If you’re a Mother, you know this feeling, and I didn’t even know it had a name for the longest time. I don’t think most people know this, either. Becoming a Mother is a full mind, body, and soul experience. Within a few months of becoming pregnant, I started to feel different. There was an immediate shift in my presence; in how I thought, felt, and moved, I could also feel the purposefulness in it. This beautiful and overwhelming process of becoming a Mother is called Matrescence. As a Black Mother, I didn’t know about Matrescence and would venture to guess you didn’t either.
“When a child is born, so is a Mother”– Unknown
History of Matrescence
Matrescence is a term that was first coined in the 70s by medical anthropologist Dana Raphael. Raphael noted in her early writings on Matrescence that in the US culture, we say, ” a child is born,” but in other cultures, it is often said, “a woman has given birth.” The attention is shifted to the newborn child, and thus the Mother is forgotten. Raphael’s work on Matrescence was also easily overlooked as there wasn’t much attention to Mothers and not enough Women scientists to study Matrescence more seriously. Many decades later, Aurélie Athan, a reproductive psychologist at Columbia University, would revive the term and further Raphael’s studies in Matrescence.
Athan, who describes this transition to Motherhood with NPR, as “a holistic change in multiple domains of your life.”. This transitory period in your life is just as awkward as adolescence. The only difference is we were taught about adolescence in health class; we are familiar with it. However, we are not taught about Matrescence in school or in our appointments with our perinatal providers. From the medical standpoint, we don’t discuss it enough.
Where we discuss Matrescence, not precisely the term, but the experience, is within our Motherhood circles. We discuss it when we share how tired we are, how our bodies have changed, how much has changed in how we care for ourselves, or our experiences as new Mothers. These changes are also not a one time change, it is a change that you are consistently encountering throughout Motherhood.
We discuss how things are so different and find solidarity in those circles because our fellow Mothers can relate. Matrescence changes every fiber of our being. It changes us emotionally, physically, physiologically, and psychologically. How often and deeply we have these conversations can differ from person to person.
I have made it a point in my Motherhood journey to talk openly about the experiences I am having. Having those discussions with my Mom friends, with my husband, with some family, and in other Motherhood circles I find myself in. I have learned the importance of sharing my Motherhood experiences so that I don’t drown in them as it is full of waves of ups and downs.
As Black Mothers, our Matrescence journey can be different than our counterparts for several reasons. Firstly, the state of Black maternal health has always been compromised within the medical complex, and thus has a direct impact on our Matrescence. Secondly, Black Maternal Mental Health is another area that is severely understudied and therefore do not have much data to back our anecdotal Matrescence stories. And lastly, Black mothering is typically regarded as inadequate or that Black Mothers do not have enough knowledge and skillset to mother well.
The aforementioned transgressions are often fueled by racism. In discussions about Matrescence, typically seen in white Motherhood spaces, the Black Mother’s experience of racism is not highlighted, and inadvertently how racism plays a significant role in our Matrescence journey.
For these reasons, it is important that we begin to define those spaces that allow us to speak about our Motherhood experiences in the context of Matrescence. We too should be able to claim this pivotal developmental period in our lives, and how we are changed by it. We too should be able to normalize conversations about Matrescence and make this more of a commonplace term in our perinatal care, our postpartum care, our mental health care, and in our continuous wellness.
Tips for your Journey
So while the study and discussion about Matrescence seems limited, we can make it a point to seek places where we are supported in our journey, and also, explore ways we can navigate Matrescence. Here are some tips I have for you in your journey:
- Be aware of some key changes that are often discussed in Matrescence literature; they include identity changes; changes in family dynamics; experiencing emotions like ambivalence, guilt, and shame; and struggling with what you imagined motherhood would look like versus the reality of what motherhood currently looks like. Being mindful of these impacts can make a big difference.
- Open up and discuss Matrescence, in so far as using the term to describe your experience. By sharing with our Mom friends we normalize the term in Black Motherhood spaces, and encourage others to share their journey as well.
- Connect to stories of Mothering in your matriarchal lineage. Reflect on what you saw, and what you know now of Matrescence. What are some things that stick out to you? What do you want to do differently? What do you want to do the same? How have the stories of your foremothers impacted your Mothering? By becoming aware of these narratives, you can begin to define and strengthen the narrative about how you want to Mother in your journey of Matrescence.
- Be steadfast in your wellness. It is by practicing daily wellness rituals that you stay ahead of the impacts Matrescence can have on your body and mind. By practicing daily wellness rituals you give yourself the care, love, and nurturance you need to navigate difficult times. You also set yourself up to navigate the journey in a much more profound way.
Black Mothers Matter
Our journey into Motherhood matters. Black Mothers Matter, and as such we need to continue the conversation of Matrescence, and name it boldly so others can normalize the journey. We must also pave the road to the respect Black Matrescence deserves.
If you’d like to hear more about Matrescence, follow on instagram. And while you’re here take a look at the Favorites page where I have listed some wellness tips that you can practice that also help with navigating Matrescence.