Learning About Matrescence Can Make a Difference in Motherhood

January 23, 2024

Vanessa Leveille

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I'm a therapist-mom who writes in hopes of helping moms of color navigate the matrescence journey and create a more harmonious and fulfilling life.

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Image of black woman on phone learning about Matrescence.

Matrescence

If a woman decides to have a baby and become a mom, the journey into motherhood is a big change—a journey that goes beyond the body changes of pregnancy. Matrescence, a term not often talked about, is the name for the emotional and mental changes a woman goes through as she becomes a mother.

In this article, we’ll look into Matrescence, finding out what it is, why it happens, and how it shapes the story of motherhood. We’ll also explore the unique aspects of Matrescence, especially in Black maternal mental health.

Understanding Matrescence: What Is It?

Matrescence is like adolescence but for mothers. Anthropologist Dana Raphael came up with this term to describe about all the changes—physical, emotional, and more—that a woman goes through when she becomes a mother. It’s not just about pregnancy; it’s about the many changes and how it impacts a woman’s identity, values, and priorities.

Why Does Matrescence Happen?

Matrescence happens because of a mix of biological, psychological, and social factors. Biologically, a woman’s body changes during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. These changes don’t just affect how she looks but also how she feels and thinks. Psychologically, taking care of a new life makes a woman think about her purpose, what she wants for her kids, and what kind of example she wants to set. Societal expectations about how a mom should be also play a big role.

Now, there are two questions I get often: can non-birthing mothers experience Matrescence, and do men have a father version of Matrescence?

Here’s what I know and understand in response to these questions.

Can Non-Birthing Mothers Experience Matrescence?

Yes, they can. Matrescence is not just about giving birth, and some parts will only happen to the birthing parent. It’s about becoming a mom, which involves emotional, psychological, and identity changes. Non-birthing mothers, like those who adopt or use surrogacy, go through similar changes. The deep connection, shifting priorities, and big emotional changes are all part of Matrescence, no matter how a woman becomes a mom.

Do Men Have a Father Version of Matrescence?

Even though Matrescence is a word for the mom journey, men also go through big changes when they become dads. While I am not sure that there is a term for the transition to fatherhood, we know that that comes with its shifts too. It includes shifts in identity, priorities, and emotions. The unique challenges and joys of fatherhood make it a transformative journey similar to Matrescence.

In short, both Matrescence and the transformative journey of fathers show that being a parent, no matter the gender, brings about big shifts in identity and how you see life. Each journey is unique, but both are about the big changes that come with bringing a new life into the world, and birthing a new identity within the parent.

What to Expect: Navigating the Matrescent Terrain

As women go through Matrescence, there are common things that happen. From biological changes to shifts in priorities and emotions, the journey is complicated. For mothers of color, dealing with racial disparities in healthcare adds extra challenges, so it’s important to be aware of what to expect during Matrescence.

1. Biological Changes: A mother’s fluctuating and recalibrating hormones will impact emotions, thoughts, and self-perception quite a bit.

2. Psychological Transformation: Often the mother find herself rethinking life purpose, values, and vision in motherhood.

3. Social Expectations and Roles: Managing the pressure to be the “perfect mom” according to society, is a hallmark of Matrescence.

4. Shifting Priorities: During Matrescence, mother may find that they replace life goals and self-care, with new responsibilities.

5. Emotional and Relational Dynamics: For some mothers, they find themselves struggling to seek balancing love for their child and the need for personal space, and sometimes experiencing guilt for it.

Key Characteristics of Matrescence

We also notice that in addition to some hallmark characteristics of Matrescence, there are some additional characteristics, each contributing to the complex and transformative nature of the journey:

Mixed Feelings and Grief:

  • Mixed emotions about the new role and grief over the old life are common in Matrescence. It’s okay to feel a mix of joy and sadness, excitement and nostalgia, as you transition into motherhood.

Reconciling Ideals with Reality:

  • Matrescence involves reconciling your ideals and expectations of motherhood with the reality of the role. It’s about finding a balance between what you thought motherhood would be and what it actually is.

Defining “Good Motherhood”:

  • Navigating what it means to be a “good mother” and wanting to do things “right” is a significant aspect of Matrescence. It involves grappling with societal expectations and finding your own path as a mother.

Juggling Responsibilities:

  • Learning how to juggle all the responsibilities of your new role and determining which ones to let go of is a practical challenge in Matrescence. It’s about finding a balance that works for you and your family.

Confronting Wounds from Upbringing:

  • Matrescence may involve confronting wounds arising from your upbringing as you raise your child. It’s an opportunity for healing and breaking cycles, but it can also be a challenging aspect of the journey.

Matrescence and Black Maternal Mental Health: Why It Matters

Addressing mental health is crucial for everyone, but for Black mothers during Matrescence, it becomes even more vital. The intersection of race and gender brings additional challenges, including stereotypes and inequalities that impact the mental health of Black mothers. Recognizing and effectively dealing with these challenges is key not only for individual well-being but also for breaking the stigma around maternal mental health.

Understanding Matrescence becomes a powerful tool in the context of Black maternal mental health. It offers insights into the challenges posed by systemic issues and biases, empowering Black mothers to make informed decisions, communicate effectively with healthcare providers, and seek timely and appropriate mental health care. 

A black mother laying on the bed with her daughter.

Challenges in Matrescence and Impact on Mental Health

Matrescence, no matter how beautiful it sounds, isn’t a purely blissful journey; there are challenges, especially for mental health. Recognizing and dealing with these challenges is important to mitigate, and even avoid, the diagnosis of a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder and to stay healthy during this time.

Here are some challenges that mothers may experience during Matrescence:

1. Identity Shift and Loss: Big changes in identity can feel like a loss, leading to confusion or grief. If not dealt with, this loss can lead to mental health challenges.

2. Social Expectations and Isolation: Society’s expectations for mothers can make them feel isolated and inadequate. For Black mothers facing racial disparities, meeting these expectations can lead to stress and potential mental health issues.

3. Financial Strain: Money issues can make the motherhood journey harder. With extra costs for childcare and healthcare, financial strain can lead to stress and, if not managed, increase the risk of mental health issues.

4. Racial Disparities in Healthcare: Black mothers face issues in healthcare, like biases and less access to quality care. These issues can make it hard for them to get the right mental health support during Matrescence.

The Importance of Understanding and Normalizing Matrescence

Understanding and normalizing Matrescence is not only crucial for the well-being of individual mothers but also for the overall health of our society. The journey into motherhood is complex, and acknowledging the challenges that come with Matrescence creates a space where women can openly discuss their experiences. This openness is a powerful tool in dismantling the stigma that surrounds the difficulties of this transformative period.

By encouraging conversations about Matrescence, we contribute to breaking down societal barriers that often prevent mothers from seeking help. When the struggles and joys of Matrescence are normalized, it becomes easier for women to recognize the importance of self-care and seek the support they need. This normalization also has a ripple effect on societal attitudes, fostering a more empathetic and understanding environment for mothers. In essence, embracing Matrescence as a natural part of the motherhood journey not only empowers individual women to navigate this transformative period with resilience but also leads to a more compassionate and supportive society for mothers as a whole.

Key Things to Keep in Mind about Matrescence

1. It’s a Journey, Not a Destination: Matrescence doesn’t end with childbirth; it’s an ongoing journey of self-discovery and growth.

2. Embrace the Messy Beauty: The journey can be messy, and that’s okay. Embracing imperfections is part of it.

3. Seek Support and Connection: Having a supportive network and professional help can make Matrescence easier.

4. Your Journey Is Unique: Every woman’s experience is different, shaped by individual factors. Embrace your journey and honor your story.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Matrescence is a huge and transformative journey that needs understanding. By looking at its layers and dealing with challenges, particularly in my work with the mothers of color that I support, we help women go through this shift with strength and resilience. 

As we keep exploring, let’s work towards a future where every mother, no matter her race or background, can handle the Matrescence journey with confidence, support, and resiliency.

Seek Support from a Matrescence Therapist Who Understands Your Unique Needs

If you’re a mom of color in Massachusetts or Texas seeking compassionate and culturally sensitive therapy to help you navigate motherhood and Matrescence, I invite you to reach out to me. I am a therapist who specializes in working with moms of color and can provide you with the support and guidance you need to navigate the challenges of Matrescence and create a life of harmony, fulfillment, and joy.

Fill out the form on my contact page so we can chat more and explore how I can support you on your journey.

Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. I’m here to help you overcome challenges, thrive as a mother, and discover the strength and resilience that lies within you.

If you want to learn more about the journey of becoming a mother, called Matrescence, download your free guide today and embark on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment.

Click link here to download the free guide.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this blog post. What resonated with you most? What questions do you have? Share your insights and experiences in the comments section below.

Together, we can create a supportive community for moms of color, sharing our journeys, encouraging each other, and finding strength in our shared experiences.

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