Matrescence - the physical, emotional, hormonal and social transition to becoming a mother, or "The time of becoming a mother".
In 2021, after becoming a mother, I suddenly found myself completely blindsided by what motherhood is/should be like. My Instagram and Pinterest feeds were full of thin sporty women giving advice on postpartum weight-loss, tips on quick toning of the sagging abdominal muscles and "miracle" ways of healing diastasis recti in 28 days (of exercise). Bloggers, broadcasting the effortlessness of their motherhood journey; public figures raising awareness to maternal mental health while seeming to completely have it all together themselves; hundreds of women swarming in the comments to posts about how they do practically everything and all while working full time (more than one job sometimes!), raising 2+ children, and, of course maintaining a healthy life style.
The pressure was immense. I didn't feel a single positive thing -- not about my body, mind or my abilities as a mother. I felt alone. I felt like I am a massive failure in all ways -- some that I never knew even existed. What's more, I didn't know how many women, mothers, feel the same way.
Then I thought, how is it possible that so many mothers are feeling bad about themselves and struggling, while seemingly everyone else around them is telling a different story about motherhood.
In culture, polictics, art, films, and literature are historically narrated by men, mothers, already lacking representation as women, are sidelined by society even further. Women are penalised for becoming mothers, not only by socio-economic hurdles, but by the conflicting expectations: having to take care of children and work full time, participate in children's extracurriculars and to make time for self-care and appearance, to be a role model in the community and a exceptional homemaker. Women find themselves crumbling under this weight in their fourth trimester, with the stigma of "perfect" motherhood taking away any opportunity to speak and share their real experience.
For my own sake, I took the step to show my body and my postpartum, with the pain and struggles of post-cesarean recovery, breastfeeding, and body dysphoria. I took several self portraits with my baby (first four photograph of the series), to work through my feelings and pain.
For me, matrescence is not only about the joy and bliss of bonding with a newborn/infant, it is first of all the process of mourning the person the now mother once was. There is a lot of stigma and social pressure around the idea of gratitude and happiness children and motherhood should bring to one, so mothers are socially not allowed to express true, sometimes negative, emotions about their experience. Mothers are bearing the responsibility of leading their family by example, while dealing with peer pressure and the culture of toxic positivity - so well utilised by marketing agents telling the mothers how they "should" be.
Furthermore, there is a significant amount of guilt that prevents mothers from talking about their feelings because, in the eyes of peers, this could devalue the pain and suffering of those who are not able to conceive, have experienced miscarriages or lost babies.
To society, the act of putting on a good face is more important than the struggles and mental health of a mother. If you ask any mother she will always say that she would do it all again, however painful, difficult, lonely and exhausting motherhood can be -- the life created is always worth it. And this is exactly what I want to show: the array of raw emotions from negative to positive - but real and free, without devaluing the experience of a mother.
The truth of matrescence is in the newness: pain and joy, going hand in hand -- love for the new life and mourning for the life that's no more -- the individual, who is now gone, but yet is more than just that -- a mother.
"Now, pregnancy isn’t an easy thing, and what it does to one’s body and mind is monumental. Yes, every woman will respond that she will do it all over again a billion times and that it’s so worth it. Yes, we know about being grateful for this miracle. Yes, we know all about the gilt that comes with admitting that everything isn’t perfect because our hearts also ache for our friends who struggle with infertility. But nothing should degrade our experience of pain. Of loneliness inside every mother feels at some point. Of tiredness and desire to run away. These are REAL and NORMAL conditions of body and mind after giving birth. Of course we are grateful, but gratitude doesn’t fix my destabilised pelvis and shattered knees."
"With so much frustration and pain I want to address the amount of TOXIC POSITIVITY new mothers have to deal with DAILY. Society paints motherhood as this one-sided condition of ever-lasting blessing and gratitude for creating life, yet expects mothers to look like movie stars, be domestic goddesses AND have a career. I didn’t have a great labour experience, in fact, I still have a legitimate PTSD from it. The pain my body has been enduring for MONTHS after giving birth is worse than that of labour. And yes, I would do it again!"
"Induction at 41 weeks did not yield much result after two days: the baby did not descend despite the full dilation. I got an infection, but it was only when the child started having problems with his heart rhythm that the doctors finally agreed to do a caesarean (which sounded like salvation to me). Everything was fine after the cesarean, the baby was healthy. Then the issues with breastfeeding started. And again I was put under immense pressure. My body was exhausted by childbirth, pain, anticipation and fears; I was cut open, given a four-kilogram baby and ordered to feed. He would nurse for 6-8 hours at a time. His blood sugar was dropping, and nurses came taking turns in squeezing my breasts and rubbing a sharp syringe to try to get more colostrum for my baby. Clearly, colostrum alone wasn’t enough for him, the milk was not coming in; I could not sleep, he could not sleep. When I asked for the formula to give to Hugo at the hospital, I was told to try harder with breastfeeding. I burst into tears. My breasts hurt more than the wound on my stomach. I could not stand up well because of the swelling in my legs - it seemed that the skin was about to rupture, but I was ordered to walk around more, holding a heavy baby because he couldn’t leave my arms, eagerly trying to feed. But he still wouldn’t sleep, the milk wouldn’t come in still, and the advice I was given by EVERYONE didn’t work. On the fifth day the milk finally came in. It became a little easier, but my husband could not help in any way, only with food, tea and hugs.
I despised my body. I wanted to get out of it. Everything hurt, it felt broken and used and empty, and I just wanted not to be in it. Probably 50% of my condition was from lack of sleep, and the rest from pain all over my body, especially my breasts .. As weeks passed, I was still suffering nearly just as much; so the doctors sent me to physiotherapy. It was slowly helping. Even though, still with every movement, a sharp, burning pain shot through my knees; my brain did not work, everything seemed like in a fog and it literally hurt to think."
"And so, after all of that, I took my phone, my baby, undressed and took those pictures of us, using a bluetooth button and a tripod. And then I saw it. I saw this body, that went through physical and psychological torment, not only of childbirth but also of the many years of self-loathing and rejection. I saw its beauty, its power, coming out of shadows, the shadows of my own subconscious. I saw the little legs and arms of my son grabbing onto my skin and the protection and comfort that this body gives him. His life, his warmth, his food - all came out of this now larger in size, strong, powerful but soft and gentle body. I needed to see it with my own eyes. "
"Unfortunately breastfeeding is not running smoothly which is why I had a lactation consultant over.. Unfortunately, without any success..."
“I know that what I am doing, giving all my time, attention, and mind to the children, is worthwhile. I know it is a beautiful thing to do – and yet it is also so tremendously difficult. I wish mothers could see more often how beautiful these moments are, not just by reflecting on them later in life, when the children are older and the sleepless nights had passed, but already here, now, in the middle of the mess, the dirty nappies, the incessant work and unending demand. This is what these pictures do for me – it’s a proof that something wonderful is going on in my life, in our lives.”
"I never thought I’d ever share something so intimate but YOU made it happen and made me see the all the beauty of it!"