What is Matrescence?
Matrescence is a term that explains the physical, psychological and emotional changes women go through in the process of becoming a mother. Similar to adolescence it doesn’t start and end at any particular time for women, but is an ongoing transformative process that continues to unfold.
When I look back on my own journey to becoming a mother I see that I went through a radical inner transformation when I gave conceived that is still unfolding now. Its hard for me to understand the impact that these five years have had on me. Having my daughter has allowed me to get more attuned to myself, to communicate differently, to hold better boundaries and to love more than I ever believed was possible.
It’s also stretched me to the limits of what I thought I could cope with and at many points I’ve felt at breaking point. During that first year after birth I was hugely under-resourced and I believe that was because I wasn’t aware of the impact of matrescence. Many believe that the term post partum depression is only used so much because of the lack of awareness of matrescence. It’s hard to understand what isn’t spoken about after all.
“When a baby is born, so is a mother” Alexandra Sacks
The term matrescence was coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael in 1973 and has been championed by many others including Aurélie Athan and Alexandra Sacks, yet is still majorly overlooked by the medical system and modern day society at large. There are new scientific findings that are proving the validity of this transformation. These include high levels of cortisol levels in the bodies of mothers when looking after children alone and the doubling in size of the amygdala in the brain (the danger zone that keeps us on high alert) continuing for months after birth.
*Interestingly this isn’t limited to women but found in men too if they are the main caregivers questioning if we also need to be championing the term patrescence.
There is a common misconception around people that having time off to look after a baby is akin to relaxing time and a holiday from our mundane everyday life. The reality is extremely different and it makes you realise this is not a job to be done alone but a role to be shared within a larger community.
If we compare the expectations we give to those during adolescence then we realise how we’re setting mothers and parents up for failure. I believe if we can start talking more openly about what matrescence is and offer more support to those in this transition then we can reduce stress and its effects, preventing trauma in both parents and children.
Imagine a world that celebrates a woman conceiving and allows her to feel bonded with other women who have already made that transition. They begin to share stories, resources and tools to navigate this challenging and hugely rewarding time. Imagine a society that has the infrastructure to offer her the support financially, emotionally and physically throughout the early years of her child's life. Imagine if we all viewed this journey into parenthood as one of the most sacred rites of passage that exists in our lifetimes and we give it the space and support it deserves.
I set up my mother’s circle It Takes A Village as a vehicle for women to feel supported at all stages of their motherhood journey. Dates for the next events can be found here http://melissamaouris.com/it-takes-a-village
If you’re interested in learning more about matrescence I recommend following Aurélie Athan and and Alexandra Sacks and Nicki McCahon.