kids

'After having my daughter, motherhood was not what I thought it would be. Then I discovered matrescence.'

Right now, I’m a mother of a five-year-old. And my mind is blown by the sheer amount of personal growth I’ve achieved during that rather short time, compared to the rest of the rich and rewarding life I’ve had before I became a mum. 

Maybe you think it sounds weird to juxtapose motherhood and personal growth? How on earth are we supposed to do this in between sleepless nights, projectile vomits, temper tantrums, drop offs, pickups, and wrestling nits? 

A good question indeed.

Watch: The things mums never hear. Post continues after video. 


Video via Mamamia.

Let me rewind the tape a little: I’m sitting at my desk in a corporate office in Sydney, feeling empty and sad. I’m 32 years old and I’ve been trying to fall pregnant for nearly two years by then. All sorts of thoughts are crossing my mind:

"What’s wrong with me?" 

"Will I ever be a mother?" 

"I’m not a real woman if I can’t have a child."

The stress and resentment are building up and overall, I’m feeling pretty lonely. There’s no way I’m going to let anyone know how ashamed and inadequate I feel.

Finally, after a lot of tears and a crash course in surrender, at 33 years old, I give birth to my daughter. 

An incredibly powerful moment in time. Pure joy washed over me when I held my little girl in my arms. And yet, shortly after, the feelings of inadequacy and isolation I had become so familiar with as I was trying to conceive, came back to haunt me. 

"Why can’t I work out breastfeeding? Something’s wrong with me." 

"It’s so hard. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mum." 

"I’ve been wanting her so bad but I’m not sure I’m enjoying this! Oh no I feel terrible... what kind of mother would think that?"

On and on it went. 

I was feeling uncomfortable in my body, disconnected from my partner, and conflicted about my work. My experience was very, very far from what I had imagined motherhood would be like. It felt as if I was navigating uncharted territories, even though many women before me had done their own baptism of fire through conception and beyond. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I wish I’d been initiated into what felt like, at the time, a sliding doors moment, a transition of sorts. 

Sadly, we live in a culture where the wisdom of women who have gone before us is rarely passed down. What we’re shown are filtered images of "the good mother", the one we think we should be but struggle to live up to. So, after a lot of shaming myself, taking numerous guilt trips and feeling this deep inner split within me, I stumbled upon matrescence. 

And this is when my journey of personal growth through motherhood really began. 

Image: Supplied/Snappy Street Creative.

Matrescence: the roadmap to an empowered experience of motherhood. 

Women have gone through matrescence for eons, but it’s only in recent years that this process was given a name and acknowledged for what it is: the huge transformation that a woman goes through as she navigates motherhood. Dana Raphael is the anthropologist who came up with the word matrescence back in the 70s when she was studying how women were supported beyond birth. 

It took a few more years and the work of a clinical psychologist at Columbia University in New York, Dr Aurelie Athan, to revive the study of matrescence. She helped put this term in perspective by likening it to adolescence.  

With matrescence, motherhood is recognised as a process: it’s no longer seen as this other role that women are meant to slip into "naturally", just because they gave birth to a child.

Dr Athan describes it as a developmental passage, similar to what adolescence is for a child who is transitioning into adulthood. And we know how bumpy that can be. We expect teenagers to display big emotions and to question who they are as they form their new identity through this transition. We’re not there yet for mothers.

ADVERTISEMENT

Every piece of information I read after I gave birth was focused on the baby, and the parenting techniques. When I discovered matrescence, I realised that being a mother was not just about my daughter and how I showed up for her but also about me and how I showed up for myself in this new season of my life. 

Could I give myself permission to learn how to be a mother over time? Could I give myself permission to not enjoy every minute of it and ride the waves of contrasting emotions with self-kindness? Could I give myself permission to trust the process and grow from it?  

"Everybody tells us that mothering is about raising our kids. Nobody tells us that mothering is also about raising ourselves." - Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Valuing motherhood as an important rite of passage. 

When I went back to work after maternity leave, it was kind of a shock that this work and career I’d been very committed to, suddenly felt so different and foreign to me. But I held my head high, swallowed the tears and pretended nothing had changed. After all, that’s what was expected of me, right? 

How quickly would I go back to work? How quickly could I fit back into my jeans? How quickly would I feel like myself again? 

While everyone else around expected me to be happy, I was silently sinking into disillusion. Yes, there were also great moments of joy and celebration. 

But my unrealistic expectations of motherhood were holding me back from valuing all of it, the good parts and the hard ones too.

"If women understood the natural progression of matrescence... if they knew that under these circumstances, ambivalence was normal and nothing to be ashamed of, they would feel less alone, they would feel less stigmatised, and I think it would even reduce rates of postpartum depression." - Dr Alexandra Sacks.

Growth and change come with discomfort. As Dr Sacks says in her amazing Ted Talk, "Discomfort is not always the same thing as disease." When we recognise that motherhood is a great period of transformation for a woman, emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, even socially and economically, we give her space and time to find her feet, we give her permission to feel all the feelings. 

When we value motherhood as an important rite of passage in the life of a woman, she gets the opportunity to grieve endings, embrace beginnings, and discover the new identity that is born within her, alongside her child - whether it’s the first, second or more.  

Listen to This Glorious Mess, a Mamamia podcast that looks at parenting as it really is - confusing, exhausting, inspiring, funny, and full of surprises. Post continues after podcast. 

 

Women rising together.

Motherhood is changing me. 

Motherhood has been the catalyst for me to start living more intentionally, to appreciate the woman I am becoming and to make choices that feel better aligned with what I value most in this season of my life. For me, that meant changing careers after 12 years of working in corporate to become a certified life coach, supporting women’s wellbeing and personal evolution through preconception, pregnancy and motherhood. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I want women to know that they don’t need to be a martyr to be the mum they want to be. They don’t need to indulge in self-silencing and pretend nothing has changed. 

Even though the system we are currently a part of doesn’t seem to value and support motherhood, women and mothers can make choices that support their own values, needs and the ones of their family. 

The process I take women through mirrors the journey I’ve been on myself. Learning to accept the changes and extract the lessons gathered along the way. Learning to catch the voice within me that is scolding, unloving, highly critical and to slowly replace it with one that is approving, compassionate and kind. 

That same voice I wish to use with my daughter, as she learns her way to be in this world. 

I've also learnt how to look after myself and to ask for what I need. And most importantly - I've learnt to do things my way even if it doesn’t comply with society’s expectations of what a 'good mother' or a 'successful woman' is. 

We all have the capacity within us to do this inner work. And we need more women doing it together: opening up about their experience of matrescence, sitting in a circle with other women, mothers and mothers-to-be and putting words on what they feel in order to normalise and process their experience.

There is no "right way" to be a mother. Each of us has a unique path to walk on and so much to learn from it. 

With self-kindness and support, motherhood can be an incredible opportunity for a woman to discover her full potential and as a result, enable her children to live up to theirs. 

Elise is a certified life coach dedicated to women's wellbeing and personal evolution through motherhood. She's committed to supporting mothers in drawing their own picture of success for this season of their life, beyond the expectations that have been placed on them. She works with women one-and-one and also facilitates workshops and circles to provide a gentle and supportive space for women to feel heard, seen and valued on their journeys, whether they’re trying to conceive, pregnant or actively mothering. 

She received her coach accreditation from the Human Potential Institute and has a diploma in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing. She's an accredited Mama Rising Facilitator, using the method developed by Amy Taylor Kabbaz to help mothers navigate their matrescence journeys. Most importantly, she has direct experience with life’s transitions: she worked in corporate for over 12 years before becoming a mother and changing careers. 

Committed to doing things "her way", you won’t find a link to her Instagram handle but you can follow her work on her online home: www.eliseclement.com.

Feature Image: Supplied/Snappystreet Creative.