Embracing The Identity Shift When You Become a Mother

January 12, 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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Hi, I'm vanessa

A mother with her baby on the bed.
Therapy for Moms Boston | A mother with her baby on the bed.

In the multifaceted world of womanhood, the transition to motherhood marks a profound shift—an evolution of identity (and, *whispers* so much more) that encompasses the challenges and joys of nurturing a new life. 

And let me tell you, when you become a mother, this shift can come on in ways you didn’t expect. 

This is why I love that I stumbled upon Matrescence, because it unveiled so much to me that made the transition to motherhood make so much more sense. 

A Journey of Identity Shift

One of the things I hear often from the women I work with is, “So much changed after I became a mom”. The thing is, it’s not that they didn’t know things were going to change. It’s how things unfolded that was different than they had expected or envisioned. The truth is, so much changes when you become a mother; one of those changes is your identity. 

So how does a woman’s identity change as she transitions into motherhood?

Becoming a mother doesn’t just add a new layer to our identity; it remixes the entire playlist of who you are. Suddenly, the roles we once knew—professional, friend, partner—blend with this new, central role of ‘mom.’ It’s not as simple as tacking on another responsibility or title; it’s like rearranging every part of who we are, were, and are becoming. The tasks of mothering and the physical and emotional changes become the building blocks of a new identity. 

And in this transformation, we discover strengths and tenderness we never knew we had. The ‘me’ before and the ‘mom’ now—coexist, colliding, and creating something beautifully messy.

And oh, it gets messy.

You see, sometimes, in this shift, mothers can experience challenges with their identity that feel overwhelming and confusing. In my sessions with my clients, I recognize this when they say “I feel like I am losing myself” or “I lost myself”, and that’s because this is also a universal way to describe the identity shifts and the challenges experienced with the identity shift. 

This sense of loss can be exacerbated by the pressure to excel in every identity she carries—be it as a partner, professional, or community member. And this isn’t just a new mom thing, that we think goes away after a little while. Even years after having their children, or with every pregnancy, moms feel a shift in who they are. 

Why Does the Identity Shift Happen?

The identity shift that occurs during Matrescence is a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors. If you’re unfamiliar with Matrescence, it is a term coined to describe the process of becoming a mother. First recognized, and titled, by anthropologist Dana Raphael, Matrescence marks the period of transition for a woman into motherhood. It’s much like the transition from childhood to adolescence, which is why it sounds a lot like adolescence. It’s a developmental, spiritual, emotional, mental, physiological, and physical shift to motherhood. 

So if that’s the case, let’s for a second revisit adolescence. Care to remember what it felt like when you were transitioning into adolescence? Your body was changing, your voices, your interests, your friendships, family life, your identity, your values… you just felt different. Well… this time, in this developmental period, you did all that and more, while growing a human! So, yeah, a very dramatic shift.

Matrescence, then, has to change you. 

While every woman who becomes a mother will journey through Matrescence, each will have her unique relationship with it. Of the many experiences in Matrescence, the identity shift is a profound one. Here’s a breakdown of how the shift shows up, and how identity becomes impacted:

1. Biological Changes:

Our bodies go through big changes when we become moms. Being pregnant, giving birth, and breastfeeding affect our hormones. These hormones don’t just impact our bodies; they also mess with our feelings and thoughts. So, becoming a mom doesn’t only change how we look after a baby; it also changes how we see ourselves and what we think about who we are.

2. Psychological Transformation:

Your mind goes through changes too. Taking care of a new life makes you think a lot about your purpose, what you want to pass on to your kids, and the example you want to set for them. All this thinking can make you rethink what’s important to you, your goals, priorities, values, and your vision for life.

3. Social Expectations and Roles:

Sometimes, what society expects from moms can be a lot. There’s this idea of the “perfect mom,” and it can make moms feel like they need to match that image, even when they want to try not to. This pressure, along with managing other responsibilities, can make moms feel like they’re changing how they see themselves.

4. Shifting Priorities:

The arrival of a child naturally shifts priorities. What was once crucial might take a back seat to the immediate needs of the baby. This includes the things you once did that created a margin for you. This recalibration of priorities often leads to changes in how a woman carries out self-care and how she leads her wellness.

5. Emotional and Relational Dynamics:

The way moms feel things can change when they become mothers. The strong love and protective feelings for their child mixed with the desire to be alone to just have space to breathe, can make emotions shift a lot. Relationships, like with their partner and others, also change as moms try to balance the emotions they feel about wanting to be close to others and having space to be alone; and this can be unintentionally straining relationships. 

Making Sense of the Identity Shift

One of the crucial aspects of navigating the identity shift is recognizing that it comes in various forms. For some mothers, it might feel like a loss—a sense of self slipping away in the whirlwind of new responsibilities and expectations. Again, this is not uncommon and often surfaces in conversations like, “I feel like I am losing myself.” This is one that we may be more familiar with hearing. 

And then, there’s another experience with identity shift that isn’t as widely spoken about. 

For some mothers, the identity shift is an expansion—an unfolding of new facets of themselves they didn’t know existed. It’s like discovering a secret garden within, lush with strengths and tenderness previously undiscovered. These are the moments when a mother might say, “I’m becoming more of who I am meant to be.” 

This too can be overwhelming as she grapples with the rush felt-sense of growth. 

And then some experience both, simultaneously and intermittently, like a dance of duality. In one moment, it’s a loss, and in the next, an expansion. It’s the ebb and flow, the yin and yang of identity in Matrescence.

And the truth is, you will inevitably journey through experiencing both. Matrescence is meant to expand you. It’s meant to show you all the parts of who you are and how they are unfolding and becoming. Sometimes, in becoming, we shed some parts of ourselves.

Navigating the Identity Shift

No matter where you are in your identity shift, one thing is for certain, and I have seen this with the women I work with, when you have the language for what you are going through it makes the experience easier to navigate.

So how do you navigate the identity shift in Matrescence?

For starters, this is in no way an exhaustive list or compass. It’s a starting point, however, because Matrescence in and of itself, is something I would encourage you to become familiar with and thoroughly understand. The identity shift is just a piece of the Matrescence journey. 

Here’s what I would suggest:

Navigating the Loss

1. Acknowledge and Grieve: If you find yourself feeling a sense of loss in the identity shift, it’s okay to acknowledge those feelings. Give yourself the space to grieve the aspects of your former identity that you feel slipping away. Understanding that this is a natural part of the process can be a powerful first step.

2. Seek Support: Connect with other mothers who have experienced a similar sense of loss in their identity. Sharing your feelings and hearing others’ stories can provide validation and support. Consider joining local or online communities where these conversations are welcomed and embraced.

3. Reevaluate and Redefine: Take the time to reevaluate your priorities and values. Redefine what certain roles mean to you in this new chapter of your life. This process is about finding a harmony that aligns with your authentic self, acknowledging that your identity can evolve without losing its essence.

Navigating the Expansion

1. Embrace the Unfolding: If your experience with the identity shift is one of expansion, embrace the unfolding journey. Recognize and celebrate the new strengths and facets of yourself that are emerging. This is an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery.

2. Cultivate Self-Compassion: Acknowledge that growth can be both exhilarating and challenging. Be kind to yourself as you navigate this expansion. Understand that it’s okay not to have all the answers and that the process is a continuous journey.

3. Explore New Aspects: Delve into the new aspects of yourself with curiosity. Engage in activities or practices that resonate with this evolving identity. Whether it’s pursuing a new hobby, setting personal goals, or connecting with like-minded individuals, exploring these facets can be enriching.

The Dance of Both:

1. Embrace the Yin and Yang: If your experience is a dance between loss and expansion, recognize the yin and yang of the journey. Allow yourself to move fluidly between these states, understanding that it’s a natural part of the complex and nuanced process of Matrescence.

2. Practice Mindfulness: Cultivate mindfulness to stay present in each moment of the identity shift. Mindfulness can help you navigate the ebb and flow, fostering an awareness of your emotions and experiences without judgment.

In Conclusion

As you traverse the intricate landscape of identity shift during Matrescence, remember that it’s a unique journey for every mother. Whether you’re navigating loss, expansion, or the dance of both, having the language and understanding of Matrescence can provide a compass. Embrace the evolving layers of your identity, knowing that it’s a process of becoming—sometimes messy, often beautiful, and always uniquely yours.

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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