Reflections on matrescence

Kelly Shenk Koontz lives in Boston, Massachusetts with her husband Peter, where she is an associate with Isaacson, Miller, an executive search firm that works with nonprofit organizations. She currently attends the Mennonite Congregation of Boston.

When I sit back and think about the past year, it could be easy to feel overwhelmed. Wars are raging, refugees are fleeing and political divisiveness has sprung up with new vigor.

Yet despite the reality of the world around me, I am consumed by hope and excitement about the future, preoccupied by the fact that I am going to become a mother in the next few weeks.

It’s a role that is new and unknown to me, and I’ve been trying to prepare for it by reading books and blog articles and gathering advice from people around me. Although I feel far from ready, I am still eagerly anticipating meeting my son in just a few short weeks (or days!).

In this period of growth and anticipation, Psalm 139:13-14 comes to mind: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” Eight months into my pregnancy, I am still awed by the feeling that a little person is growing inside me. But, at the same time, I recognize how routine the process is as well — after all, it has happened billions upon billions of times. That is also awe-inspiring in its own way.

As I am writing this, my baby is kicking me, reminding me of the many questions I have about his imminent arrival. I wonder what kind of person he will be when he is 2, 10, or 28 years old.  I wonder what my labor experience will be like. I wonder how I will explain Donald Trump to my three year old in a few years. As much as I would love to have the answers to all my questions, I am learning to live with the reality that the answers may be unclear and uncertain.

Although many medical providers may agree (sometimes) on the best way to provide care for their patients, each woman’s experience with pregnancy and birth is uniquely her own, and what works for one mother (or baby) may very well be the opposite of what another mother needs. If you get a room full of mothers to start telling their birth stories, you’ll be there all night, each one of them with a unique experience of her own. It’s reassuring to hear so many different stories — just think of all the many different ways that we arrive in this world.

The identity shift that is taking place within me, the process of becoming a mother, or “matrescence,” has been on my mind as well.

What will this new identity mean for me as an individual, in how I relate to the world and to others, and in how I think about and view myself?

I have been a daughter, a sister, a wife, but taking on this new role seems fraught with so much pressure and many more questions. As eager as I am to meet my child, I am also overwhelmed by the magnitude of change it will mean for my life. I can already anticipate the push and pull of wanting to savor each moment with my son while at the same time recognizing the satisfaction and appreciation I have for many other areas of my life, including my job. How will I deal with this tension, this reshuffling of priorities? It will depend on the day, on the week, on the year. My husband and I will both adjust and figure it out together, creating a new system for our lives in a way that will be unique to us.

The decisions that I make in the midst of new motherhood might vary a great deal from my colleague at work who recently had her second child or a friend from church who recently became a new mother. And that’s okay. It’s easy to get sucked into the trap of comparing yourself against the others around you. But it’s important to remember that God has created each of us with our own strengths and weaknesses and unique personalities. God delights in our differences and in the diverse ways that we inhabit the many roles that we take on throughout our lives. I hope to embrace the complexity of this strange new world of motherhood and be content with the hard decisions that I know I will have to make. In the midst of the uncertainties and many questions in life, I can take comfort in the reality that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made.”