Matrescence: Unraveling the Myths and Realities of Being a Mother with Lucy Jones

“[Matrescence] was coined by the late American anthropologist Dana Rafael in the 70’s. She talks about how, in most cultures across the world, people have always had a sense that a mother is born when a baby is born.” – Lucy Jones

Episode 03

Today we’re diving into the profound biological, psychological and social shifts experienced when becoming a mother – a process known as “matrescence.” Jen sits down with science journalist, Lucy Jones, who experienced a seismic identity shift that arose after the birth of her first child.  

Lucy and Jen unpack groundbreaking neuroscience research and they expose the deep-rooted myths and unrealistic expectations surrounding modern motherhood. From the minimizing of postpartum struggles to the pressure of “natural birthing” ideals, Lucy reveals how these systemic fictions can breed shame, isolation and maternal mental health crises.

Jen and Lucy discuss:

  • The concept of “matrescence” – the biological, psychological and social transition to becoming a mother that renders profound identity changes
  • How modern cultural myths and idealized notions of motherhood as blissful and “natural” can be deeply alienating and contribute to maternal mental health issues
  • The systemic lack of scientific research and societal rituals to prepare and support women through the seismic transformation of matrescence
  • The need to construct new narratives, share vulnerable experiences, and build community care around the modern realities of the matrescence

Episode Transcript

Hey, everybody, Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love podcast. Welcome to the show! I never want this series to end. We are continuing our series on matriarchy today, and we are getting into a profound concept. It is transformative. I’m excited to have this conversation in our community because we are going to talk about this idea of matrescence. Now, if you are wondering what the heck matrescence is, don’t worry. You’re in good company. Even now, as I’m sort of reading my notes in prep for this interview, the word matrescence has a red squiggly line underneath it. Google’s like “We don’t know what that is.” 

We are heading into some interesting and powerful frontier today, folks. We will obviously unpack this in the interview, but this is a concept that is relatively, although was introduced in the 70s, newer to the cultural zeitgeist. It has a lot of potential to transform how we think about the early season of pregnancy and motherhood. The idea is to give it a name so we can begin to treat it as the profound medical and identity-shifting experience that it is. It’s so funny because I became a mom 26 years ago, but I remember that season like it was yesterday. The ideas that people handed me, the narratives like — “This is what motherhood is. This is what pregnancy is. This is what your role here is. This is how you should behave. This is what a good mother looks like. This is what she says and does. This is what she doesn’t say and do.” It was so profoundly lonely and overwhelming. I was certainly not prepared for the body implications, the emotional implications, the way that my physiology was restructured, all of it. We are getting into this today with some pretty incredible myth-busting as well. 

I’m so delighted to introduce you to today’s guest. We have an author and a journalist, Lucy Jones. Her latest book is called “Matrescence: On Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood” and it is a no-holds-barred investigation on what the reality is for caregivers and their infants — not just experientially, all of that is in there, but also physiologically, biologically, socially. The Guardian’s review of her book called it, “bloody and alive.” So we are not messing around here. We’re in brass tacks. Lucy is fascinating and so wonderful. You’re going to love her in this interview. She has a science journalism background, which she puts into play here. She’s a journalist based in Hampshire, England. Her writing on culture, science, and nature has been published everywhere like GQ, BBC Wildlife, The Guardian, and New Statesman. She’s the author of Foxes Unearthed and Losing Eden, which was longlisted, by the way, for the Wainwright Prize and named a Times and Telegraph Book of the Year. Now “Matrescence” has been longlisted for the inaugural Women’s Prize for Nonfiction. This is a profound piece of work that is garnering attention as it should. 


Mainly, I’m excited today for those of you who have ever or are currently feeling overwhelmed by early and young motherhood, by pregnancy, by the stories that you were or were not handed, by this template that doesn’t dovetail at all into the real story. You’re going to be encouraged. You’re going to be hopeful today. This is going to be like a cold glass of water on a hot day. Also for any of us, that stage of motherhood and pregnancy is in our rearview mirror. That’s me for sure, it still felt so warm to me to have this conversation with Lucy, in which I just felt seen. I remember some of the tears that I shed all by myself sitting alone in a nursery with one of my babies who I treasured and adored, and at the same time, I was so freaked out and afraid and ashamed and worried. This was retroactively comforting and I hope it is for you, too. So, this is good not just for anyone who’s ever been a mother or is a mother or wants to be a mother, but for all the mothers in our lives that we love, and for our communities. As she put it, this is up to us to change. Anyway, what an amazing conversation. Please enjoy this discussion with a wonderful Lucy Jones.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Matrescence by Lucy Jones 

Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones 

Losing Eden by Lucy Jones 

Dana Rafael (an American Anthropologist)

“The Birth of a Mother” (A New York Times Article by Alexandra Sacks) 

2017 NIH Article on Pregnancy Leading to Changes in the Brain 

Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich

Andrea O’Reilly 

The For the Love Podcast is a production of Four Eyes Media, presented by Audacy. 

Four Eyes Media

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