Last year, in 'Matrescence to Mothermind: The Birth of the Mother' (read it here) we delved just a little into just what the phenomenon of matrescence is, and how varied and transformative this life-passage can be for mothers.
A year on we wanted to come back to matrescence, dive a little deeper and explore five new but related themes.
Together we will begin to unpick just what makes matrescence different for all mothers, but why it also leaves no woman unchanged.
1. How different your life looked like ‘before’ might play a role in how big matrescence feels for you.
One of the most confronting aspects of matrescence is the sensation of loss – something many women are unprepared for as there is so much focus on the new addition.
Motherhood often initially brings with it feelings of a total loss of control – both perceived and real, as life inevitably becomes dictated by a new world order – the clock can feel as if it operates on feeding times, sleeping times. We can feel like we lose the reins, and like life is happening to us. The starkness of that transition and the degree of loss felt is often shaped a lot by how life looked before - if you were routine driven already, or if life was very spontaneous and relaxed; how much time you spent at home versus how social you were.
It is also impacted by whether or not our former life and relationships are ‘child friendly’ – whether you have trusted friends and family within your existing support network who are in a similar stage of life with young children. We know that matrescence is made easier when women are surrounded by other women undergoing the change – and it helps when a woman doesn’t have to find this support.
Typically, this aspect may feel easier when having a second, third season of matrescence – your life is usually already child-centric and hopefully peer relationships are in place, resulting in less of a shockwave!
2. Each mother-child relationship is unique, and really shapes matrescence.
We love the quote “The moment the baby is born, the mother is born also”. So just as we can’t know how we will ‘be’ or ‘feel’ as a mother until we are one, meeting and growing to know our child also shapes what our transition into motherhood will be like. The “mother-child dyad” is an “intimate biological, social and psychological relationship”, and like any relationship, it is two-directional, a constant feedback loop which means a baby shapes who a mother will be, just as much as a mother shapes who a baby will be.
We know that every child is, of course, unique, and that even babies with the same parents are born with different temperaments, sleep needs, and feeding abilities. It is really important to realise that different babies will need or bring forward different things in a mother, and that a smoother or bumpier start to motherhood may very well be shaped by a baby who is less or more sensitive, respectively. This has definitely been the case in my own matrescence experience: it has only been through having an ‘easy’ baby the second time that I’ve appreciated just how much more intense my baptism into motherhood was than it could have been.
The increasing awareness, dialogue, resources and support around matrescence is truly fantastic. But, because of the uniqueness of the experience for every woman, there is an inescapable element of needing to go through it in order to know just what tools and supports you may need. But, vitally, there are things we can do for the women in our lives to help them feel held and supported, and to free up some space and energy to allow them to do the very important work of bonding with their baby while reconciling a whole new identity.
The gift of time – time not spent on cooking domestic chores, or not having to go in search of information or things they will most likely need in the moment they already need them – is the most precious gift we can give.
There is always that fine line we need to tread in not unnecessarily “scaring” women during pregnancy, but also ensuring there are things in place or on hand to support the new mothers in our lives. A helpful list of resources including Instagram accounts or podcasts that give supportive, evidence-based and appropriate information on postnatal mental health, breastfeeding, and physical recovery is a great starting point.
At OMM Label, we designed our Breastfeeding Essentials Box with this in mind, helping to free new mothers from some of the mental load of breastfeeding, by making sure they have the basics they need.
Leading thinkers in the matrescence space have said that while matrescence begins with pregnancy and continues long after birth – it is not a one-time-only, first-child-only experience. With each child a woman has, she undergoes a similar tidal wave of hormones and changes to her mind, body and spirit, and so too she will feel her role and identity as mother shifting again. While perhaps a mother’s introduction to motherhood as a first-timer is the largest transition, it doesn’t mean that matrescence has now happened and that the birth of subsequent children will be easier or without further changes to the woman and how she sees herself and the world.
Subsequent pregnancies tend to be harder on the mother’s body. And while most women say they feel their heart and capacity for love grow to make space for another child, the fact remains that our energy is finite. Additional children require mothers to divide themselves to meet multiple sources of need, and typically that means that mentally, women don’t have the processing time that comes with the first experience of matrescence. You may have heard people say that new, first-time mothers try to reconcile their new self with who they used to be, before children – whereas after subsequent children we see a further dilution of the pre-children woman, leaving many women feeling even less like “themselves”. This can be jarring – especially if women weren’t expecting to feel such feelings the second (or third etc.) time around.
5. You might settle into ‘mothermind’ (the mindset/mental load of mothers), but it actually is always increasing - which is why it might always feel overwhelming.
Just as matrescence is in essence a ‘cumulative’ transition that increases with each season of motherhood, the mindset that we like to call ‘mothermind’ is also always on the rise. We talked about how women find the mental load of motherhood one of the most challenging parts to begin with – suddenly taking on the bulk of the mental responsibility for the new infant (and all that this brings – feeding timing, weight gain, appointments) and, for the family. But unlike many things, this is not something that gets easier the longer you do it. The reality is that mothermind increases exponentially with the age of the child and with each new child. Many seasoned mothers, even decades into motherhood, would point to the mental load as incredibly taxing, and often overwhelming – so it’s important to highlight that if it’s not feeling easier with time, then you’re normal.
When we think about it, mothermind was one of the reasons OMM Label was created – to make dressing yourself one less thing to worry about.
The matrescence dialogue is growing, and with it have emerged women who have made it their life’s work to study this transition, share their knowledge and educate others. We are seeing psychologists, sociologists, coaches/mentors emerge who specialise in this area with books, courses, and even podcasts dedicated to the subject.
By Lauren - @saidnomumever