Matrescence: The birth of the mother
mother smiling at newborn baby

Newborn & Baby

Matrescence: The birth of the mother

by Kiindred | posted 28th January, 2021

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When a woman is pregnant, there is so much focus on her wellbeing and how she is feeling and coping along the way. Then she has the baby the focus seems to immediately switch to the baby. How is the baby, is the baby sleeping/feeding/pooping. And the mum (and everything she has just been through) tends to be forgotten.

You may have heard the term Matrescence, either during your pregnancy or shortly after. Or you might have never heard of it. Despite being coined by Anthropologist Dana Raphael in 1973, it has really only gained momentum in the mainstream in the past few years.

What is Matrescence?

Matrescence places emphasis on the birth of the mother. The physical, psychological and emotional changes in a woman when she births a child and transitions to the role of mother. Much like the phase of adolescence as children move into adulthood.

It seeks to normalise and explain this inner shift we feel once we give birth. The limbo where you find yourself caught somewhere between who you used to be and who you are now – or who you feel you are meant to be, at least. We go from one day being our own person to suddenly being handed a baby and expected to bond with it immediately and take on the new role of mother.

mother and baby in bed

Many of us have been led to believe that motherhood is a time of great joy, happiness and fulfilment. Which of course it is, but the problem is that they failed to mention the part where it isn’t. Motherhood can also be brutal, overwhelming and sometimes we don’t love it. For so long we were led to believe that if we weren’t always 100% happy and fulfilled that we weren’t good mums, which led to feelings of shame and guilt. Or the belief that we must be depressed.

Thankfully we know now this isn’t the case. Motherhood can be both wonderful and terrible, and sometimes at the same time.

Supporting the mother

Many cultures place a huge emphasis on the idea of the fourth trimester as one of great importance for both the baby and the mother. In Chinese culture, for example, a period of postnatal confinement called Zuo Yue Zi, or “sitting the month.” is practised. New mothers do not go out, no visitors, no showers, no cold food and they receive extensive help caring for their baby while they recover.

Whilst these days the practice is often considered controversial, it remains widespread (to varying degrees) and is highly regarded for the focus on the care of the mother. Many affluent Chinese mothers will pay thousands to spend the first 30 days in a luxury centre specialising in Zuo Yue Zi, some will employ a live-in nanny to help care for their child and cook nourishing postpartum meals or others rely on mothers and aunties to step in.

For many modern mums, this level of care is simply not possible. However, we are seeing a shift in the importance of this recovery period and a rise in the use of services such as postpartum doulas who help out with both emotional and practical tasks. They can do everything from helping with establishing breastfeeding to settling the baby, postnatal massage, cooking, some housework and a shoulder to cry on.
Having an awareness of Matrescence is essential for new mothers to know that what they are experiencing is normal. Helping them know and accept that motherhood is both beautiful and brutal, full of highs and lows. And that it cannot be done alone. Allowing mums to be a little kinder on themselves to help transform the experience of postpartum and motherhood. And then, in turn, pass this warmth and knowledge on to other mums.

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