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Welcome to... Matrescence

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Before we begin I have to give credit and gratitude where it is due. Thank you to matrescence educator and mentor, Nikki McCahon for the work she has done in compiling the lineage of Matrescence, creating powerful models and methodologies for helping women through matrescence, and for being an invaluable resource for us moms and educators. Thank you, Nikki.


Matrescence is a concept that was named by medical anthropologist Dr. Dana Raphael in the 1970s. She believed this period in a woman's life, of going from just you, just a woman or woman and wife, to becoming a mother was being overlooked.


She stated "During this process, this rite de passage (rite of passage), changes occur in a woman's physical sate, in her status within the group, in her emotional life, in her focus of daily activity, in her own identity, and the relationships all around her." (Raphael 1975).


Raphael's work was expanded upon in the 2000s (yeah, that's a big gap). First by Trudelle Thomas, who postulated these matrescence changes do not solely come from birthing a child. Rather, they can take place in anyone in the primary role of mother, such as adoptive mothers or stepmothers of infants.


In her 2001 article, Thomas called matrescence "a disorienting and problematic rite of passage." She goes so far as to call this period of time a "life crisis", one that can either be enriching and expanding or detrimental depending on the experience we have. In the article she reflects on her own experience stating:


"Birth and parenting manuals, advertisements, and movies all featured happy and competent mothers for whom infant care came naturally, women who were treated well by others, self-assured mothers who found childcare readily. My own experience was much more varied and complex. Thus, I experienced (and continue to experience) a grating cognitive dissonance, an ongoing contradiction between public images of motherhood and my personal experience of it."


Sam side note: I feel like as a mom in the 2020s, I relate to this even more now that we have social media to put the rose colored glasses on motherhood.

In the 2010s, researcher Aurelie Athan, PhD carried on the matrescence research. She expanded further the areas of a woman's life that can be impacted by this transition. In my opinion, her model hits the nail on the head.


She states matrescence is the "dis-orientation and re-orientation marked by an acceleration of changes in multiple domains:

  • physical (changes in body, hormonal fluctuations)

  • psychological (e.g., identity, personality, defensive structure, self-esteem)

  • social (e.g., re-evaluation of friendships, forgiveness of loved ones, gains in social status, or loss of professional status),

  • spiritual (e.g., existential questioning, re-commitment to faith, increased religious/spiritual practices) "

(Athan and Reel 2015).


Nikki McCahon took Athan's domains and expanding upon them:

  • physical

  • psychological

  • social

  • career

  • spiritual

  • political

  • cultural

  • economic


This feels right to me as I can clearly see ways I changed or my world changed deeply in all of these areas.


Nikki also notes some important distinctions:

  • Matrescence happens to some extent with each new baby or pregnancy.

  • The first 2-3 years are when the initial change is occurring.

  • Our child's development, creates a "cascading impact to a mothers we are forever 'new mothers'"

No matter the researcher, the opinion is clear that this is a critical time of transition that is being overlooked by the medical community and culture at large. In doing so, we as mother are struggling (we'll talk about the impact of this silence soon).



Put simply, in going from woman to mother we change. That is undeniable and universal, however the way in which and the extent to which we change varies.


Yet, we currently live in a world that does not support us through this change. Even more so it tells us to:


- Enjoy ever moment.

- Be grateful.

- Bounce back.


All sentiments that make us feel even worse or broken for having changed.


Here is your reminder, you are not broken. You are going through one of the biggest (if not the biggest) transition and life changing event of becoming a mama. If you feel disoriented, you are right where you are meant to be. You are evolving and you don't have to do it alone.


For more on the lineage and definition of matrescence please check out the resources page!



References:


Athan, A. and Reel, H.L. (2015) ‘Maternal psychology: Reflections on the 20th anniversary of deconstructing developmental psychology’, Feminism & Psychology, 25(3), pp. 311–325. doi:10.1177/0959353514562804.



Nikki McCahon (no date) nikki mccahon. Available at: https://www.nikkimccahon.com/ (Accessed: 08 May 2023).



Raphael, D. (1976) The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding. New York: Schocken Books.



Thomas, T. (2001) ‘Becoming a mother: Matrescence as spiritual formation’, Religious Education, 96(1), pp. 88–105. doi:10.1080/00344080117878.



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