Matresence- what even is it and why is it NECESSARY for new mum’s to know about it?

Matresence- what even is it and why is it NECESSARY for new mum’s to know about it?

I had never heard this word until a few months ago, but so many times I had spoken to friends, family, even strangers at the checkout about my experience with it.  And so many seasoned mothers would say “YES! I remember going through that too, what was that?? I had no idea it was normal and that there was a word for it!” In fact, these women, myself included, wondered instead if they might be depressed, suddenly anxious with no real reason, lonely or even crazy. But no, it was the season of matrescence.

What even is it??

In simple terms, defined by Dana Raphael in 1973, matrescence is the process of becoming a mother. It’s the physical, psychological and emotional changes you go through after the birth of your child.

But for SO many women, the process is not simple at all. I like to call it the tug of war transition from woman to mother. It’s the constantly conflicting emotions and feeling of loss that is so difficult to put into words-because I didn’t really visibly lose anything, I very clearly gained something, something so precious in the form of a beautiful, loud, crying, tiny (9lb 10oz is tiny, right??) human.

Motherhood transformed my identity in ways I had no idea it could and sometimes I felt so lost trying to find ‘me’ again. I was still me, inside in my head, I still had the same interests, the same quirky, random and debatably inappropriate humour (hidden under layers of exhaustion and overwhelm), the same house (hidden beneath blankets, nappies, endless folding and all things tiny), the same favourite colour…but goodness-my body, my hormones, my new normal, even my car, my whole life had really changed – and drastically!  I felt betrayed by my body: specifically my bladder, which was no longer cooperative when I laughed too hard, sneezed or ran…alright, I didn’t run, I waddled awkwardly… My friends did not have children yet and while our friendships were the same, they kind of weren’t. My husband was amazing, super supportive, very hands-on dad, so patient, he was still my husband…but now it was different. But how? I still struggle to put it into words.

In my mind, I was so excited to become a mother! Have a baby to love, to teach, to play with, to dress up…to rock to sleep, to trial and error with, to doubt my own sanity and common sense, to keep alive…and I desperately wanted to do it right. I had expectations, some realistic and some not so much, but what took me most by surprise and what I have found SO MANY OTHERS jolted by, was the conflicting emotions warring within that didn’t make sense. The tug of war.

The tug of war

I felt lonely, yet my baby was literally in my arms. I wanted to get up and move, but I had put on a good 30kg and I couldn’t sit up properly on my own, my body was not having any of that. I wanted to be at home but missed going out. I wanted to talk to my friends but they were all in different places in their lives. I wanted to be a mum and yet got annoyed at having to prepare EVERYTHING to just do one errand out. I was jealous that my husband got to go out and work and yet I didn’t want to work-but I was jealous that he got to-am I crazy? Wanting to go out alone for some ‘me time’ and then not being able to enjoy it because I was worried about my baby at home.  I wanted to trust my instincts but I couldn’t hear them over the crying-why couldn’t I calm my own baby? I want to breastfeed but really, are you hungry again already? My boobs are so sore, why is my baby not awake yet so I can feed him?? (Who else felt like an on call jersey cow 24/7? …the weight gain didn’t help my mentality there either.  Mooo…) And then the huge increase in simple decisions on a sleep deprived mind. Do I fix a time to meet with friends for coffee-what if he is asleep? What if it’s feed time? Do I wake my baby to keep that appointment or cancel it and hope things work out better next time? I wanted to feel normal again, but found myself on the floor in the hallway crying because it was just too hard. Except, when it wasn’t. Some days it was going great! I think. I know I loved being a mum to a new baby but felt stupid going out when I forgot just one thing. I wanted to be a mum but resented the middle of the night feeds, even when my baby was responding well to feeding and settling. Maybe I’m just more selfish than I thought I was? Do you feel the tug of war, can you relate?

Was I depressed? Was I suffering from anxiety? Was I going crazy? Was I really selfish? Some mothers I have spoken with have said they even grieved the loss of their own identity, but they didn’t know that’s what they were doing!

Beautiful one, this is normal.

I was normal. Just as we all transition from childhood to teenager and emerge through adolescence, with hormones changing, moodiness being accepted as normal, bodies growing in places we didn’t know we had, faces breaking out in all sorts of unwelcome spots and looking for our own new identity separate from our parents (truly though, if your parents don’t embarrass you, are they even your parents??), then finding it and embracing our new older and hopefully wiser or maybe wilder self…as this happens in adolescence, so it does in becoming a mother. Matrescence (is that deliberate that it sounds like adolescence?). It’s just that it’s so hard to put into words that it’s not really talked about. Or perhaps dismissed as overly sensitive. Or overly hormonal. Or even PMS (seriously??). PMS is not funny. Period…(sorry, had to add that in there). Adolescence is normal and understood, why is this transition stage from woman to motherhood not acknowledged too?

When a baby is born, so is a mother. And it is ok to be a bit unsteady as you settle into this new role.  It might take days, weeks, months, maybe even longer. But you will flourish if you surround yourself with the right people.

What can you do??

The assumption is that everyone else is managing, everyone else is handling this transition just fine. I am alone and a mess and a failure. I am the only one lost and trying to find my way.

  1. Acknowledge your transition. Motherhood is a big, beautiful, messy change. And just as your new baby is growing, so are you.
  2. Talk about your experience. Find someone you trust, a mother you admire, a friend in a similar space, a sister, an aunt. The more we talk about this the more understood it becomes. And the less lonely we become.
  3. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge that you are your own worst critic. You know you aren’t perfect, so don’t beat yourself up when you aren’t perfect! And kids are super quick to forgive. Lower that unrealistic bar of perfectionism, it’s a burden you don’t need.
  4. Embrace your new identity in motherhood. You have created a tiny human. Still be you, with your beautiful laugh, your gorgeous smile, your crazy humour, your wild ideas. Rather than a loss of your former self, consider this phase as growth. A new adventure to add to your treasure chest of memories. You will make it through, with the company of a little buddy. You can do this.

I love Amy Taylor Kabbaz’ thoughts-

“It doesn’t mean we give up on our dreams or stop trying to pursue the life we want, or do the things we want to do. It means we have to understand that for a good chunk of our lives – we have to look at everything through mama-tinted glasses.”

Matrescence. Who knew?


Written by Esther Farmilo

Eva’s Place Kingaroy Coordinator