When you stepped towards motherhood, did anyone talk to you about your expectations of what motherhood would look like, your values, or how you were going to feel being less financially independent? Did anyone have any candid conversations with you about how to stay connected to your partner amidst the sleep deprivation and interrupted conversations? Did you go to an NCT group to prepare for becoming a mother and spend your time talking about how you were going to give birth, discuss whether you were going to breast or bottle feed, or talk about what poo looks like in a nappy? Did you feel that this prepared you in any way for what you met within your life, within your relationship, or within yourself, after you birthed your baby?
No, me neither.
I remember when I gave birth to Anna over four years ago and my parents came to stay for a couple of weeks. My mum showed me how to bath her and swaddle her. I had no idea. We hadn’t covered this in our NCT sessions, which at that time made me reflect back on what we actually did cover or learn, and whether there was any part of that program that prepared us for what we were about to step into. Four years later, I recognise that little to none of that information was valuable.
Our networks are set up to talk about birth, and breastfeeding, and how our babies sleep, and yet there is little to no conversation, nor honest interaction between women and mothers around a myriad of different aspects and factors that mothers end up navigating alone. If your birth didn’t go to plan, your baby didn’t latch properly, you are struggling massively around sleep, or you’re feeling disconnected and resentful towards your partner, you end up feeling even more isolated and alone.
As a woman stepping into motherhood there is no preparation, or acknowledgment of what is on the horizon. How life will alter, what exceptions she will face, or how her identity will shift within this massive transition.
At the most basic level, an 8-week check up with a doctor post birth is a series of ticking boxes. Any answer that deviates from the box is met with a half interested gaze that urges one to steer her answer towards a yes or no. The baby’s body examined, yet the mothers body, the body that has gone through a physical discombobulation, and in many cases a hugely traumatic experience to birth the baby is brushed over with a couple of pleasantries.
When I first stepped into motherhood I didn’t even know I was split between who I was, and me, the mother. I didn’t start out with any grand exceptions around motherhood, or who I would be as a mother, apart from the naive expectation that my children would never watch TV nor eat sugar, ever. I just assumed that I would continue on as I had done, with the added responsibility of bringing a human into the world.
I was too busy trying to keep myself together, paddling upstream against the currents, trying to figure it out as I went along to acknowledge how lost I felt. I knew that my priorities had shifted, I knew I didn’t have the energy and capacity to hold people, or my work in the same way. I knew I felt alone at times, and deeply triggered by my husband and his family. I knew on such a deep level that something major had shifted within me, but I had no way of articulating what that was.
By the time I had my second baby Giorgia, two weeks into the first lockdown here in the UK, it felt like everything became magnified. I felt like I had no choice by that stage to acknowledge what was going on inside of me. Confined at home with a new born, a very emotional toddler, and an unemployed husband, miles away from any family support in the middle of a pandemic felt like a huge burden. When I shared my feelings and had them shut down, I internalised them. I didn’t know how to articulate my feelings without sounding ungrateful or privileged, and so I internalised my feelings even more. I felt massively isolated. Everything that I found challenging, everything that I felt triggered by or hurt by, everything I struggled with, I internalised it. I felt like I was alone in my feelings and those feelings grew bigger. Before I knew it I was blaming myself for everything. For finding it hard, for Giorgia stopping breast feeding much earlier than I anticipated, for not having spent the amount of intimate time with her as I had envisioned, for the regression in her sleep, for Anna’s jealous and emotional breakdowns. I blamed myself when my baby cried with me and settled with my husband. I blamed myself for feeling angry, for feeling isolated, for feeling like a victim. I blamed myself for everything. I felt like the split I felt at my core was now gaping wide open, and mo matter how much I pushed myself to keep it all together, none of it ever felt like enough.
Then one morning at five, when Giorgia was about five months old, I was putting her back in the cot when I dropped to my knees. I crawled out of the room on my hands and knees and the next few days I spent laying on my back, chocker with anti-inflammatories and painkillers, teary eyed and pumping milk that would later be tipped down the sink and replaced with formula. My back had completely given out on me, my legs cramped and locked with every movement. I literally could not move.
It was this moment right here that I reached out for more resources. I had exhausted my tool box, and was drained from doing it all alone.
I made healing a priority and created rituals that felt nourishing, and after doing some deep soul searching work with a very good friend of mine, Claudia Whitney, I stepped into a journey with an incredible woman, Amy Taylor-Kabbaz, in Australia who I continue to work with. Amy opened my eyes to a term called Matrescence; the transformation that a woman goes through when she becomes a mother, like a teenager does when they transition through adolescence. A transformation that cascades into every facet of her life as she transitions between the woman she was and the women she is becoming.
A huge revelation for me was understanding that we all, to varying degrees, struggle with how our lives have shifted socially, and economically, how our bodies have shifted physically and hormonally, how our communities shift, and how society really isn’t set up to prepare us for, or support us as we journey through this massive transition, or right of passage of becoming a mother.
I have always loved the quote that is attributed to Buddha, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”, and my goodness was I ever.
Learning about Matrescence and being in a community of women who are vulnerably sharing their reflections and experiences has given me a way to articulate my experience, to acknowledge what I have gone through, and what I continue to journey through. To acknowledge this Matrescence as an ongoing transformation, as I move through the different seasons of my life, and navigate motherhood as my family require my support in different ways. To recognise that understanding Matrescence gives me an opportunity to reconcile this split that I have felt within myself, and redefine how I desire to move forward within my role as a mother, in my work, and through the world living my purpose.
Acknowledgement in fact has been the key to me finding healing, and the ability to forgive myself for struggling. It is not my fault. I now see the guilt, shame and isolation I felt was a result of not having the information or support I needed. We aren’t meant to be doing this alone, and just having the language to articulate my experience, and feelings has helped me feel less alone. It has allowed me to be a lot more forgiving and kind towards my self, and graceful as I move where I’m challenged or pulled towards. Understanding Matrescence, having a word to describe this transition, and honouring that it is a process all women go through, regardless of whether they physically birth their babies or not, has been fascinating and immensely healing.
My hope is that when we prepare for birthing the baby, we also prepare for birthing the mother. Give women the information they require to nourish themselves and set themselves up with the support that they need. To educate women around this right of passage, address expectations, connect with values, and hold a space where she is acknowledged non-judgmentally while she navigates the seismic shifts that occur when she steps into motherhood. Knowledge is power, and when we empower women to live in line with their values, speak their truth, and follow their Dharma, or life purpose, we lead them towards a life feeling less split and more whole.