Matrescence the Transition into Motherhood

Following the recent podcast, episode 35 with Aurelie Athan, a clinical psychologist who has dedicated much of the last 15 years of her career in reproductive identity and the understanding and revival of the term Matrescence, originally coined by Anthropologist Dana Raphael in the 1970’s I thought I felt inspired to create a blog post on the subject.

Matrescence has gained much more popularity in recent years, with the revival of traditional postpartum care, this TED talk by Alexandra Sacks that has almost 2 million views! Dr Oscar Serrallach writing and popularising the term postpartum depletion amongst his discussion on matrescence. There’s social media accounts and mothercare businesses using the term, there’s even a skin care range.

What does all of this mean though on a practical level, for a mother, family, community? How does having a name and understanding of Matrescence shift our worlds for the better?


Well let’s look at the working definition the that Dr Aurelie shares:

“The process of becoming a mother, coined by Dana Raphael, Ph.D. (1973), is a developmental passage where a woman transitions through pre-conception, pregnancy and birth, surrogacy or adoption, to the postnatal period and beyond. The exact length of matrescence is individual, recurs with each child, and may arguably last a lifetime! The scope of the changes encompass multiple domains --bio-psycho-social-political-spiritual-- and can be likened to the developmental push of adolescence. Increased attention to mothers has spurred new findings, from neuroscience to economics, and supports the rationale for a new field of study known as matrescence. Such an arena would allow the roundtable of specialists to come together and advance our understanding of this life passage.”

- Aurélie Athan, Ph.D.

I know when I first learnt of the term and the meaning describing such a huge life transition, I felt relieved, heard, seen, understood. That this experience of all consuming dichotomy with extreme conflicting emotions, feeling and experiences was ok. It was natural. That there was nothing inherently wrong with my struggling but rather it was a symptom of a lack of cultural understanding and support networks. It’s not just about me though, because I now know that many many mamas and new families feel this way also but want society to get on board with this understanding.

If we look to traditional wisdom in this area without idolisation, an innate cultural understanding meant that Matrescence was practically and holistically supported. I write more about this on my first blog post here. The shift of responsibility for a new mother and family to thrive was on the inner and outer support networks of family and community. If parents were struggling or experiencing mental health issues it would be seen as needing more support, better nourishment, emotional, physical and spiritual healing. Rather than the modern wash of the “self-care’ brush. The deferent go see a counsellor or “professional. Don’t get me wrong, these professional services are super valuable and I have benefited from them. In fact it is the work of professional like Dr Aurelie who are helping to get other practitioners on the same page. I have a list of professional Australian postpartum support services and local Mid North Coast NSW resources here.

I just feel we shouldn’t stop there, but also reclaim our own roles in community care, to recognise our own responsibility and importance in caring for others and cultivation nurturing compassion. This of course can be applied in all areas of society, children, the elderly, the lonely and more. My personal thoughts are that the balance is out, many of us know this, we recognise it. I have shared on the blog and social media my thoughts on how we can practically support new families. This is about the internal work, the ongoing dedication to consciously reconnect with each other, to reach out and give a little. Also and importantly to receive. Amidst the epidemic of isolated busyness, to make space for togetherness, for listening, loving and sharing a little more.

I don’t want to hear from the Boomers, that “we did fine on our own ”, no you didn’t mostly. You may have done ok, but we’re here to keep growing and to start thriving. To bravely and vulnerably sit with our grief of what we have lost, didn’t know or give. To acknowledge, vision more and take steady action towards revitalising community care on the neighbourhood level. In fact one of the historical terms given in the UK up until about a century ago to the community care of a new mother was called “neighbouring”, because it was exactly that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this! Head to my social posts or send me a message to keep the conversation going.

Podcast notes and links:

Aurelie Athan is a clinical psychologist and faculty member at The Teachers College, Columbia University in New York. Aurelie has dedicated much of the last 15 years of her career in Reproductive Identity, understanding and revival of the term Matrescence, originally coined by Anthropologist Dana Raphael in the 1970’s.

Listen in on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Anchor fm (with 5 other options) to this super interesting and thought provoking podcast to hear us discuss:

- The history of Matrescence

- The importance of reviving an understanding in this area of Matrescence and creating new language for a greater understanding across many professions and amongst our communities

- Aurelie’s 15 years of dedication in this area, the how, why and discoveries

- The spiritual aspect of Motherhood

- Creating a wholistic cross-disciplinary approach

Find out more about Aurelie’s work, professional courses and papers at her Website and on Twitter

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