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Matrescence: Feel Like You’re Losing Your Identity in Motherhood?

What is an identity crisis & Why grieving for our old selves is not only normal but imperative.

There comes a time when we enter motherhood, be it at conception, during the newborn haze, at toddlerhood, or upon a second child’s arrival, that we may begin to feel a loss. Amidst the joy and profound feeling of love, we are also grieving. Many of us are not sure what. 

We have associated grief with death, not realizing that grief is evident in any kind of loss that we encounter.

While society tends to focus on motherhood as rebirth, it fails to take into account that for a rebirth to occur, a symbolic death must precede it.

Whose death, you ask? Our own, of course! 

Motherhood is portrayed and perceived as an additional role that a woman usually feels called to fulfill, whether that is driven by biology, society, or both. However, motherhood is not merely an added role but an entire identity shift

The difference lies in the scope of influence. A role is something we can switch in and out of given the circumstances and setting we find ourselves in. When at a family dinner, we can leave our professional, serious, and potentially uptight demeanor out the door quite easily. 

While taking on a new role will present us with extra responsibilities, it is usually easily separable from other components of our lives and more easily manageable.

Motherhood, however, touches upon all areas of life. When we become mothers, there is no role, responsibility or realm that is left untouched by this new phase of our lives. 

That is an identity shift and in one term it is referred to as “matrescence.”

Matrescence is a concept first introduced by medical anthropologist Dana Raphael in the 1970s and more recently brought into the limelight by Alexandra Sacks.

It describes a woman’s journey into and throughout motherhood as a rite of passage, noting the transitions that a woman goes through as she becomes a mother and the contradictions she will face in trying to be the “perfect” mother, while also attempting to “go back to normal” and be what society deems as the “perfect” woman. 

The wheel of matrescence demonstrates how every single aspect of a woman’s life is - to some extent - influenced by the entry into motherhood. This includes the hormonal, emotional, physical and social, as well as the spiritual, cultural and even economic domains of a woman’s life.

Nothing is exactly the same.

Going back to work becomes a struggle, even for those who of us who crave to do so, because at the back of our head there’s the nagging urge to know how the baby is doing or the need to be pumping at every break. 

Seeing friends becomes dependent on the baby’s sleep cycles or temperament so that the allowable timeframe and distance one can entertain are constantly calculated. 

Connecting with yourself and following some [or any] self-care routine may feel more of a struggle than a chance to relax. 

Everything runs through the lens of motherhood before its viability is considered. 

Our old self, who could be more decisive or spontaneous, the one who was clear on what she wanted and seldom felt guilt - that’s who we are grieving as we become mothers. 

Because while we may cherish every moment with our beautiful miracles, we must recognize the elephant in the room - the sadness that we feel for that girl who we once were and who seems to be fading more and more into the distance.

Before we can celebrate our rebirth, it becomes imperative that we recognize and grieve our symbolic death. 

Parts of us that were in the forefront will fight to regain their status. They feel hurt, ignored, and let down much like the firstborn feels when a new baby comes along. 

We need to see those parts with compassion and sit with them, allowing them to feel as they do without shushing them or dismissing them as irrational. We need to acknowledge that with change, no matter how coveted and how positive it may be, comes unavoidable discomfort and resistance. It is part of our nature to seek the comfort of familiarity. 

And so our old self will try to convince us that this is who we were and always will be, that, to be true to ourselves, we must go back to who we were, that changing is a betrayal to our core and our values.

Still, matrescence is inevitable.

Our brain wiring literally changes so that we permanently think from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and so that our priorities shift in order to encompass our little one(s). We cannot fight with nature.

Only through acceptance and forgiveness, therefore, will we create the capacity to bring together both worlds; where the old makes way for the new and the new seeks to learn from and flourish from the old, appreciating its playfulness and wisdom.

Only then, when the internal battle is addressed, will we stop feeling this identity crisis with some parts of us struggling to accept motherhood as all-fulfilling and other parts of us refusing the transformation that’s already underway.

Sending love and compassion to all parts of you, 

Markella ♡

Markella Kaplani, M.A.

Parenthood & Relationship Coach

Licensed Clinical-Counseling Psychologist 

Let’s keep in touch!

You can find me at

-> instagram: @markella.kaplani

PS. If you want to learn more about matrescence and how it affects your identity, then feel free to sign up for the FREE mini-video series. It’s delivered straight to your inbox, with insightful information that will help you in your self-exploration, while providing actionable steps you can apply to begin reconciling all parts of you (and all this in less than 9 minutes). Join me!

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