On that first night, when the hospital falls quiet and you're sitting in your bed, staring at this hours-old person you made, it's hard to absorb exactly what's happened to you.
Let me tell you.
Your child was born. And so were you.
You became a mum.
It's so weird, isn't it? People keep calling you 'Mum' and you're like, 'But Mum is a woman called Penny who still calls me to remind me to send birthday cards to people and sends me articles like "Why Bottled Water Is Bad For You" . . . so I can't be "Mum", can I?'
Yep, you can.
The title Mother is given instantly. The baby is handed to you,
and hello - you are a Mother.
But the transition to 'Mum' takes a little longer.
At first it's like an ill-fitting bra, digging and pulling and throwing your posture off. You can't get comfortable because it just doesn't feel quite right.
Bit by bit, the straps loosen, the wire dislodges from your ribs, and one day - without even noticing it happen - you realise you're comfortable. A child's journey into adulthood is called adolescence. A woman's journey into motherhood is called matrescence. It's a similarly significant, life-altering evolution into a new stage of being, but most people have never heard of it.
When a baby is born, we celebrate the baby. This little life, so new to the world, is loved and cherished by all.
But we don't celebrate the other birth - the birth of the mother. We don't gather around and hold that woman in our arms and let her know how special she is and how loved she'll be through this journey. We don't comfort and calm her. We don't even speak to her about this massive change in her life. We just carry on like nothing has happened, and expect her to do the same.
But something has happened. Something huge. Something magnificent. Something confusing and isolating—which is bizarre, given it's so common. Every day, more and more women enter their matrescence and yet most people don't even know this metamorphosis has a name.
Why should it be so isolating? Why do we ignore it and let her battle through it alone? Why don't we, at the very least, acknowledge that she's changing?
Wouldn't things feel much more normal, much more manageable, if we could name it? If we could say to people, 'Please excuse me, I'm just going through my matrescence right now.' And people would say, 'Oh, of course, we totally understand
Some particularly mature kids will travel through adolescence without an issue; in the same way, some particularly maternal women slip from womanhood into motherhood without pause. One day they're not mums, the next day they are—and off they go, into the sunset with their bedazzled MUM jackets slung over their shoulders, never even looking back at who they were before.
Some women sit in the storm of change for months, riding the wave of hormones and physical changes, fighting the Before and After and never quite grasping the Now with both hands.
Some women struggle to reconcile the mother they thought they'd be with the mother they are. Some feel betrayed by how little they'd been told about this process of change. Some feel confused and unprepared because it is nothing like the stories they'd been told. Some feel the pull of their old life, and the guilt over not being more present with their child can drag them under. These women aren't depressed or broken, they're just having a harder matrescence than some.
There's an emotional tug-of- war we don't explain to new mothers. We don't tell them it's okay to not always love motherhood - even though they love their baby. We don't give them permission to feel unfulfilled. We don't give them space to assemble all the new parts of their soul before we expect them to be settled and happy in this new skin.
And so they feel lonely, isolated, confused and overlooked. They don't understand what's happening to them and they don't feel like they can talk about this huge upheaval because they're supposed to be happy, right? They're supposed to be in love and fulfilled and devoted to their child. But this almost never happens straight away.
We give teenagers time to travel through their adolescence. And, with time, they overcome the bad skin, the foul moods, the inability to string a sentence together. Their bodies change, their emotions realign and their brains completely rewire themselves.
They move into adulthood with support and understanding.
Mothers need this too. A mother's body changes, her emotions realign, her brain completely rewires itself. Mothers need time to learn who they are again, to settle in to this new version of themselves, to let their hormones adjust and their bodies heal. And, eventually, when they've been given the support and understanding they need, they'll move into motherhood with ease.
This is an extract from 'You Will (Probably) Survive' by Lauren Dubois, Published by Allen & Unwin (RRP: $29.99), Out now.