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The Transition to Motherhood

I’ve talked in a past blog post about what it is we need to survive our greatest life transitions. In a nutshell: each other. If community were a medicine (which, given it’s clinically studied effects, I would happily argue it is!), it’s kryptonite would certainly be: isolation. Just last week, I introduced this concept as the driver behind so much of what we experience today as mood disorders, in the postpartum period. 

Motherhood, is a pinnacle transition of our lives, and without community as the antidote to so much of our maternal woes – we’ll more often than not find ourselves in a position of such overwhelm that the weight of depression and anxiety can surely cripple us. Motherhood is not only a transition of importance – I mean becoming a new mom is quite literally one of THE most important jobs we will ever have… but it is one of sacred transformation. 

So powerful in fact is the transition to motherhood, that it has its very own word. 

Matresence

A term coined by Anthropologist Dana Raphael, it means simply (which is not to imply it is easy) the process of becoming a mother. The evolution of a new identity. This is why many traditions hold ceremonies or have other rights of passages, to honor and encourage women stepping into this new role with fierce grace and abundant support.

This passage is about so much more than our babies deliverance from womb to world, and is (believe it or not) more intense than the shock factor that often accompanies our sudden encountered sleep deprivation. (I mean, we knew it was coming, but then it’s there and it’s like “oh… oh, I see.”)

We often think of the struggles that come along with those early days and weeks as the backbone of what really builds the character of us, as Mother. But I’m venturing to guess there may be a few things you don’t know about or come across as frequently that illustrates the tale of our becoming in such an empowering way. (Because the 2am conquer of a poop explosion is a nice badge of honor and all – but it doesn’t quite have that “power factor.”) 

The Power of Matrecense 

We can do hard things mama, but we’re doing more than just hard things here in the process of becoming a mom. We are fundamentally shifting, on a physiological, biological, and spiritual level. 

Newborn Mother: “A recently born mother, whose strength is asking for help. She acknowledges that the birth of a mother is more intense than childbirth, and that she is as sensitive and vulnerable as her baby. Her heart is wide open and her needs are high. As she nourishes herself, she nourishes her children.” – Julia Jones

Our Brains are Changing

We are in an expansive season of increased Neuroplasticity, preparing us for our tasks ahead.  Women pioneer in health care, Marie Diamond, researched how the female brain changed during the transition to motherhood. She did this by studying rats in different environments, and discovered that the cortex of Mother rats actually did not change (like that of the other rats in the experiment, who’s Cortex grew in size). Now, at first she was gravely disappointed by this information. Though after further research, she realized this: the brains of these mothers already changed. It wasn’t that the mama rats didn’t have the increased ability to learn, it was that they had already learned. So what she concluded from this is that, motherhood… is an enrichment program! The very act of becoming a Mother and birthing our baby changes the structure of your brain so dramatically that the end product was the very same structure as what non-mother rats resembled having learned through their environment. These rats have to be put in situations that aid in their learning and forming of the cortex, whereas the biology of being pregnant and having a child causes this shift in and of itself. 

Our Love is Evolving

You have likely heard of Oxytocin “the love hormone” and its increased output when it comes to maternal-child bonding following birth. Well, this love and connection hormone may peak during birth, but it stays for life and actually continues to peak minute to minute during times of connection. So what this doesn’t mean, is that you can “use it all up” after your child’s deliverance. This can be common for new and expecting moms to fear; I remember one of my first doula clients worrying that if she used Pitocin that she would not be able to feel love for her baby. (She did end up using Pitocin (a synthetic form of Oxytocin), had an unplanned C-Section and felt nothing BUT love might I add!) Kersten Uvnas Moberg, physician and professor of physiology, has drastically increased the the library of our resources to study Oxytocin. She notes that its benefits include: tolerance of boredom, relaxation, feeling “in the moment”, contemplative, companionable, emotional, balances digestion, and ultimately rewires your brain to more become more loving. I mean. Are you feelin’ yourself any yet?!

Our Strength is Expanding

And yes, our capacity for resilience is increasing when we meet the demands of this new role. Notice I didn’t say meet them well, or meet them with courage, or meet them, ha… perfectly! – I said meet them. As in keep showing up to the task that’s before you. Whether it’s ANOTHER explosion (of any kind really – breast/ poop/ emotional/ spit/ etc…) or your 3rd (7th?) new shirt of the day…

What this is building in you over time is:

Patience, anti-fragility, and strength. This is part of the foundation that serves as a container for this insatiable kind of, wild kind of, wonderful love that is growing forth from this powerful transition in your life. May you be supported by, and may you support yourself with, 

One another. And grace. Always grace. 

So the next time you reach into your memory bank to remind yourself just how powerful you are to do hard things – remember all those endless nights you survived. Remember all the spit up you wore with pride (or tears). Remember all the unknowns you took in stride. And remember every time you were pushed to the limits of who you knew yourself to be…

But please don’t you ever forget all else that this innate, biological process made of you. 

Evolved. Loving. Expansive. Strong. Resilient. Awakening. And endlessly, More.  

To your glorious power, 

Jessi

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