Understanding Matrescence: Navigating the Transition to Motherhood


newborn-toddler-cries-into-mother-s-arms-bedroom.jpgEntering motherhood means stepping into a transformative experience known as matrescence, a term that embodies the profound transition a woman undergoes when becoming a mother.

While we often hear about childbirth and parenting, there is less awareness about matrescence, the process of becoming a natural or adoptive mother for the first time.

Psychologist Aurelie Athan started writing about the term in 2008 to highlight the profound physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual transformation of new motherhood often absent in discussions on parenthood.

The term was first coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael in the 1970s to describe the customs she observed in many non-Western cultures supporting a woman in the first 40 days of childbirth.

In this article, we'll delve into what matrescence is about and how to navigate this transformative time.

Expectations and Realities

In the narrative of motherhood often depicted in Western cultures, there's a romanticised notion of effortless bliss. Images flood our screens of radiant mothers gracefully balancing the demands of parenting with apparent ease.

Yet, the truth of motherhood is far more nuanced. Stepping into motherhood can feel like navigating a storm, with women confronting a host of challenges from sleep deprivation and physical discomfort to feelings of isolation and self-doubt.

One of the greatest challenges faced by new mothers is the pressure to bounce back quickly after childbirth. There is an expectation that women should seamlessly return to their pre-pregnancy selves, both physically and emotionally, shortly after giving birth.

However, reality paints a different picture. The postpartum period is a time of immense change and adjustment. It is essential to grant ourselves compassion and time to heal and adjust to this new role as mothers.

In contrast, cultures like Latin America embrace the concept of "la cuarentena," a 40-day period of rest and recovery for new mothers, highlighting the importance of support and understanding during this transition.

The Matrescence Journey

Each phase of the journey of becoming a mother brings its own challenges and transformations: from conception to pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.

During conception, women often experience a shift in mindset as they prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for motherhood.

Pregnancy is marked by physical changes, hormonal fluctuations, and profound anticipation for the arrival of the baby.

Birth is a transformative, potentially initiatory experience, marking the culmination of months of preparation.

Yet, it is in the postpartum period that the full impact of matrescence is often felt. The initial months post-birth whirl with emotions, hormonal changes and physical recovery and getting used to being a mother. Women often grapple with feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and uncertainty as they navigate the demands of caring for a newborn while adjusting to their new identity as a mother.

Navigating Matrescence: Tips and Strategies

Navigating matrescence requires a blend of support, self-compassion, and the ability to embrace the complexities of motherhood.

Here are some practical tips and strategies to help you navigate this transformative experience:

  1. Build a Support System: Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends, family members, and healthcare professionals who can offer guidance, encouragement, and practical assistance. Having a strong support system can provide a valuable safety net during times of uncertainty or overwhelm.
  2. Ask for Help: Don't hesitate to reach out for help when you need it. Whether it's enlisting the support of loved ones to help with household chores, seeking guidance from a lactation consultant, or scheduling regular sessions with a qualified therapist, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Remember, you don't have to navigate this journey alone.
  3. Prepare for the Transition: Educate yourself about the profound changes that accompany motherhood. Consider taking childbirth education classes, reading books about pregnancy and childbirth, and connecting with other expectant mothers in supportive communities like women's circles. Sharing experiences and insights with others can offer invaluable support and validation during this transformative time.
  4. Let Go of Expectations: Release yourself from the pressure to meet unrealistic expectations of motherhood. Understand that it's normal to feel overwhelmed, tired, and uncertain at times. Give yourself permission to embrace the messy, imperfect reality of motherhood, knowing that it's all part of the journey.
  5. Practice Self-Care: Make self-care a priority during the postpartum period. Take time to rest, nourish your body with nutritious food, engage in gentle exercise, and participate in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Remember, prioritising your own well-being isn't selfish—it's essential for your overall health and happiness as a mother.

Addressing Postpartum Depression

Navigating matrescence involves a rollercoaster of emotions and hormonal change, from moments of sheer joy to times of exhaustion and uncertainty. But it's crucial to acknowledge when things don't feel right and seek help when you're struggling with persistent depressive episodes after giving birth, which could point to postpartum depression (PPD).

Symptoms of PPD may manifest as persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, inadequacy, or difficulty bonding with the baby and care for yourself. But here's the good news: you're not alone, and help is available.

Talking with a therapist, joining support groups, or participating in women's circles can provide valuable support and strategies for coping with PPD. With the right support and treatment, you can navigate the challenges of postpartum depression and emerge stronger and more resilient on your journey through matrescence.


Becoming a new mother is on the one hand a natural thing to do, and on the other hand it's a profoundly transformative time of self-discovery and initiation into a new version of you. It is a time of immense change and adjustment, marked by both joy and challenges.

By acknowledging and understanding the nuances of this transition, we can all better support and empower new mothers, fostering a culture of compassion, empathy, and inclusivity.

Let's together create space for new mothers' voices to be heard, their experiences validated, and their well-being prioritised!

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