Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE
Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE

February 20, 2024

August 16, 2023

Navigating Matrescence: The Roller Coaster of Becoming a Mom

E:
186
with
Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York

What You'll Learn

  • What Matrescence Is and Why It Impacts Us So Much
  • The Big Picture of Becoming a Mom
  • The Difference in Expectations and Reality When Becoming a Mom
  • Intensive Mothering and Its Impact on Matrescence
  • The Lack of Preparation and Training for Becoming a Mom
  • Why It’s Important to Talk About Matrescence

Becoming a mom changes you in so many ways. But we are often not prepared for the shift. Matrescence, or the transition into motherhood, is complex—full of ups, downs, struggles, and a roller coaster of emotions. 

Today, I’m joined by reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Catherine Birndorf, founder of The Motherhood Center, to talk about navigating matrescence and what we experience when becoming a mom. 

Becoming a Mom Changed Me

For as long as I can remember, I strived for perfection. I always pushed myself to excel, to do more–a perfectionist behavior often rewarded in academics, work, and society.

But when I became a mom, everything felt like it turned sideways. No matter how hard I pushed myself, I struggled. No matter how hard I tried, it never felt like I could get it right or like I was doing a good job. 

I couldn’t understand what was so hard. Wasn’t this just what every mom went through? Weren’t other moms doing this easily? Why couldn’t I just get it?

The truth was that I was far from alone in my struggles. More often than not, becoming a mom isn’t what we envision. 

We talk about the joyful moments. We post photos of cuddles and kisses. But we don’t share how hard it is. 

So when we do struggle, we feel like we’re the only ones not cut out for the job. 

I believe that if I had entered motherhood with different expectations—understanding more about how hard it is emotionally and how difficult the invisible load is to cope with—I would have been more prepared. Perhaps my matrescence wouldn’t have been quite so much of a struggle (or at least I wouldn’t have felt so alone). 

It’s important to talk about the ups and downs—not to scare moms or discourage them—but so they know that they are not alone, that it’s okay to struggle, and that it’s all right to ask for help. 

I value the work that Dr. Catherine is doing. Her book, What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood, captures the journey to becoming a mom and the big picture of matrescence so well. I couldn’t wait to pick her brain about this transition. 

What Matrescence Is and Why It Impacts Us So Much

Dr. Catherine specialized in reproductive psychiatry after seeing how hard it is for moms to access the maternal mental health care they need and how much struggle they experience in the medical system. She founded the Motherhood Center for the same reason. 

A large part of her work has centered around normalizing the struggles moms face during matrescence—the transition period of becoming a mom, building a new identity, and adapting to the role.  

Dr. Catherine pointed out that moms often aren’t prepared for the rocky road into the biggest life change they’ll ever go through. One moment, we have a baby inside us, and the next minute, they’re in our arms and we’re a mom. It’s almost too big to comprehend. 

Moms often aren’t prepared for the rocky road into the biggest life change they’ll ever go through.

She said that researching and talking about matrescence, and putting real words to the experience is important. 

We go through so much to grow a human being and bring them into the world—it’s no wonder we become a different person afterward. But finding the balance between who we were, who we are as moms, and who we want to be is tricky. 

The Big Picture of Becoming a Mom

Dr. Catherine also said that she wished she understood the big picture first. She loves being a mom, and considers it to be the most profound journey she has had the privilege to experience. But she does wish that she had considered it with more intention, rather than just becoming a mom because she thought that’s what she was supposed to do. 

Dr. Catherine emphasized that motherhood is not just joy and happiness—it’s also ambivalence. It’s not perfect or horrible, but a mixed bag of the good and the bad and everything in between, often all at once. 

Motherhood is a mixed bag of the good and the bad and everything in between, often all at once. 

When we have romanticized ideals of motherhood, and then we experience the utter chaos of being a first-time moms, navigating struggles, and not knowing what to do can be jarring. It often becomes a shameful secret rather than something we share and talk about. 

But if we can talk about everything—the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the beauty and the chaos, we can understand that what we’re going through isn’t something to be ashamed of or to keep a secret. 

The Difference in Expectations and Reality When Becoming a Mom

One of the concepts Dr. Catherine talks about in her book is the “ideal baby.” When we’re expecting a baby, we start to visualize what the baby might look like, act like, and be like. 

We start to form a fantasy about who are baby will be and what our relationship will look like. It's completely natural to think about the future—and it makes sense that we will form these ideas. 

But in reality, we have no way of knowing what our baby’s temperament or appearance will be like. So when the baby is born and the expectations don’t align with reality, it can feel disconcerting. 

If the reality is drastically different, it can lead to a lot of distress. 

There is a lot of value in understanding how to be flexible in our expectations—not just about who our baby will be but about many aspects of motherhood, such as feeding, sleeping, or even whether we want more children

There is a lot of value in understanding how to be flexible in our expectations.

What we envisioned doesn’t always align with reality. But when we’re presented with new data or new information, we can reevaluate and recalibrate our expectations and ideals. This is particularly difficult for moms with perfectionistic personalities (I certainly experienced it myself)! 

But there is so much about motherhood that is not in our control. If we cling to our expectations despite reality, it becomes a form of self-torture. 

Intensive Mothering and Its Impact on Matrescence

We’re also mothering in a unique time in history—the era of intensive mothering. This ideology tells us that in order to be “perfect moms,” we must sacrifice every bit of our time, energy, and resources, and attend to our children’s every need at each moment. 

But the pressure that comes with those expectations can be harmful to moms, leading us to constantly be seeking an impossible standard of perfection. 

In parenting, there is often no “rightness.” There is no point of mastery. There is no moment where we can say, “Oh, I’ve nailed this, I’ll never make another mistake.” 

If we can’t accept our own humanity, we’re going to continue to struggle with our reality as moms. 

If we can’t accept our own humanity, we’re going to continue to struggle with our reality as moms. 

Intensive mothering ideology can also leave us feeling unsure of our own identity. Before becoming a mom, we might identify ourselves as any number of things. A career-focused person. An artist. Someone who cares about helping other people. 

When we become moms, though, we often struggle to know who we are. Our responsibilities, values, and priorities can shift. And yet, we still might want to hold onto pieces of who we were, or to seek new passions or interests outside of motherhood. 

But intensive mothering ideology tells us that we shouldn’t seek anything outside of motherhood—that the role of “mom” should fulfill us entirely. This can leave us feeling confused, struggling with identity loss during our matrescence, and experiencing guilt for wanting more.

The Lack of Preparation and Training for Becoming a Mom

There is often an expectation that we will have “mother’s intuition” or naturally be good at parenting. However, in reality, parenting isn’t innate—it’s a collection of skills that need to be learned and developed. 

But nobody trains us or prepares us for the role. I often reflect on the fact that when I was in university working as a Starbucks barista I received so much more training than I ever did to prepare me for becoming a mom. 

Parenting has no manual—we’re thrown into the deep end in this very important, high-stakes role. 

Dr. Catherine pointed out that when she had a baby they only verified that she had a car seat (even though she didn’t even have a car). Other than that, they sent her home with no help or guidance. 

It makes sense that we struggle. We’re tossed into a new role—one that is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding—with no preparation and often without support

Why It’s Important to Talk About Matrescence

More than anything, Dr. Catherine wants moms to be prepared and understand that they are not alone. 

We can’t necessarily overload moms with everything that they are going to expect—every difficult task, every bit of invisible labor, and every emotional upheaval. It’s a lot to take in. 

But we can normalize the difficulty. We can encourage realistic expectations. And we can emphasize the need for support. 

Dr. Catherine pointed out that moms are tough—we can handle being told that the role is difficult. And when we are prepared, we can enter motherhood with more open eyes, ready to notice our emotional changes and shifts, ready to face a sometimes difficult matrescence, and ready to navigate all the ups and downs of becoming a mom. 

The more we equip moms with information, the more they can also understand what is part of a typical postpartum experience, and what might be a sign that they need more help. 

If we stop staying silent about things like postpartum depression and anxiety, then we can prepare moms to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms. We can reduce blaming and shaming and secrecy and encourage moms to break stigmas, seek help, and advocate for themselves. 

If you’re struggling with the transition into becoming a mom, our maternal mental health therapists are here to help! Book a free 15 minute virtual consult today!

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

Identity loss, Expectations, Perfectionism

Stage:

Pregnancy, Postpartum, Motherhood

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York

Catherine Birndorf, MD is a Reproductive Psychiatrist who is the Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York. Dr. Birndorf is Founding Director of the Payne Whitney Women's Program at Weill Cornell Medicine - New York-Presbyterian Hospital where she is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Obstetrics & Gynecology. A graduate of Smith College, Dr. Birndorf attended Brown University Medical School and did her Psychiatry Residency at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. For 10 years, Dr. Birndorf was a regular mental health columnist for Self Magazine and has appeared on numerous television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and CNN. Her most recent book, What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2019.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
RELATED ARTICLES
April 29, 2024
April 24, 2024
Understanding and Implementing Responsive Parenting: How to Break the Yelling/Shame Cycle
E:
222
with
Dr. Cindy Hovington
Founder of Curious Neuron
June 5, 2024
April 17, 2024
How to Maintain Friendships (and Make Friends) as a Mom
E:
221
with
Danielle Bayard Jackson
Author
June 5, 2024
April 10, 2024
How Stressed Moms Can Cope: Understanding and Breaking Out of the Stress Cycle
E:
220
with
Amelia Nagoski
Co-author of Burnout
June 5, 2024
February 28, 2024
How to Embrace Career Change as a Mom: Finding Your Passion and Overcoming Guilt
E:
214
with
Jess Galica
Career and Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author
February 26, 2024
January 31, 2024
Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger: How Social Expectations Create Overwhelmed Moms
E:
210
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist
June 5, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
February 20, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
January 3, 2024
How Parents Can Avoid Information Overload: Maintaining Confidence in Our Decision-Making
E:
206
with
Cara Goodwin
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 15, 2023
Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood
E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
October 11, 2023
Embracing the 7 Types of Rest: Why Moms Are Exhausted and What Actually Helps
E:
194
with
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith
Board-Certified internal medicine physician and award-winning author
February 20, 2024
October 4, 2023
Interpreting Newborn Hunger Cues and Sleepy Signs: How to Learn Your Baby’s Needs
E:
193
with
Sharon Mazel
Author of Bite-Sized Parenting: Your Baby’s First Year
February 20, 2024
September 20, 2023
Managing Mom Anxiety: Why Millennial Moms Are So Anxious and How to Overcome Our Fears
E:
191
with
Dr. Lauren Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
September 6, 2023
How to Raise Confident Kids: Breaking Cycles of Negative Self-Esteem
E:
189
with
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
Founder of The North Star Developmental Clinic
February 20, 2024
August 23, 2023
Understanding Sensory Self-Care: How Overstimulated Moms Can Regulate and Regain Calm
E:
187
with
Holly Peretz
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
August 16, 2023
Navigating Matrescence: The Roller Coaster of Becoming a Mom
E:
186
with
Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York
February 20, 2024
July 26, 2023
The Journey of a Bereaved Parent: Stefania Thomson’s Story of Navigating Grief and Loss
E:
183
with
Stefania Thomson
Bereavement and Grief Advocate
February 20, 2024
June 21, 2023
Myths About Toddler Behavior: How to Reclaim the "Terrible Twos"
E:
178
with
Dr. Cathryn Tobin
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
April 19, 2023
Overcoming Grief as Our Children Age: The Value of Acceptance and How to Be More Present
E:
169
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Marriage & Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
March 29, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 2: Facing Pregnancy After a Traumatic Birth
E:
166
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 22, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 1: How Birth Trauma Impacts Our Family Decision Making
E:
165
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
Real Self-Care for Moms: Why Mindset Matters More Than Massages
E:
164
with
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
January 11, 2023
Understanding Baby Temperament: How to Tune Into Your Child’s Natural Personality
E:
155
with
Dr. Cara Goodwin
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
December 28, 2022
Coping During Postpartum with No Family Support: When Reality Clashes with Expectations
E:
153
with
Emmalee Bierly and Jennifer Chaiken
Founders of ShrinkChicks
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
November 16, 2022
Surviving the Baby Witching Hour: How to Cope With Colicky and Fussy Babies
E:
147
with
Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
November 2, 2022
How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings
E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 12, 2022
How to Know if You Have Postpartum Anxiety: Red Flags to Watch for in Pregnancy, Birth, and After Baby
E:
142
with
Dr. Sarah Oreck
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
October 5, 2022
Protecting Maternal Sleep: The Relationship Between Sleep Deprivation and Postpartum Depression
E:
141
with
Dr. Nicole Leistikow
Reproductive Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
September 21, 2022
Encouraging Independent Play: Why Unstructured Play Matters and How to Foster It
E:
139
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
April 25, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
August 3, 2022
Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Why Support Matters and How to Find Resources to Help
E:
132
with
Dr. Wendy Davis
Executive Director of PSI
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
February 16, 2022
What is Matrescence? The Transition into Motherhood (And Why Being a New Mom is Hard)
E:
108
with
Dr. Katayune Kaeni
Perinatal Psychologist
February 20, 2024
February 9, 2022
How to Prepare Your Dog for a New Baby: Planning, Introducing, and Keeping Everyone Safe
E:
107
with
Dominika Knossalla
Certified Dog Trainer
February 20, 2024
February 2, 2022
Discover Your Personal Core Values
E:
106
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 5, 2022
Sleep Training Doesn't Have To Be Scary
E:
102
with
Dr. Aubrie DeBear
Founder of Baby Sleep Dr.
February 20, 2024
January 19, 2022
Carrying the Mental Load: How to Redistribute the Burden and Give Moms More Freedom
E:
104
with
Eve Rodsky
New York Times Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
January 12, 2022
Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression: How to Spot the Signs So You Can Seek Support
E:
103
with
Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
December 29, 2021
Decluttering: The Secret of an Easy to Tidy Home
E:
101
with
Katy Wells
Declutter Expert
February 20, 2024
December 22, 2021
100th Episode: Erica’s Husband Tells All
E:
100
with
Frenel Djossa
February 20, 2024
December 15, 2021
The Pressure to Get It Right
E:
99
with
Dr. Jen Douglas
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
December 1, 2021
The One and Done Family
E:
97
with
Renee Reina, Ph.D.
Founder of The Mom Room
February 20, 2024
November 24, 2021
Overcoming Gender Disappointment
E:
96
with
Dr. Renée Miller
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 17, 2021
Adding a Sibling to Your Family
E:
95
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
November 10, 2021
Regulating Your Nervous System
E:
94
with
Dr. Quincee Gideon
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
October 13, 2021
Momming With ADHD
E:
90
with
Dr. Melissa Shepard
Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
October 6, 2021
Supporting NICU Moms
E:
89
with
Kristin Reinhart
Registered Social Worker
February 20, 2024
September 29, 2021
Alcohol, CBD, and Cannabis While Pregnant and Nursing
E:
88
with
Dr. Jennifer Lincoln
OB-GYN