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.
I never thought motherhood would be such a challenging and transformative experience for me. In hindsight, I realise that it started well before my daughter came into this world. I felt a shift within me as I was trying to conceive, a journey that took two years, lots of tears and a crash course in surrender. It felt as if I was navigating uncharted territories at the time…even though many women before me had done their own baptism of fire through conception and beyond. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where the wisdom of women who have gone before us is rarely passed down. If it is, it’s often through truth-tainted glasses.
So, here I was, overall feeling pretty inadequate and isolated. “If I can’t fall pregnant surely it means I’m failing at being a woman”. “If I can’t work out breastfeeding straight away, it must mean that something is wrong with me”. “I’m feeling conflicted about my work, my body, my relationship and this whole experience of motherhood, so it must mean that I’m not fit for it”. After a few years of shaming myself, going on several guilt trips and feeling this deep inner split within me, I stumbled upon the concept of matrescence.
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 steps into and grows through 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.
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.
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.
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
Growth and change come with discomfort. As Dr Alexandra 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
If you’re keen to reconnect to yourself, overcome maternal burnout and draw your own picture of success when it comes to motherhood, womanhood, work, come join the Mama Rising circles in Clovelly. Or you can also work with me one-on-one. I’d love to be your steady guide on this wild ride you’re taking through motherhood.
Elise is a certified life coach and matrescence specialist dedicated to women’s wellbeing and personal evolution through motherhood. She helps women and mothers regain confidence, clarity and calm as they journey through the highs and lows of preconception, pregnancy and motherhood. You can read more about her in our Directory here.
Read more about Elise Clement and her work on her website: www.eliseclement.com