I love the month of November. In Northern California, it means we survived months of scorching sun, thick layers of sunscreen, and even a wildfire season. Now it’s sweater weather, time to restock our cabinets with hot chocolate, and enjoy the streets splashed with vibrant Fall colors. How kind of Mother Earth to give us an annual rhythm of change that ushers us into newness. And how considerate of you for raking the leaves out front of your house and creating an enticing pile for others to enjoy. I supposed this is as good a time as any: Please don’t be alarmed if you see a new face frolicking through those crunchy leaves. No need to call the cops. It’s probably yours truly.
Now that we have all that settled, I’m ready to go for a walk. Care to join me? As we feel the cool air brushing our faces, I find my mind shifting from weather seasons to those of life, more specifically—motherhood. Talk about a mammoth season. Or maybe I should say, it’s an epic adventure full of seasons with sunshine, drizzle, rainbows, storm and avalanches. You name it, it happens. What’s perplexing is that even though mothers are everywhere, for most of us, the season of motherhood is one—big—shocker. It’s as if we waltzed into a blizzard wearing a bikini. We’ve been baby-mooning (literally or figuratively), staring into the sunset, captivated by the image of our future toddler picking dandelions without any idea of what monumental changes have begun unfolding within.
Every mama needs to hear the truth that babies and children change us—forever. When these new darling creations enter our lives, they launch us into a very real developmental process of our own. The word that captures this concept is called “matrescence.” Yes, it’s a real term, no, unfortunately, I don’t understand why it hasn’t penetrated mainstream discourse, and I promise it will be easier to pronounce after a little practice.
It was first coined by anthropologist Dr. Dana Rafael, and then further developed by psychologist Dr. Aurelie Athan. Think of it this way: Similar to how “adolescence” is the process of children becoming adults, “matrescence” is the process of women becoming mothers. Technically, it starts preconception, lasts for years (perhaps never-ending), and restarts with each additional child. During this transformative time, all women experience a major identity shift. You literally won’t stay who you are and can bloom more fully into—you! Like journalist and activist Amy Taylor-Kabbaz says, “if you’re feeling like something profound is happening to you, it’s because it is!”
Now, it goes without saying that transformative processes are never easy. I think back on middle school—metal mouthed me, navigating friendships and algebra while secretly wondering when my breasts would cooperate and grow already. How desperately I wanted to be “me.” And how unsure I was about what that meant or would look like. Thank you, adolescence, for carrying me forward, believing in my potential and not leaving me in padded bras forever.
Although the laundry, dirty dishes, late nights, snotty noses, and tantrums can turn all of us mothers into aspiring stow-aways, it is comforting to know that like adolescence, matrescence, too, is not all for nothing. This time, we are raising the human(s) we love. Those sweet smiles, cuddles and precious moments carry us on.
In the process, matrescence also gifts us with expanded horizons and opportunities for growth. For example, who knew puddle stomping could become an adult hobby, narwhals were not just fairytale creatures, and mosquito eaters didn’t actually eat mosquitos? Who knew motherhood would help me express unconditional love, become more patient, more outspoken, less self-absorbed or even that it could help me develop cat-like reflexes. Go figure. We need fresh little people to show us the way.
The message I am so excited to share with fellow women and mamas across the world is this: Matrescence—mother-becoming—is no joke. It’s a transformative season that can rock your world, bring you to our knees, and carry with it joy, anger, and frustration. It’s packed full of paradox. Motherhood is profound and yet mundane. It’s beautiful and yet messy. It fills us and yet depletes. It can smother and yet make lonely. It consumes everything we have and yet still renders us feeling inadequate.
And yet, you, dear mama, are doing it. Moment-by-moment, day-by-day. You don’t need to be perfect. That’s right. You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t have to wear that heavy suffocating mask of motherhood. You don’t need to have all the answers. You don’t have to do more. You are beautiful and so special. Together, we can change the narrative and expectations of motherhood for ourselves and others.
Matrescence is a long season of change that frees each woman to individually experience and develop in her own way. There is no one-size-fits-all all and no place for judgment. May you have the courage to look within, the community to grow deep roots, the words to celebrate change, and the wisdom to blossom uniquely. And most of all, may we all dress appropriately for the weather.
On Matrescence: Let’s Stop Wearing Bikinis in the Blizzard
Author Bio: Emese C. Parker, RN, WHNP-BC, MPH, PMH-C, NCMP
Emese Parker is a board-certified women’s health nurse practitioner (NP), certified perinatal mental health specialist, public health geek, author, and mama. Her new book is called To Carry Wonder: A Memoir and Guide to Adventures in Pregnancy and Beyond. Combining storytelling and art with evidence-based information, she aims to nurture, inspire, and equip pregnant and postpartum women in a fun new way across the four trimesters (tocarrywonder.com). She can be found on social media as @tocarrywonder.
After completing bachelor of science degrees in exercise science and nursing, Parker earned her master of science in nursing from Boston College and master of public health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has over twenty years of experience in healthcare and is passionate about supporting people in pregnancy and motherhood. She loves partnering with women across the lifespan in various OB-GYN settings, advocating for them as they navigate their distinct journeys through life.
In her current role as a women’s health NP, Parker strives to promote health and wellness through compassionate, holistic care while empowering women to make informed decisions about their bodies. Her devotion to improving care for the marginalized has fueled her involvement in public health leadership positions with organizations like the University of California San Francisco and the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Health Disparities Collaborative. Parker lives in California, where she is a wife and mother to three mischievous children. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, road-biking, getting outdoors, playing piano, and traveling.
Keywords: matrescence, change, growth, transformation, motherhood, parenthood, postpartum, mental health, hormonal changes, perinatal, pregnancy