On becoming a mother – matrescence

by Kristin Vikjord Paternotte

The process of becoming a mother starts way before pregnancy, and has just as much to do with our outer environment as our inner biological states.

 Matrescence is a term coined by the anthropologist Dana Rafael, and refers to the process of becoming a mother. Becoming a mother is a process beyond what we can imagine before it actually happens.

Apart from the obvious changes in the physical body during pregnancy, chemical imprints of hormonal communication in the brain, apparent cognitive fall outs like shifts of attention, concentration and memory: all inherently normal, and serving a purpose. In addition, time management gets a whole new quality to it, and sleep (or lack thereof) impacts emotional wellbeing more intense than you would imagine. And last but not least, there´s the existential aspect, a very personal and emotional question arising of who am I now?

Did you know that the majority of women in the age span of 25-45 years old, are exposed to the societal expectation about motherhood, and must relate to matrescence in one way or the other, even if they have made a descision to not have children

Sacred changes

Life transition phases tends to elevate us, existentially, to another level. But in that elevation, or before we can embody ourselves in this new role with full empowerment, we are exposed to inner conflicts, or the deep questioning into who we are, in this newfound phase. From infancy to childhood, through puberty, to adulthood, parenthood, seniorhood. Our societal roles and expectations shift.  Traditionally, all life transitions had some kind of rites de passage connected to it. Rites de passage refers to the cultural norm of marking or celebrating a significant transition in life. In some cultures and religions, these rituals still exist, such as baptism, bar mitzwa, marriage, funerals. But the ritual of transitioning to motherhood, especially the contemporary Western way, does not have any ritual around it. A ritual to mark the change of role for the woman, celebrating the sacrifice (read: the process of making sacred) of transitioning into the function of motherhood.

Birth

Giving birth is already pretty insane. Some say it is a most spiritual, and out of the body experience. The body takes over, to deliver a newborn, exposing the mother´s body to a shitload of pain, through a mechanism older than ancient. And true. It´s a life and death situation for both the mother and the baby. The emphasis on birth recovery is still undermined. Delivery requires presence of experienced personnel, to facilitate the safest possible birthing. There are organizations, like Every Mother Counts, that work to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, worldwide.

Shame

 Many of my patients are new mothers. Not only for the first time, but perhaps second, and even third, and fourth. They share shame and insecurity around becoming a mother.  Neurochemically, motherhood literally turn you into a vulnerable bundle of emotions, as evolutionary it´s needed that you wear your heart on your sleeve, to best meet and mirror your child. However, embodying this neurochemical shift, whilst the outer environment perhaps doesn´t change too much, is hardcore. The shame is difficult to carry. Shame for perhaps not feeling like you´re supposed to. That is; feeling in love with your baby, or feeling grateful to have become a mother, or enjoying staying at home, or being able to balance motherhood with work – easy as a breeze. There´s lots of guilt and grief happening. Grief of having lost the one she was before becoming a mother. Sadness of not knowing when she´ll feel back into herself.

Extreme shifts

Matrescence impact further than the subjective experience of the woman. It concerns the relationship with your partner, how he or she might feel, it affects intimacy and sex life, and it might influence your overall financial situation.  For example, in western society average age of first time mothers is around 30 years old, as opposed to early twenties only a few decades ago. That means, that first time mothers have invested in higher education, and or their career, and have lived a significant chunk of their adult life before motherhood.

All this present, at the same time as waves of oxytocine, the love chemical, flows you over. Thus, intense.

Postpartum depression

Postpartum Depression (PPD) affects 1 in 10 new parents, within the year of giving birth. It does not only affect the mother but can also be seen in the partner. Symptoms are intense anxiousness and sadness, or lowered moods, to the effect where you are no longer able to function (in regards of general health, hygiene and feeding), and thus not able to take care of yourself or the child properly. The extreme sleep deprivation you are exposed to as a newfound parent must not be undermined in affecting intense mood swings, and general functioning. And most parents suffer under this, without it fulfilling the criteria of PPD.

So, how to deal with all this?

NUDGE OF ACTION

  • Give yourself a break! Lower the bars, and actively turn your back to any perfectionistic ideas.
  • Talk to your partner. About how it is to be you now. About who is doing what. Be honest about what you want to do, and not. Clarify economical questions.
  • Acknowledge that you are different now, and that your daily life is different now
  • Acknowledge that you, and your relationship is in a state of exception
  • Allow yourself pausing, fully. This is NOT the moment to start all sorts of new stuff.
  • Seek your squad, social support from loved ones AND professionals. Motherheart is such a beautiful initiative, and a leading changemaker for this exact purpose
  • If you feel unease, don´t wait to ask for help. Ask for support, ask for guidance, or simply go be held by community, because mothers need to be mothered too <3