E tūtaki ana ngā kapua o te rangi, kei runga, kei runga te Mangoroa e kōpae pū ana || The clouds in the sky close over, but above them spreads the milky way

Matrescence

The term ‘Matresence’ was first coined by Dana Rafael in 1967, American anthropologist. It was popularized very recently by Alexandra Sacks, an American Perinatal Psychiatrist, in a Ted Talk that was viewed many millions of times and translated to multiple languages.

What is Matrescence?

It describes becoming a mother as a profound human transition, very much like adolescence, it is a rocky time! It is a state of confusion, and deep ambivalence. It can be characterised by the following points:

  • Hormonal changes, mood shifts are common in both states.
  • Do not feel in control, just like a teenager that feels frustration at the lack of control.
  • And just like a teenager, a new mum would be questioning if all this is normal.
  • A teenager and a new mum will be awkward with their body changes and new self, uncomfortable in their own skin.
  • Identity changes are scary and overwhelming, it causes confusion, it is a scary role change.
  • Both the mum and the teen can feel isolated, might feel very alone in these changes.
  • The change is scarily permanent – you cannot go back to being a child and you cannot return your baby!

Mums need to give permission to themselves to feel ambivalence, feeling ambivalent about their new role as mums and parents does not mean they are bad mums!

  • New mums need support for their new role in the world, their new identity.
  • Awkward and rocky stage just as teenage stage, but we expect mums to remain calm; we know teens are overwhelmed, need our support, so why can’t we support mums the same way?
  • We do not blame teens when they have moments when they do not want to grow up and be adults, we cannot blame mums if sometimes they want to stop being mums for a moment or a day.

Let’s allow women to re-group and process these huge changes!

Important things to remember

  • Matrescence is a challenging state, but it is not a clinical diagnosis or mental illness!
  • It is a state of normal transition, that is often misunderstood in our culture.
  • In our culture and media we expect mothers to feel elated and fall in love with their baby, but how can we be joyful when we are permanently uncomfortable and not meeting our basic needs in the first few months of our babies’ lives? We cannot eat, shower or go to the bathroom when we want, we cannot just go for a run or a walk, we are sleep deprived, we are working so hard just to keep another human being alive– how can we expect to feel joy?
  • Furthermore, becoming a mother makes us hyper alert many times to possible dangers to our babies – how can we feel pure joy while we adjust to these new fears in our lives?
  • Hormonally, every woman will react differently, when she becomes a new mum, just like PMS hits everyone differently.

It is important to know how to recognise the difference between matrescence, which is a normal transition to a very new challenging state in our life, and between a clinical diagnosis of postnatal depression and anxiety. Matrescence requires self-care and a patience with time of adjusting, whereas PND requires professional support.

To know what are the red flags for PND please look in our other information sources using the search function above, or navigate to our pages for antenatal depression, or postnatal depression.

Further information on Matrescence

Watch: for further information on Matrescence and the Fourth Trimester, watch our PADA Popup Chat #27 on YouTube or our website here. Sarah Horne is really passionate about breaking down the stigma that The Fourth Trimester is how it’s portrayed on Instagram and other social media. It’s something that requires planning, organisation and thought before conception & antenatally.

Read more: See the Guest Blog – Matrescence – Transition to Motherhood published on our website in April 2022.

Free Resource for new mums – Matrescence NZ

Download this free resource from Matrescence NZ, designed to support families to prepare holistically for the postpartum period – like a birth plan but focused on parental well-being postpartum!

Completely free to download or available at a small print/postage. Matrescence NZ are passionate about making this resource accessible to all expecting parents.

The plan was designed and had the involvement of a psychologist, teacher, midwife, postpartum doula, sleep consultant, mothers and mums to be. It has been designed to enhance the protective factors for maternal well-being, such as strengthening support networks, relationships and communication, as well as including topics, activities and information to help mothers prepare such as nutrition, sleep and mental health.