Matrescence: Coaching During a Time of Life Transition

What is Matrescence?

(pronounced ma tres ens).

The psychological birth of a mother, similar to adolescence, involves hormonal and identity shifting.

Listen to my interview with Maureen McGrath where we discuss Matrescence
January 24, 2021

Throughout this profound identity transition, an expectant individual undergoes an average of about 13 doctors’ appointments during pregnancy, 3 urine tests, 4-5 blood tests, 4 ultrasound tests, 2-3 vaginal exams/swabs, and 2 monitor exams. That is if they are healthy, give birth before or on their EDD, and do not need further diagnostic or screening exams. Then, they will go through the childbirth experience.  An experience in which the transparent fabric of one’s routine is disturbed by pain, fear of death, and temporary loss of control.  Their body expels a new human being while they are under the care of medical caregivers – most of them practice from an “expert” position. This abundance of encounters with medical maternal healthcare providers amplifies the neglect of expectant individuals’ emotional state and mindset during this profound transformation. Not even one behavioral assessment is routinely recommended for this individual. Instead of focusing on individuals’ well-being and mental health as they transition to parenthood and prepare for the profound transformation of childbirth, maternal caregivers and researchers tend to focus on how the baby is doing.

Not even one behavioral assessment is routinely recommended for individuals going through the identity transition of Matrescence

The acclaimed goal of the excessive prenatal testing mentioned above is to provide parents-to-be with information about their health and their babies’. It comes with no acknowledgment of the potential mental impact of undergoing so many doctor appointments, screening routines, and diagnostic exams – the potential increase in individuals’ anxiety levels. However, descriptive statistics indicate that almost 60% of pregnant patients feel anxious mostly because of the fear of receiving bad news

Putting aside the fear triggered by these many prenatal testings and doctors’ appointments, it is hard to understand how negligent the modern maternal healthcare system is to the emotional and mental states of those who go through the transformation of pregnancy and birth. Some researchers have tried to call attention to this social failure. 

Women are Calling Attention to the Becoming of a Mother

Since the mid-70s, reachers have been calling attention to the becoming of a mother. One of them is anthropologist Dana Raphae, who coined the term Matrescence. More recently, Dr. Alexandra Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist, has centered her work around making matrescence a well-known word as adolescence. According to Dr. Sacks, both Matrescence and Adolescence are :

  • Hormone dominant
  • Body-altering
  • Irreversible
  • A rite-of-passage
  • Confidence- challenging
  • Awkward. 

In addition, becoming a mother changes our social status. 

Women have not only studied the transformation but also have written poetry about it.  Sophia Stid is a Californian poet who wrote a poem called “Matrescece’, describing the experience of a modern woman while becoming a mother:

Become a mother, become room, become food,
become miracle. The heart of each devours

the other’s heart. Hurry – become faster, Barely
made myself, I knew what they said meant 

my body was a door, made for someone else
to come through. Become sacrament. 

The commandments I kept, the ones
I couldn’t keep – all practice before

this one. Become sacrosanct. In birth, the pain
is not like other pain. In birth the pain is purpose-

ful and anticipatory. Anticipate. Become vanishing
act. Become numb, shaved, cut, split, crazy with pain-

become  bare beneath the wide washed
lights of medicine and angels – become everything

and so nothing, and no one, but a mother, a
miracle room, a heart in someone else’s mouth

Need a moment to catch your breath? I know that I needed to. Reading this poem shook me to the core. I have worked with expectant individuals and families for 22 years. However, this poem has allowed me to clearly see the importance of addressing our clients’ mindsets as they go through the identity transitions of pregnancy, birth, and becoming a parent.

Birth support figures who understand the nature and challenges of matrescence can become excellent birth support coaches!

I’m not suggesting that every expectant individual will engage in therapy. If we adopt Dr. Sacks’ comparison between matrescence and adolescence, we can agree that only some adolescents need therapy to successfully cope with this challenging period in their lives. Most of them are competent and functional. The missing link is coaching – sports coaches and coaches who lead other types of school clubs become teenagers’ leaders for this tie of transition into adulthood. It’s rarely their parents or teachers. There are so many books and movies with this theme. 

Can expectant individuals use coaching?

Yes, It’s the same as with adolescents. Birth support pros, who understand the nature and challenges of the life transition of Matrescence can become excellent coaches. 

Coaching can help a pregnant individual to navigate throughout these transitions: to cope with the particular emotional, hormonal, physiological, and social changes that the transition entails for the unique individual, and the unique challenges that emerge for each one. Transformational Birth Support Coaches integrate transformational coaching strategies to empower and lead throughout pregnancy and birth.  They can tap into expectant individuals’ mindsets and help them adopt new perspectives, which will, in turn, generate better mindsets. Clarity of one’s experience and vision for themselves as they go throughout the transition, higher levels of confidence, commitment to their positive and healthy transition, and strong convictions about what they want and need will all lead expectant individuals to take charge of their transformation. These states can’t be achieved by education – we don’t expect adolescents to read about the process of adulting in order to go with grace through it. We coach them! Let’s provide this complimentary and necessary care that the medical system neglect to provide, and coach expectant individuals and their family members. 

 

Neri Life-Choma

DONA, doula profession, prenatal

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