Motherhood is the state of being that begins after a woman carries a baby long enough for the physical and mental processes of change to become manifest within her.
Just as adulthood is heralded by the changes to both body and mind that result in the first menstruation, motherhood is heralded by a changing body and mind that results in the birth of a baby.
We totally accept that an adult brain is very different from a child’s brain. An adult’s thinking is different and patterns are set more clearly. Simply put, an adult brain can learn to drive on busy roads safely. They can judge speed, assess theoretical risk, and continue prioritising responsibility throughout the journey. A child cannot do this. Puberty is not the same as adulthood.
In the same way, childbirth is not the same as motherhood. A mother's brain can see the bigger picture more clearly, can put herself in another person's shoes more easily, can gather and link seemingly unconnected objects and experiences and has the ability to 'know' more about her surroundings and those of the people she cares for. A woman needs time and support as she learns to drive her new way of being after becoming a mother just as a teenager needs to practice the skills to drive a car.
All this talk about driving is a prelude to opening a conversation about what motherhood is, how it affects us personally and how it affects those around us and the world we live in.
We know what an adolescent brain is like in the full swing of hormonal changes because we have all been there. The classic “I dunno” response of a teenager is because they are rewiring their brain and the old pathways that used to take them to a clear answer to the question is simply no longer there.
Asking a teenager “Would you like burger or sausage for tea?” becomes complicated. Now, there is much more for her to consider in regard to this question. Until this is done and the new pathway is wired in, a young person really doesn't know. It takes some years for this process of change and often a turbulent sea of anxieties, risk-taking and mood swings has to be crossed in this time. But we never expect an adolescent to return to the ‘normal’ body shape, size and thinking style of their 10-year-old self. Yet how often do we find ourselves expecting women to revert to their pre-pregnancy physique, capabilities and ‘knowing’?
We (mothers) know that the simple pre-pregnancy question to a rewiring matrescent brain of “would you like to leave the baby with granny overnight?” is a far more complicated question than it was pre-pregnancy. The mother's brain is rewiring and needs time to do this.
Adolescence and Matrescence
Pregnancy and mothering can be thought of as two parts of the journey to motherhood. Motherhood, like childhood and adulthood, is a distinct state. Both puberty and pregnancy are driven by bodily changes that inform and precipitate the emotional and mental changes. These periods of change are termed adolescence and matrescence. The practice of ‘adulting’ or ‘mothering’ over weeks, months and years is what forms us as the adults and mothers we become.
Checking the distance...
As adults we can define times in our lives where we recognise that we have ‘grown up’. We have gone through another stage of adulthood. These are both physical and emotional experiences. Such stages can be: leaving home; having our first adult to adult relationship; getting a job; losing a parent; travelling alone; the list goes on.
As mothers we also go through many stages in our motherhood: becoming pregnant; having a baby; feeding the baby; leaving the baby with others; becoming a working mum; a single mum; a student mum; a disabled mum; a grieving mum; a step mum; a mum with an empty nest; a grand-mum. With each of these experiences, we grow as a mother and our mother brains and minds learn and adapt and support us and those around us.
A mother brain is never ‘alone’ physically and emotionally. It is connected to other brains. Did you know that a child’s DNA can be found within a mother’s brain tens of years after carrying the child? If you get the chance to, do watch a mother with a two-year-old, observe how far she will allow her child to stray or explore before she cannot stop herself going to their aid. She knows exactly when to step in, you can almost see the cord between them. But you also know she is letting out that cord little by little as she grows as a mother.
When I say that I work with Mothers people inevitably assume that I mean new mothers. However, my work is more often with mothers who find themselves unable to be the mothers they want to be. These mothers feel their motherhood is being challenged by loss or change and are needing support to change gear in order to protect themselves and those they love.
If I said that I work with adults you would not think that I was working with adolescent girls. At this point, they most need their family, friends, teachers and other communities around them. This is the same for Mothers, matrescence is a time to explore what motherhood means to them personally. They need support from those around them who know them well as they metamorphosise from woman to mother.
My passion is to support and recognise mothers as they come into, exercise and develop their powers and skills as the mothers they truly want to be in their own lives, their family’s lives and their communities.
My mission is to get a million western women involved in redefining what ‘motherhood’ means to us, taking our messy, big picture thinking into building loving resilient families and connecting communities.
Fatherhood and Parenthood
P.S. Fatherhood and motherhood are different. Many of the skills learned are similar and can be covered by the term ‘parenthood’. However, the body changes, hormonal effects and the brain changes are different. I fully acknowledge that we need both mothers and fathers in our families in order for us all to thrive. I also recognise that some parents do not define themselves as ‘mother’ or ‘father’ but I hope that if this is you, you will be able to hear what I say and test it in the light of your own experience and use what is useful to you and discard that which is not.