Matrescence: The Long Road to Motherhood

Matrescence: The Long Road to Motherhood

When do you become a mother? Is it the day you find out you’re pregnant, the minute you hold your baby, or is it a journey that continues through your baby’s childhood?
We need to talk about matrescence, otherwise known as the “transition to motherhood”. The theory recognizes the many processes and mixed feelings that women experience when they have their babies. It tells us that the rollercoaster is normal, shows us that we’re not alone, and gives us permission to be kinder to ourselves.

Read on to find out more, and welcome to matrescence 101.

In this article: 📝

  • What is matrescence?
  • Who coined the term matrescence?
  • Common experiences during matrescence: what do new mamas feel?
  • How long does matrescence last?
  • The differences between matrescence and post-partum depression##

What is matrescence?

Remember adolescence (or maybe you’d rather forget)?. It’s a transitionary time when your body, the way that society sees you, and the way that you see yourself are all changing.

Matrescence is a similar process, except you go through it with a tiny baby to take care of and lots of people expect you to be happy all the time.

It’s often said that when a baby is born, a mother is too, but it’s more complicated than that. Matrescence isn’t just about becoming a person who takes care of a baby. Instead, it’s every mother’s journey to a place where her identity as an individual and her identity as a mama are reconciled.

Who coined the term matrescence?

We have the anthropologist Dana Raphael to thank for the term and the standard matrescence definition. More recently, Alexandra Sacks MD has been working to popularize the term.

Common experiences during matrescence: what do new mamas feel?

Mama, you’re unique. We can’t give you a roadmap for how you’ll feel during your transition to motherhood. But here are the good and the bad parts of matrescence (which you’ll probably experience all at the same time).


Let’s not just dwell on the tough stuff. As you grow into your baby’s protector, there’s a whole lot of good to cherish. You get to know them, and cheer them on, and learn that you have enough love for everyone.


Maybe you’re wondering when you’ll have time for your hobbies again, or when you’ll look like your old self. Maybe motherhood isn’t what you exactly pictured, or what they said it would be like in books or on blogs. Questioning your decision to start a family is common.


As much as you can see that there’s good and bad in your emotions, your situation, and your relationships, it’s a lot to process and can leave you feeling frustrated. This is ambivalence, the push and pull and juggling of emotions that is new motherhood.


All the changes in your life, the tiredness as your body recovers, and your hormones (which go wild again after birth) can leave you feeling emotional. Maybe it’s too upsetting to watch the news, or you surprise yourself with how irritable you can become. In this sense, matrescence really does have a lot in common with the teenage years.

How long does matrescence last?

The simple answer: we’re not sure, and neither was Dana Raphael (the expert we mentioned earlier). Some women start to experience changes in their sense of identity while they’re still trying to conceive. For some, they’re still on the journey when their child turns 10.

A lot depends on your experience of pregnancy, birth, and your relationship with your partner and friends. Becoming a parent also has a habit of shaking up your relationship with your own parents. Some mamas suddenly understand their parents in a new way, others find it harder than ever to understand the choices that their parents made.

What’s important is to give yourself time, be kind to yourself, and open up to the people you trust. The chances are your mom friends are going through the same thing.

The differences between matrescence and post-partum depression##

Reading this, you might have noticed that some of the feelings of matrescence overlap with the common symptoms of postpartum depression.

Many new mamas are concerned about PPD, but are ultimately told that their frustration and ambivalence are just a normal part of the transition to motherhood. On the other hand, it’s important to know when there’s something more serious going on.

Matrescence is both/and. My baby is amazing, and I wish I could have an evening to myself. With PPD, on the other hand, the bad overwhelms the good. If you feel intensely guilty, panicked, or depressed after the first 3-4 weeks with your baby, (beyond the time when the baby blues often go away by themselves), you might have PPD.

Matrescence isn’t associated with things like insomnia, losing interest in the hobbies you used to enjoy, or thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s definitely time to seek help from a healthcare provider.

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