Imagine you have a new job.
But it’s the kind of role where you are paid in smiles and dribble.
Imagine you have a new job.
You’ve read, you’ve prepared.
But you get there, and the intensity is something you could never have imagined. You would ordinarily put in your notice; but this time, there is no turning back.
Welcome to the process of becoming a parent.
Although, we’re told that we’re a mother, a father, a caregiver the moment that slippery baby lands on our chest. We’re told that we’re a mother no matter how they entered the world, no matter how they are fed. However, we are not told that this is only one kernel of the truth.
This “becoming” happens so slowly, long after the mess of birth and the beauty of that first cuddle. This becoming is often filled with grief, relief, disappointment, intensity, surprise and the kind of bittersweet knowing that this is it, for the rest of our lives, we are this; we are parents.
But we hide this. This isn’t what the book necessarily said. We don’t care to admit this deceleration within such a face-paced environment.
Surely we’re the only ones in the entire universe who feel alone, who look at their baby and don’t always know how to respond to their cries, who don’t always know how to feel.
Matrescence is the physical, emotional, hormonal and social transition to becoming a mother.
As I write in my new eBook, Candid Parenthood:
“This process can be pretty intense. It’s even often misdiagnosed as postnatal depression – which I find pretty alarming. It does go to show how little nurturing and supportive education new parents receive when they first enter parenthood. “It’s peachy,” we say. And when it’s not, we automatically feel broken.”
This brokenness, this shock, is both a rite of passage and a sign of a severely let down number of parents who enter this arena with no encouragement to trust their instincts, to trust the process, to surrender.
The isolation and disappointment within this process can be traumatising.
According to some, this process lasts ten whole years. It’s truly no wonder that we are not always privy to this information in the newborn season of life. It is when we are nurturing toddlers and taking children to school and the fog of newborn life has lifted slightly. We suddenly realise: “hey wait, this isn’t getting any easier…”
This can be amplified for those who have experienced previous trauma (such as childhood or birth trauma). But when I’m working with parents, I find this truth to be quite universal.
There is this assumption that everyone else is coping, everyone else is doing just fine. This is simply not the case.
Everyone has rough days, everyone has moments where they wonder whether they are “cut out for this”. To me, this is matrescence speaking again.
It whispers at first – and screams if we don’t listen. When parents are falling into a heap, some questions come to mind (also listed in the Candid Parenthood eBook):
“How have your values been challenged?”
“How are you feeling about the shift in identity?”
“What does your routine look like now?”
“Do you have space to process your thoughts? Can I give you that space today?”
“What feels big/heavy/hard to carry?”
“What is joy for you?”
“What does parenthood bring to the surface?”
“What support do you have/need/want?”
And for those close to the family:
“Stay in bed with the baby. I’ll attend to the other children/household chores/errands and have dinner sorted.”*
(*Disclaimer: This unfortunately almost never happens.)
Ask a new (or old) parent these questions, and I’m willing to bet that many haven’t been asked. If they have been asked, perhaps nobody hung around long enough to hear their full answer and hold space for the emotions that are attached.
We have almost weekly appointments during our pregnancies and approximately three following birth.
There just simply is not enough space to explore this process of “becoming”. There is the assumption that we are “done”.
And then parents feel as though they are “undone”.
You don’t have to have it all figured out to feel whole. It’s okay to allow for the mess, to experience your emotions.
Talking about this and normalising such a process is the first step to recovering from the very dysfunctional narrative that a healthy baby, a complete birth, a discharge from hospital or midwifery care if the last step within a process.
It is the first.
About Zelma Tolley
Zelma Tolley is a mother first, social worker second and Founder of The Postnatal Project. Zelma has a special interest in conscious parenting, birth trauma, biologically normal infant sleep and wellbeing.
The Postnatal Project was founded in 2016 after a particularly challenging (and eye-opening) transition to parenthood. Zelma uses her clinical skills and knowledge to transform her story into a poetic and purposeful social movement.
Zelma’s resources have been accessed all around the world and she has been the recipient of five awards. You can find out more about Zelma and what she can offer by visiting www.thepostnatalproject.com or following along on socials:
If you would like to connect with a person who has experienced birth-related trauma, please contact our Peer2Peer Support service to connect with one of our Peer Mentors.
With abundant appreciation to have been divinely guided to this safe space you have created. Thank you, for all that you are and the life work you are so committed to. To not feel so alone and isolated at this stage, is everything.