Becoming a mother turned out to be a completely different journey than I expected.
During my pregnancy, I attended various courses in preparation for birth, as well as exercise classes to stay active and healthy, and I read many different books on pregnancy and birth.
None of that prepared me for what I was going to experience once my baby arrived. I remember waking up after the euphoria of seeing my girl for the first time and thinking to myself, What have I done? I was terrified, and the following two and a half months were a blur.
My life suddenly was a complete chaos, I invested all my energy in keeping this little human alive, and I lost myself. I was overcome by sadness, vulnerability, fear, anger, confusion, and a long etcetera of things that were not on my preparation list. I cried, on average, twice a day. I wondered if this was postnatal depression.
I sought out support in other mums I knew, and, to my surprise, 95 percent of them told me they had the same experiences when they became mothers. They said what I was going through was completely normal and that it was part of the deal. They reassured me, saying it gets better and that I just needed to give myself some time.
I asked myself how come I didn’t know about this before.
I decided to do some research on the subject, and I found out there is a word for what I was experiencing: Matresence. This word, and therefore its meaning, are vastly unknown in our society.
Matresence is the healthy transition of a woman into motherhood. It is an expected developmental stage driven by the following factors:
>> A brutal hormonal imbalance.
>> The act of giving birth and its psychological impact.
>> A door to your own childhood is opened.
>> Relationship/family unit changes and needs to be re-organised.
>> A loss of identity and life as you knew it.
A rite of passage is “a ritual, event, or experience that marks or constitutes a major milestone or change in a person’s life.” This term was first used by Arnold van Gennep. He researched this phenomena in different cultures, and he described it as a celebration of the transition from one phase of life to another.
It seems in our western culture we have skipped this ritualistic celebratory state that helps us integrate the psychological impact this transition makes on us.
When a baby is born, so is the mother. The problem is that the woman can be lost in the process. The savage life changes mentioned above can leave women feelings extremely vulnerable and raw. Life as she knew it drastically changes in a matter of hours, and it is easy to lose touch with one’s identity. Just like her baby, she too has been born as a mother; the difference is that the woman is completely aware of the process.
Women often are left feeling isolated during this period if they are unaware of the changes mentioned above. Nevertheless, this transitional stage is healthy and there is even a terminology for it.
The picture of motherhood in our society is an idyllic one, filled with happiness where the woman feels complete. The reality cannot compete with this image, as it is tainted with ambivalent feelings. In this accepted picture of motherhood, there is no room for sadness, grief, fear, or anger, so it is common for the mother to end up repressing these feelings that turn shameful, isolating herself because of her inadequacy.
Matresence is not known, is not portrayed in our society, and therefore it is not normalised. This means that many women are left wondering whether they are suffering from postnatal depression, as they are not enjoying motherhood the way they imagined they would be.
So, why is this not common knowledge? Why are we leaving women isolated, unsupported during this difficult and crucial transition?
It is important that women start talking honestly to each other about motherhood, supporting each other, and normalising the transitional stage of Matresence. This will also contribute to prevent potential mental health issues.
It is crucial we start honouring the rite of passage that is the birth of a mother and her baby (babies).
We must focus our attention on the mother who has endured that life-changing journey and felt every inch of it. We need to start mothering the mother. Supporting her stepping into this new stage in her life, giving space, and allowing all the difficult feelings as well as we welcome the happy ones.
The same way we accompany the baby patiently throughout its first year until it can take its first steps, so we need to accompany the mother and stop assuming motherhood comes to women naturally, independently of being a new mum or third-time mother.