What Is Matrescence, Anyway? A Candid Conversation with Two Maternal Health Advocates

What Is Matrescence, Anyway? A Candid Conversation with Two Maternal Health Advocates

Navigating motherhood means navigating through a world of highs and lows–expectations exceeded and expectations dashed, frustrations, joys, exhaustion. It is, in a word, complicated—still, we so rarely encounter nuanced stories of motherhood in mainstream media. Two Truths, a media brand and weekly newsletter for moms co-founded by maternal health advocates, friends, and journalists Kelsey Haywood Lucas and Cassie Shortsleeve, is dedicated to exactly this: honoring the in-between and dualities of motherhood. Part of the founding team of Chamber of Mothers, a non-profit working in the public sector to create a country that better supports families through federal paid leave, affordable childcare, and improved maternal health, Kelsey and Cassie realized there was a glaring white space in the media landscape that they were uniquely equipped to fill. And so, Two Truths was born.

We spoke with them about perinatal mental health, the transformative life phase known as matrescence, what it would take to better support moms, and more. Read on.

Perelel: Your newsletter takes its name from the dualities and complexities of motherhood. Can you speak to that reality and lived experience?

Kelsey: Two Truths explores the dialectical nature of motherhood; the extremely important and healing psychological principle that two things can be true at the same time. Our mission and our message is based in our belief that in motherhood, things are rarely either/or; they’re often both/and. For one mom, that might mean feeling lonely…even when you don’t get any alone time. It might mean mourning the loss of your former self…while loving the new person you’re becoming. This idea is rooted in leading therapeutic mental health treatments and is well-understood by scholars who study motherhood. In Two Truths, we remind mothers that the motherhood journey is many things—messy, beautiful, challenging, intuitive, infuriating, tragic, and joyful—often all at once. Moms contain multitudes, and our content and our media coverage reflects that.

Perelel: What are some of the things you write about and explore through  Two Truths?

Kelsey: We share a wide range of content—from expertly researched deep dives on topics like maternal mental health disorders, to breaking news alerts, to exclusive interviews with renowned motherhood experts, to thoughtful explorations of themes like nostalgia and traveling with littles and surviving sick season and why you might want to keep your placenta (or at least take a “tour” of it). 

We also have a few special features. ‘Two Truths: Trending’ provides a recap of the latest headlines and highlights on all things motherhood—including breaking news that parents need to know, pop culture updates, the best and worst of social media trends, and much more. We then contextualize all this news through a lens of maternal mental health. When we see a harmful trope being perpetuated in a TikTok trend or when there’s a scary-seeming headline that needs a bit more of an explainer, we are experts in distilling the key takeaways for mothers—and we often bring in leading experts to share their important insight.

Another special feature is ‘Send Me the Link,’ where we share the products, services, apps, events, and extras that are currently making life better, brighter, more beautiful, or all-around easier. We say that you don’t need a lot of “stuff” in motherhood—but this stuff is the good stuff. It’s a links list featuring the things our network is talking about, our community is raving about, or we’re personally obsessing over at the moment.

Shop the Article:

Perelel: What is something you wish everyone knew about motherhood and mental health?

Cassie: That perinatal mental health conditions such as perinatal/postpartum depression and anxiety are the leading complications of birth in this country, that they have risk factors and symptoms to look out for (in yourself and others), and that they’re highly treatable. Also, even though mothers in this country are woefully under-supported, there’s always help and support available. We’re honored to have Postpartum Support International as a medical advisory board member for Two Truths; their resources are balms for mothers and those who care for mothers. I also want moms to know that you don’t need a diagnosis to seek support. You don’t need to feel some amount of really, really bad to get help. All moms deserve help and support. Help and support are natural and normal parts of motherhood. 

Kelsey: After the birth of my first child, something hit me: Why don’t we treat all new moms as if they’ve just been through a traumatic experience? Some research suggests that 45% of new moms report birth trauma — but it’s not something that’s easy for a mother to convey when sharing a birth announcement on Instagram or answering casual, well-meaning questions about how her new baby is doing. Birth trauma is common and it can often be invisible. Being mindful of this when we’re interacting with new moms can make a world of difference to the way they feel seen and understood: We can adjust our behavior to be more supportive. We can ask open-ended questions that leave space for a new mom to share authentically. We can simply convey our own understanding that feelings around birth are often complicated. This is why education around maternal health is so important: The more we know, and the more we share, the better we’re able to create a culture that supports mothers. 

Perelel: What makes this latest generation of moms different from previous generations?

Cassie: This latest generation of mothers has been fed a lie that motherhood is something that’s to be done in isolation. That goes against everything we know from history and what many societies around the world still show us today: that motherhood is meant to be done in a community setting. The devastating impacts of the COVID pandemic skyrocketed rates of perinatal mental health conditions, and rates have remained higher post-pandemic. We are still isolated from one another. Too often, this leads us to be siloed in our thinking or to think we’re “doing something wrong” when things feel hard. I like to remind mothers who are struggling that they’re not failing; they’re being failed by a society that doesn’t support them in the proper and appropriate ways. I also like to remind them that the power of community is great and that there is always support available.

We're in the midst of an age of information. While that can be—and certainly is— overwhelming at times, it also allows us so much more education, access, and awareness around the ways we want to raise our kids, the issues that matter most to us (and how to fight for them), and even the people we want to connect with (take Kelsey and me—we met online!). We're the first generation to parent with social media and technology and I think, in some ways, this has allowed us more clarity. It has led, or forced, our generation to be intentional in how we parent, which is powerful. I think this next generation of kids will change the world (many already are).

Perelel: Can you please talk about matrescence—what it is, why it’s important to talk about? What fundamental shift surprised you when you both became mothers?

Cassie: Matrescence (pronounced like adolescence) is the process of becoming a mother; anthropologists say it’s one of the most significant physical, psychological, and physiological transformations of a woman’s life. A woman’s brain arguably undergoes more changes when she becomes a than during any other time in her life. Yet, while we acknowledge the teen years as a time of transition and transformation and welcome—and also expect—their ups and downs, too often, matrescence is overlooked. New motherhood is romanticized or painted as martyrdom. I’ve heard people say that motherhood radicalized them; I think many people, myself included, can agree with that sentiment. 

Kelsey: When I first learned that the word “matrescence” was coined in the 1970s by anthropologist Dana Raphael, I thought about all the mothers who went through this earth-shattering transformation and didn’t have a term for it. But giving name to something is so powerful and important; it sends the message that this experience we go through becoming mothers is real, and valid, and worthy of being studied and explored. 

Perelel: How can we better support mothers, both physically and mentally?

Cassie: We can start by supporting mothers in general. We can ask them how they’re doing, celebrate their joys, and sit with them in their suffering. We can also demand that our country creates a suitable formal infrastructure to care for mothers, starting with their physical and mental health, including affordable access to trained professionals, federally paid leave, and affordable, accessible childcare. Change is big, and it can also be small.

Perelel: Can you share any inspiring and hopeful stories you have encountered while doing this work?

Kelsey: Storytelling is at the heart of what we do, both in Two Truths and on our other platforms. One of the most common comments and messages we receive is some variation of, “I really needed to see this today.” It hits me so hard every time—knowing that something I put out into the universe made a positive impact on another mom; helped her feel seen or understood, or maybe gave her a new perspective or new information that shifted her day. It affirms my passion for this work every single time. It’s a huge honor to be a part of so many motherhood journeys and it’s also a responsibility we take extremely seriously.

Cassie: I’m just constantly in awe of the mothers. Every day, moms are delivering babies and healing from birth and staying up all night; they’re beating crippling postpartum depression; they’re becoming advocates in their homes; they’re running for office; they’re bringing in an income for their families; they’re lovingly raising the next generation; they’re redefining what motherhood “looks” like; they’re writing books; they’re researching the nascent field of perinatal health; they're helping other moms; they’re making change. 

It’s really easy to get bogged down in the negativity and the hamster wheel of a “bad news” cycle, and that’s okay; there’s a lot of bad news out there. There’s also a lot of good news out there—and I think so much of that good comes from the mothers. That’s beyond inspiring. It’s not on mothers to fix so many of these issues that we’re up against, and often, it’s the mothers out there fixing the things.

Perelel: What is the most helpful, illuminating, and supportive thing you have learned, leaned on, or looked to during your motherhood journey?

Cassie: I say this a lot, but truly, it's that no matter what you're going through, you're not alone. That message can be a lifeline—for the good times and the hard ones! 


Motherhood is a journey. Find support by joining our community Village by Perelel on Geneva, or read an in depth conversation about matrescence and the postpartum mind with Reproductive Psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Oreck, MD, MS.