having a baby is a psychological revolution.

seasons transitions Mar 29, 2024

By Ashley Wilson

"Having a baby is a psychological revolution that changes our relationship to almost everything and everyone." — Esther Perel 

I was a few years into motherhood when I heard this quote. It was one that really struck a chord with me. One of those ones that makes you feel that pang of grief, but also feeling seen. That yes in the body and the why aren't we taught this that quickly follows in the mind.

Sometimes I feel like postpartum is one of those experiences that you can't explain. Words just can't articulate all that it touches, digs up and turns over. You’re you, but you’re also not you. You’re someone entirely new. That someone has been within you the whole time and in your physical transition to mother, that someone breaks through and starts to find her way in this familiar yet also entirely foreign world.

This breaking through is called matrescence. The same way all children experience adolescence, matrescence is experienced by all mothers. Matrescence is, quite simply, the experience of becoming and being a mother.

An important part of matrescence is the development of your new identity. Parts of you will no longer fit and are replaced by the new pieces and priorities that emerge. Many women come to motherhood after years (decades even) of crafting a personal and professional identity. We spend time and energy carefully crafting these versions of us that exist in our relationships, our family, our career and the internal self. How we spend our days, who we spend time with, how we feel about ourselves — even down to what we wear — it's all been carved out. 

When we enter the portal of matrescence, the sharp edges of us that we once new so well start to soften and eventually, might even fall away. Our days are spent largely at home, alone, with a brand-new person that we are getting to know. Some of our relationships begin to morph into something even more special and new, and sometimes the relationships we thought were rock solid begin to exist on uneven ground.

A lot of the time we're wearing yesterday's clothes and if we did manage a fresh outfit, it's a version of what we just took off because that is how we find safety in this new and evolved body. 

all of this, it's a lot. 

In my role as a postpartum doula, I've observed one of the biggest challenges the transition to mother  presents to us is the new-found need to manage our own expectations of ourselves. We come out of these highly charged careers where we know what we're capable of and we push ourselves into new realms of success. But in our new role of mother, we're often left feeling incapable, confused, unsure and dissatisfied by our daily reality. It's simply not what we see on Instagram. Those parts exist, but they're so fleeting. Blink and we literally miss the one moment of the day that felt (or at least looked) perfect.

I see a lot highly successful career women channel their ambition into their baby and their families and this makes sense because it's the most obvious place to send it. This looks like mums giving everything they have to their baby and their family unit and leaving nothing for themselves. It's an unconscious form of martyrdom and it sets an unrealistic and therefore unsustainable expectation on the mother — the kind that leads to them feeling depleted, disconnected and resentful of their new life and role. 

The reality for most of us is that landing somewhere that feels true in our motherhood season is a slow burn. It’s ok not to love your baby right away. You’re still a wonderful mum if this is you. It’s normal for the sense of enjoyment to take time. It’s normal to never love it all. Stepping out of our hyper-curated career world and into the beautiful mess, chaos and unpredictability of motherhood and expecting ourselves to "achieve" in this arena as well is the moment we abandoned ourselves. All-of-a-sudden it becomes about performance not presence. Perfection not progress. 

again, it's a lot. 

All of these expectations. Expecting to love it all. Expecting to fall in love with our baby immediately. Expecting to enjoy every part of motherhood. Expecting that we'll relish days at home with our little one. Most mothers I support got what they didn't expect: Maternal ambivalence.

It’s that feeling of wanting your baby close, but also craving space. That feeling deep rage and love in the very same moment. It's the resentment and the grief. It's missing your old life and your freedom (because trying to live a full life within a baby's wake window is hard). It's feeling distant from the woman you got to know so well and now can't locate.

The disappointment, confusion, soiled expectations and the ambivalence — all of this is part of the process of evolving into mother and if we can, the invitation is to resist it all less and accept it all more. 

one more time: it's a lot. 

I wanted to leave you with both a reframe and some advice. If we let it, matrescence can be one of the most profound rites of passage a woman can journey through but it's our Western culture that has failed to acknowledge and support the depths and transformative power of this experience. When we give matrescence the reverence it deserves, we can attach meaning to our experience — the joy, heartache, beauty and brutality of it all.

Attaching meaning to any experience changes the way we see that experience. It starts to feel more like its happening for us not to us. This meaning-making is a portal into our own innate wisdom and resourcefulness.

And now for my advice: Steal time alone. Grab it, claim it and make it just for you.

Feel into what is sparking joy for you right now in this season. Feel into what makes you feel like you right now in this season. Where are the glimmers? Those tiny, seemingly insignificant moments when you feel pleasure or peace? Layer them into your daily routine. Make them a ritual. On rituals, scatter them throughout your day. Can you make meaning of the moments that feel monotonous? Maybe not, but maybe. . . 

hi, I’m ashley — offline’s resident postpartum doula.

I’m a mum of two passionately supporting women in their transition to motherhood or motherhood again. I believe that postpartum and motherhood can be joyful experiences and that we need support and education to soften the landing and harness the joy. You can find me online at Phlox Postpartum or on Instagram @phlox.postpartum. Postpartum is forever. It’s never too late to enlist help.

Image credit: Pinterest