illness, you will still benefit massively from support regardless!


For me, it felt like the awkward adolescent phase of Motherhood started dissipating around the time when my daughter was about 10 months old. This is when I felt confident in myself in the role of a Mother and more accepting of the drastic changes that had occurred. This left me with some room to start exploring my emotions more deeply and spending more quality time with myself but it was only after one year that I felt ready to start feeling my own grief more deeply and working through it. I also had some trauma around my daughters birth which I have been working through (am still currently working through) and that is not only in an emotional sense but in a very physical sense as well. I've had to look into different modalities of healing and explore ways to release trauma out of my physical body. While it has not been easy to start exploring these experiences, it feels so profoundly settling to be more connected to myself again and to allow myself to be held gently and compassionately by own own heart. I had missed that feeling deeply as for the beginning part of my motherhood journey it felt like all my care and energy was focused on my baby. I know I am not alone in this and if you can relate, | hope this can give you permission to lean in towards yourself more deeply and trust yourself to be there to support you in whichever ways you need most.


It feels important to also share the shame I experienced around struggling with this phase. There was a part of me who felt too proud to admit that I was struggling with this new role until I came to realize that it is totally normal to struggle. That, as Brene Brown would call it, it was a FFT (fucking first time) experience and that of course I am only human - I am allowed to have a tough time with letting go of the old and accepting something new. I believe moms put far too much pressure on themselves to hold it together (perhaps this is more of a reflection of what society expects of us) but I've found it is really important to intentionally dedicate time for falling apart within the safety of support; to have dedicated time to feel these big feelings and to make room for healing.


It is our responsibility as Mothers to do this, not only for ourselves but for our children too. What we do not heal within ourselves we unfortunately do pass on to our children in some capacity or another and so we don't only owe it to ourselves to take the time to heal but we owe it to them too. This is part of accepting the emotional responsibility of becoming a parent; you have to recognize that your choices around how you deal with your own emotional baggage will have an impact on your children. So spend the time, do the inner work, feel your feelings (big and small) and ask for the support that you deeply deserve. If you would like to reach out and work individually with me on this, I would love to hold space for you to feel safe and find healing within yourself. Whenever you feel ready, don't hesitate to reach out.



Click below to read Alexandra Sack's post on Psychology Today:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/motherhood-unfiltered/201904/matrescence-the-developmental-transition-motherhood

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