First-time mom Priscilla Koczon, 39, loved being pregnant and expected to feel much the
same way about being a mother. “I fantasized that it would just be really easy, that I would
instantly connect with my baby, and my maternal instinct would kick in,” says Koczon, who
lives with her husband and two-month-old daughter in New Jersey. Instead, she found herself
grappling with mixed emotions and a changing identity as she struggled to find her footing.
“Motherhood is hard,” she says, admitting a simple truth that isn’t always acknowledged.

Becoming a mother is a huge, complicated life transition that can rock every fiber of a
person’s being. The process even has its own name: matrescence. And while this term may
seem relatively new, it was actually coined in the 70’s by medical anthropologist Dana
Raphael. “She kicks off a lot of her writings saying that in some cultures we say, ‘a woman
has given birth,’ but here we say, ‘a child is born,'” says Aurélie Athan, a reproductive
psychologist at Columbia University. “And with that, the emphasis gets shifted on the child.”

It’s a holistic change in multiple domains of your life. You’re going to feel it perhaps bodily,
psychologically. You’re going to feel it with your peer groups. You’re going to feel it at your
job. You’re going to feel it in terms of the big philosophical questions.

Aurélie Athan, a reproductive psychologist at Columbia University. The idea of focusing on the mother wasn’t further developed at the time because Raphael “needed to wait a few more generations for more women to become scientists who could then study this more themselves. And make motherhood a subject of seriousness,” adds Athan, who is credited with reviving the term matrescence.

Athan compares it to the awkwardness of adolescence: “It’s a holistic change in multiple
domains of your life. You’re going to feel it perhaps bodily, psychologically. You’re going to
feel it with your peer groups. You’re going to feel it at your job. You’re going to feel it in
terms of the big philosophical questions.”

Life Kit

What Is Postpartum Depression? Recognizing The Signs And Getting Help
In other words, once you welcome home a baby, nothing is ever the same again. Yes, it is
exciting and joyful but it can also be completely overwhelming. So, as you ride the ups and
downs of new motherhood, remember that this ambivalence is normal. The goal is to give
yourself the time and compassion to adjust to your new role. But if you experience symptoms
of postpartum depression or anxiety, seek help as soon as possible. Life Kit has an episode on
coping with perinatal mood and disorders here.

As for matrescence, there is plenty you can do at home to make sense of this life stage. Here
are five takeaways that can help moms-to-be (and moms already in the thick of it) get their
footing, ​​including tips on how to manage expectations, get the support you need and prioritize
time for yourself.

Let go of expectations

While the process is universal and affects moms that go through adoption and surrogacy as
much as birthing mothers, it can vary a lot depending on an individual’s race, culture and
personal experience, says Pria Alpern, a clinical psychologist who facilitates new mom
groups in New York City. She suggests sitting down and reflecting on your life, going back as
early as your childhood.

Explore Life Kit

This story comes from Life Kit, NPR’s family of podcasts to help make life better — covering
everything from exercise to raising kids to making friends.

Because your upbringing is bound to influence your maternal identity, she advises taking the
time to really think about the way you were mothered. Ask yourself “what are the things that I
want to replicate with my own child?” or “what are the things that I want to do differently?”
she says. It’s OK to chart your own course, she adds. It’s about owning your parenting

When you don’t have a clear idea of what a good childhood may look like, you may try to find
it on social media, says Nicole Woodcox Bolden, a perinatal therapist and doula in Chicago.
If you catch yourself scrolling through other people’s filtered photos and aspiring to be what
Woodcox Bolden calls the “Pinterest Mom,” try putting your mobile phone down. “It’s a setup
if you’re thinking that every day is going to be perfect,” she says.

Set up a game plan to ease the pressure

Crafting a vision for the kind of mother you want to be requires thoughtful planning.
Woodcox Bolden suggests creating a family mission statement to define your family’s goals
and values. This exercise is especially helpful for couples, considering research shows that
relationship satisfaction declines after a child comes into the picture.

You don’t have to draft an official document, it’s more about having a conversation. Start with
a few simple questions, she says: What does your family stand for? How will you and your
partner support each other? And define any non-negotiables, like that monthly get-together
with friends.

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Of course, when it comes to parenthood, you also have to think beyond your immediate
family as you begin to build your village. Motherhood can feel very isolating, so it’s crucial to
identify the people who will show up for you.

“Maybe you’re not going to talk to your mother-in-law about how you’re feeling emotionally,
but she’s really good when it comes to getting groceries and stocking the fridge and doing
your laundry,” Alpern says. “Maybe your best friend lives across the country, but they’re
available for text support at any time.”

The idea is to take some of the pressure off as you get into a rhythm. So, go ahead and ask
your cousin to organize a meal train so that you don’t have to think about dinner for the first
few weeks. Close family and friends will be happy to pitch in.

Carve out time to connect with your body again

For birthing mothers, whether your baby is delivered vaginally or via C-section, you will need
to physically heal. Studies show that women need six to nine months to fully recover from
labor and delivery — not the arbitrary six-week checkup with an obstetrician or midwife. Just
getting adjusted to your postpartum self in the mirror can take time.

“Some women might feel like their body doesn’t belong to them anymore. It’s changed so
much,” Alpern says. “Or if they’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding, they might just feel, ‘oh, my
gosh, I always have a baby attached to me.’ “

Leaving the house and moving your limbs a little can help. “Exercise is a way to reclaim that
relationship to the body and release mood-boosting endorphins,” Alpern says. She suggests
something as simple as going for a walk around your neighborhood. “It’s a way for us to get
outside of our bubble and see that there’s a bigger world out there.”

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And if the thought of doing anything that isn’t about the baby makes you feel guilty, don’t be.
Creating the space to focus on your own needs is a positive thing for your child, Alpern says.

“It is good modeling for your child to show them that you are important enough to take care
of yourself,” she says. “Self-care is kind of like fueling up your tank. You have to do it so that
you can bring your best self to parenthood.”

Re-center your mind to focus on you

Your emotional wellbeing is just as important as your body, so take a moment every now and
then to check in with yourself. Woodcox Bolden suggests setting aside five minutes in the
morning and another five in the evening to pause and organize the thoughts swirling in your
head. She tells her clients to write in a journal using a few prompts: “Ask yourself, ‘what do I
need right now? How can I remind myself that I am loved? What went well today?'” You
want to counteract any negative self-talk by looking for the good in the day.

As you get more comfortable expressing your feelings, try joining a new mom group through
Facebook or your local community center, Alpern says. Not only will sharing your experience
with peers help you feel less isolated, but it’s a way of debunking the idea that being a mother
is all bliss.

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On Your Mark, Give Birth, Go Back To Work

“When we don’t talk about it, the myth of motherhood as this idyllic oasis is perpetuated in
our culture,” she says. “Talking about what’s happening with you with other moms is such a
pillar of support.”

Making these connections takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. Alpern has seen first-hand
how, over time, mothers begin to bond over their shared experiences. “When one person
shows their vulnerability, someone else might feel safe showing their vulnerability, and then
the rest of the group is like, ‘Oh gosh, it’s such a relief that I am not the only person who feels
that way,’ ” she says.

You will find yourself again

Caring for a baby day and night is particularly difficult in that first year but as you get the
hang of things and become more confident, you’ll start to recognize the person you were and
have always been. Rather than thinking about it as a loss of identity, Alpern suggests
reframing motherhood as an evolution. One that will surely empower you. Priscilla Kozcan
can attest to that: “I feel like a much stronger person. I’ve slowed down and reprioritized
things — and I think it’s for the good.”

Grace Bastidas
Audrey Nguyen