Growing up I made a number of assumptions about who I was going to be and what my life would be like in adulthood. I assumed I would go to college, meet a nice man, get married shortly after graduation, and begin my family as a stable and capable professional - a working wife and mother. Of course, things aren't that simple. It has been an incredibly bumpy ride.

Trigger Warning: This blog is deeply personal and real. It discusses several difficult topics that can be triggering, so please take care as you read.

The toughest times of my life have all centered around matrescence - the transition to becoming a mother.

This term might remind you of the term "adolescence," and that's not an accident. Much like a child goes through a chaotic period of development in order to reach final adult form, adult Whitney was also going through a developmental upheaval. If I'm honest, that developmental shift hasn't ended just yet - and that's one of the tricky things about mothering: as time goes on, children and mothers age, and the world shifts around us, mothering and parenting in general must also shift and adapt. Just when I think I have it figured out, my kids reach new developmental milestones and our whole relationship shifts and grows.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the very beginning. 

My first pregnancy happened quite easily, which in itself was a shock to my system. I had assumed that there would be more...drama. More of a moment. Maybe some bright lights, confetti, or a fanfare of trumpets or something. Instead, I decided to take a pregnancy test on a whim, sure that it would be negative. My husband was across the house making a bologna sandwich. The test showed positive, and that was that.

Motherhood, in some ways, has been like this for me. I expected...more. More of what, I'm not sure, but more none-the-less.

The 9-months of pregnancy, on the other hand, were not so subtle. I experienced extreme hyperemesis gravidarum, which is debilitating, all-day nausea and vomiting. I spent weeks in bed, desperate to keep anything down - crackers, soup, water. Nothing worked. I felt alone and depressed. I wanted to be at work doing the things I loved and giving that pregnancy glow. Instead, I spent many days and nights in the hospital getting IV medication and fluids and hoping that tomorrow would be better. I remember everyone around me being much more excited about the pregnancy than I was, and noticing the ways they seemed to dull their excitement as my pregnancy (and hyperemesis) continued brought feelings of shame.

I should be more happy. I should feel grateful. I shouldn't feel this sick. 

This is when I experienced the next difficult lesson of matrescence:

Motherhood can absolutely be too much. Far too much. Almost to the point of death.

There were days where I remember feeling so sick and so alone that I found myself wondering if I would survive the pregnancy or if I would eventually be forced to make a decision of whether I or this baby would survive - but not both of us. While literally grappling with my mortality during that pregnancy, I have had many moments since then that have felt like I could simply not bear another second. It has sometimes felt as if it were not possible for both myself and my children to be fully ourselves in the world without one of us suffering. I have felt like I am too much. My children are too much. The feelings I experience as I mother are too much. And I don't think I'm alone in this experience, either.

My first daughter led me to a new sense of who I was as a mother and a new phase of my development. Mothering her has been an experience, from the moment she was born, that has shown me the innate strengths and love that I bring to our relationship. She and I just get each other. She is incredibly smart and kind. She has always been so easy and fun. And not all of our relationship has been smooth. I have seen moments where I have been too much and other moments when I have not been good enough. I see myself continuing cycles that I have always sworn I would end. There have been other moments, though, where I have seen myself and my oldest connect with one another on levels I have never thought possible. I have also felt what it feels like to feel capable of providing safety for my children in ways that feel so right and often, surprisingly, so easy.

Motherhood is something that I just am. I didn't have to become. It has always existed inside of me and has blossomed with the opportunity.

I have never felt more capable and strong. I have never experienced such love as I do for my daughters. I have never felt joy like the joy I feel when I see her do something that is 100% me or 100% her father. Seeing myself in her is both thrilling and frightening, and for much the same reasons.

Mothering them has given me the ability to give the best of what my mother gave to me, and it has also given me the ability to re-parent myself as I parent them for the ways I needed, too.

It has clarified my relationship with my mother. It has increased the love and affection I have for my own mother.

Motherhood has truly taught me about how much I need my mom, mainly because of how much my babies have needed me.

My next pregnancy, although deeply wanted and hoped for, ended before I could even come to terms with its reality. This pregnancy was an ectopic pregnancy, located within my right fallopian tube, for which the only solution was termination. Similarly to the struggle to be authentic through the difficult months of my first pregnancy dealing with hyperemesis, I found myself in a struggle to be present with the disappointment and anger of the ectopic pregnancy experience. Even when alone, I found my mixed feelings of the experiencce to be overwhelming. With other people it felt like something I couldn't or shouldn't talk about, whether because people didn't understand, they weren't open to the intensity of the feelings I was experiencing, or because the complex feelings felt inappropriate for the moment. Living in the southern US also added a layer of discomfort as I was sometimes required, because of physical symptoms, to disclose a pregnancy and a termination all in one breath. As difficult and politically charged as this issue can be, this experience became an important part of my matrescence, too.

Motherhood is deeply private, traumatizing, complex, and sometimes requires the silent support that only a few safe people can offer.

Motherhood is sometimes darkness and pain, and while needing the presence of others and knowing that you are not truly alone, it can feel as if you are.

This led my husband and I on a new difficult journey, a new season of my matrescence during which we went through a period of years of secondary infertility. Each month felt like hope, frantic yearning, depression, and of giving up. Infertility has a strange way of affecting every part and every minute of your life. I found myself distracted at work, distracted at home, and distracted from sleep. My free time was consumed with reading scholarly papers, personal blogs, and medical literature (most of which I didn't even understand to begin with). And nothing I did made any difference.

Motherhood is a lack of control while simultaneously feeling entirely responsible.

In the cruel and ironic way that these things tend to go, once I gave up control and decided that a second child must not be my path, I became pregnant. And, to put it briefly, my second daughter's main purpose in my life seems to be as a daily reminder that while I feel responsible, I am truly not in control (for good and bad). She is wild. The best way to describe her is that she is at 100% at all times - the joyful times are joyful to a degree I didn't know existed. And the sad and angry times are also at that level.

She is deeply independent, chaotic, and untamable. She loves destruction. She lives and loves hard. The only moments where I see her slow, calm, and peaceful are when she was nursing. And this, too, has been a deeply impactful lesson.

Motherhood is becoming safety for your children. Giving of yourself and opening up yourself in ways you didn't know where possible.

Becoming the sole source of comfort for your children is a task that has to be chosen every time. Comfort cannot be taken - it must be given freely.

My daughters are currently almost 10- and 4-years old, and my matrescence is still going strong. I guess this is a sort of to be continued. I carry the things I have learned with me and allow these lessons to flow over me, through me, and to the people I interact with (my children and other folks, too). I would hope that when people interact with me, they feel a deep sense of love and caring. I would hope they feel safe and that they are seen and heard.

And with the mothers I get to see in counseling, I encourage them to lean in to all of the beautiful, difficult contradictions of what motherhood is together with me in session.

Working with women, especially mothers, is a passion of Whitney's. If you are a mom and could use some support in working in and through your matrescence, please reach out.

Whitney Storey, MS, PLPC

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