I created The Maternity Pledge because of my own experience with the transition to motherhood. I struggled in different ways when I had both of my children and it was only after therapy, lots of conversations with other mothers and my own research that I found the term matrescence, which is the driving force behind The Maternity Pledge.
My personal story is the catalyst behind The Maternity Pledge
I had my first child in 2018. He was born five weeks early and had to spend 10 days in neonatal care before he was ready to come home with us. I cried every day, struggled to bond with him, felt like I’d completely lost my identity and had all kinds of challenging feelings about motherhood. I did not have a postnatal plan in place or an adequate local support network and as such I found the first year of his life incredibly lonely. I most likely had postnatal depression but was never formally diagnosed, although it’s important to say how helpful my health visitors were when they could see I wasn’t coping well.
I had my second son in 2020. I hadn’t planned for a lockdown baby but that’s what I got, and I felt utterly robbed of my second chance at the newborn experience. The world was still shut, and I was living in a new city. I watched out for the signs of postnatal depression but what I hadn’t expected was the sheer anger I felt at the situation which made me short tempered with my eldest and my husband. I did not like the person I was and struggled to bond with my second son as well. Eventually, I obtained some counselling and managed to unpick the deep-seated guilt I still held around my first son having to be in neonatal care and I let go of the anger I was feeling.
It’s hard to put into words how much matrescence helped me
It’s safe to say that both times my postnatal experience was very sad and distressing and I have no plans for a third! I began to wonder why I had struggled so much more than other people I knew so I started reading a lot more on the subject. I found not only matrescence, but also the idea of creating a postnatal plan and the possibility of having a positive birth. So much of what I found hadn’t been made available to me or spoken about while I was pregnant. Various research states that making a postnatal plan and knowing about matrescence would mean a more positive postnatal experience for new mothers, yet we’re not doing it.
It’s hard to put into words quite how much finding matrescence helped me, but the validation it gave was life-changing. Matrescence means the process of becoming a mother. It’s an anthropological term from the 1970s that has lain dormant for years until it was rediscovered by psychologist Dr Aurelie Athan who explains it’s the developmental passage you go through after you have a child. Dr Athan likens matrescence to adolescence, they don’t only sound the same, but you go through similar changes in your body, hormones, identity, value system etc. essentially the way you think, feel, and interact with the world changes both times, only when you’re a teenager no one is asking you when you’re going to ‘bounce back!’
Raising awareness of matrescence and normalising it
My initial plan was just to try to create a postnatal plan, that soon morphed into a magazine which then evolved into a pledge when mothers started telling me about their dire maternity leave and return to work experience.
When you understand the significant changes you go through when you become a mother you can see why returning to work after maternity leave isn’t as easy as just walking out of the door and back to your old life. Women are leaving the workplace in droves, they’re starting up on their own, they’re moving to junior positions, they’re burning out or sacrificing their careers to have a family life as well. If businesses want to keep their talent in the workplace they need to take care of their staff during maternity leave and support their wellbeing.
That’s why the pledge works with employers. It provides a best practice framework that focuses on communication, empathy and support to give employers the best chance to keep their staff after maternity leave and it helps the employee through matrescence and the postnatal period by telling them all the things no one else does.
The Maternity Pledge was born out of a personal experience but it’s one I’ve found to be universal to all new mothers. That’s why the main aim of the pledge is to raise awareness of matrescence and normalise it as a transformation experience all mothers go through in all its complex challenges and joys. I want women to be able to talk openly and empathetically about their matrescence experience so that when the next generation of mothers go through it, they know that any discomforting emotions are normal and nothing to feel guilty about, and perhaps most importantly, they don’t feel alone. Imagine what that could do for perinatal mental health.
If you think your employer deserves The Maternity Pledge you can nominate them here.