The Village – Week 1: Identity as Flow

We start The Village with a fairly chunky topic: how does our identity shift and change when we become mothers?

For the purpose of the WhatsApp community, I will try and keep these weekly posts succinct, so that where possible you can read them in a couple of minutes on your Monday morning.

As recently as the 1970s, the term ‘matrescence’ was coined to describe ‘the physical, emotional, hormonal and social transition to becoming a mother’. In this group we have mothers of newborns, toddlers, teenagers, blended families, twin mums, and first and second time mothers-to-be. Our perspectives on matrescence will no doubt differ depending on where exactly along this timeline we sit.

When I first became a mother, it felt like a deep dividing line in my identity. Everything felt very ‘before and after’. Becoming pregnant was the first wave; in that moment I instantly had the fragile promise of a child. As I explored this new territory, it was the first time since my teenage years that I had entered a realm as yet undiscovered by most of my closest friends – that initial dislocation that occurs during a true rite of passage. This felt oddly isolating at times.

For a long time after that very first moment, I saw motherhood as the defining watershed in my identity. I felt ever-changed by it, and in a more bone-deep way than anything I had previously travelled through. The enormity of it all was a disorientation, making me feel adrift at times.

More recently however, three years in and a mother of two, I have looked back on the past 33 years and realised that who I am has been a much more constantly changing, fluid thing throughout my life. Thinking of identity in this way, has helped me feel more at home in myself on this side of the motherhood border, has helped me recognise the parts of my pre-baby self that are still with me, and has helped me process and settle into the undeniably profound evolution that is matrescence – perhaps thinking about it this way might help you too.

If we think about the self as the constantly shifting waves of the ocean, we can look back at the constant discoveries – falling in love, heartbreak, deep friendship, shame, embarrassment, joy, chemical warfare, homesickness, travelling alone, discovering our parents as people, committing our lives to another – and gain some perspective on the complex array of milestones small and vast that have made us who we are now, on this day.

We are always changing, sometimes imperceptibly and sometimes profoundly. And so unless we view ourselves as fluid, who we think we are is wrong. This is why matrescence is such a fantastic word. Like adolescence, it denotes a gradual evolution, a coming into focus. I no longer think of ‘before’ and ‘after’ motherhood – identity is forward momentum and growth, and as I have begun to settle in these early years into my own shape as a mother, I have started to gather together the various threads of my self, feeling more at home the more change I recognise and remain open to.

How does matrescence feel to you? Are you a newborn mother feeling as though your entire self is altered, a different and unfamiliar version of you? Are you pregnant, feeling a strange tug towards the unknown, enjoying letting go of or holding onto a fixed version of who you are now? Do you have grown up children, decades of gradual matrescence to look back on? How have you changed since becoming a mother? Have you felt lost, found, unfamiliar?

Motherhood is a strange combination of finding and losing ourselves as we discover ourselves anew, but for me at least, recognising all life as change has helped me feel less overwhelmed. I can’t wait to hear the experiences of this community 🙂

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