Matrescence: The heroine's journey
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
I'm on a mission to include matrescence in our lexicon! Why? Well, think about the word for adolescence. We all have a general idea of the life changes associated with adolescence. We all have an understanding of the common psychological, emotional and physical issues navigated by persons who are in the midst of this life passage. Thus it can be so for the transition to motherhood. We can take what we already know about new mothers' experiences to form a deeper understanding of the psychological, emotional and physical issues facing new mothers as they move through this transformational life passage. So, matrescence encompasses the feelings, challenges and qualities of the life passage into motherhood. Matrescence, the deeply personal experience of a woman's passage into motherhood, is recognized by traditional cultures. Anthropologists have coined the term matrescence. This life passage is inclusive of all who do the work of mothering: adoptive mothers, step mothers, transgender mothers, dads who mother.
We all have an idea about how profound the life passage into motherhood is. How can we describe and get the qualitative feel of this life passage? Think about how the transition to motherhood initiates a deep shift in a woman's identity that is physically and hormonally complex, emotionally profound and also changes her place in society: a transformative experience.
In the US, we have various events, such as Jewish bar/ bat Mitsvah, the Christian confirmation, the American Sweet 16, that traditionally mark the transition into adolescence. Marriage marks the change from dependence on parents to creating your own family and home and the bridge towards motherhood. Over the top baby showers mark the event into motherhood and the more subdued Blessing Way has gained popularity.
But how do we acknowledge the profound identity shift into motherhood? How do we talk about the deep challenges of motherhood that can show up as anxiety and depression? What the deep and frightening insecurities are that often accompany the initiation into motherhood?
Do these challenges happen all at once or is there a seemingly unrelenting series of challenges for the individual woman to navigate?
Acknowledging transformation with a ritual
Traditional culture, and Western culture, use stories of heroic journeys as metaphors for the individual's experience of a life passage. These metaphorical stories usually involve the heroine (or hero) being faced with overwhelming challenges. The heroine is beat down, depressed, defeated...but then somehow, pulls through the challenges and makes it through. She comes back to herself, whole, yet profoundly transformed, with new knowledge and wisdom gained by walking through her dark night of the soul. She then uses her new knowledge and wisdom in her life.
We can think of matrescence like a heroine's journey: a series of challenges. As a mother, she encounters deep emotion and movement into the darker emotions. She experiences fear, insecurity, depression, anxiety and anger on different levels. She is tired from the sheer physicality of new motherhood: lack of sleep, the heaviness of carrying the baby, the surprising physical dependence of the baby on her; her body and her time is not exclusively her own anymore. She sheds the skin of her previous identity and shifts into the role of mother. It is difficult and startling in so many, many cumulative ways. The searing love for her child that is frightening in its depth. Her relationship to the world changes. What is safe? What does it mean to be a responsible adult? Who is safe? What are the dangers to this baby without her there to fiercely guard?
So many changes.
Let's acknowledge the heroine's journey and her transition to motherhood with all of its darkness and joy.
The heroine can acknowledge her personal journey with a ritual.
Rituals are actions, acknowledging personal life events. Acknowledging a life event helps process the personal meaning of that event, on both conscious and unconscious levels. Some of the processing might be expect and verbalized, but much of the processing may take place on non-verbal levels.
Take a look at the Matrescence Ritual here, in the next article.
Sacks, A, (2017). The birth of a mother. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/08/well/family/the-birth-of-a-mother.html
Bastidas, G., (2022). How to navigate matrescence – the ups and downs of new motherhood. Retrieved February 27, 20023 from
Masterclass (2021). Writing 101: What Is the Hero’s Journey? 2 Hero’s Journey Examples in Film. Retrieved February 28, 2023 from https://www.masterclass.com/articles/writing-101-what-is-the-heros-journey