Matrescence — What is it?

What happens to a woman’s psychological development when she becomes a mother? via

During matrescence, people expect you to be happy while you’re losing control over the way you look and feel.

Let’s delve deeper into “matrescence,” the transition into motherhood described in our New York Times article, “Birth of a Mother”. Like adolescence, it is a transitionary period. Being pregnant is like going through puberty all over again: your hormones go nuts, your hair and skin don’t behave the way you’d like, and you develop a new relationship with a body that seems to have a mind of its own.

The difference? Everyone understands that adolescence is an awkward phase. But during matrescence, people expect you to be happy while you’re losing control over the way you look and feel.

We’ve worked with thousands of new mothers and while each story is unique, there are some universal aspects.

From a neuroscientific point of view, the emotions of matrescence are as much about chemical shifts in your brain as they are about the stuff that science can’t explain. Estrogen and progesterone are coursing through the receptors in your brain when you lose your temper with your mother, partner, and/or friends.

Our upcoming book, The Emotional Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum, will explain the brain science behind these mood swings, and also show how your psychology (expectations, thoughts, and memories in your mind) are also at play. This means yes, there is a biologic basis for being sensitive and moody. But you’re not totally off the hook when/if you scream at people!

We’ve worked with thousands of new mothers and while each story is unique, we have noticed some universal aspects to the psychological narrative of matrescence — the emotional “through lines” that women experience, like:


A feeling that comes up in the roles and relationships you’re most invested in, because they’re always a juggling act between giving and taking. Most of the time, the experience of motherhood is not good or bad, it’s both good and bad.

Fantasy vs. Reality:

Your imagination about pregnancy and motherhood is informed by observations of your own mother, female relatives, friends, and women in your community and culture. Fantasies may be powerful enough that reality disappoints if it doesn’t align with your vision.

Guilt, Shame and “The Good Enough Mother”:

There’s also the ideal mother in your mind. Many women think that “good enough” (a phrase coined by the pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott) is not acceptable, because it sounds like settling. But striving for perfection sets you up to feel shame and guilt.


All mothering is intergenerational: for better and for worse, your maternal identity is founded in your mother’s style, and hers in her mother’s. Whether you parent your child as your mother parented you, or adopt a different mothering style, becoming a mother gives you a beautiful (and sometimes painful) opportunity for a do-over. In a way, you get to re-experience your own childhood in the act of parenting, repeating what was good, while trying to improve upon what you think you can do better.


Your friends and family — even your spouse or partner — will be competing for your attention with your baby. Motherhood will also compete with the time, energy and resources you’re used to investing into your own eating, exercise, recreation, organization, sexuality, finances, and work. You’ll have to navigate a shift in your role and relationship to all of these people and places, and yourself.

Leading up to the birth of our book, The Emotional Guide, we’ll be writing advice and tips for our newsletter — sign up here:! Our book will help guide women from the first trimester through the first year postpartum, explaining the ups and downs in hormones, moods, and relationships — think of it as the psychological counterpart to What to Expect When You’re Expecting!

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