Devoted to supporting women during their transition into motherhood, Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a maternal life coach, author & ‘Matrescence’ activist. Here the mama of 3 talks about common motherhood hurdles (hello identity crisis!), the reality of (im)balance, and her top tips for burnt out mama’s.

Writer: Rebecca Walker, The Conscious Wordsmith

You were a producer at the ABC for more than 15 years before training as a life coach, postnatal yoga teacher and meditation facilitator.  What spurred your transition from executive life into the maternal wellbeing industry? 

I never thought I’d be a life coach! In fact, when I first left the ABC to build my business, I used to describe myself as a meditation teacher and author…anything but a life coach! But the truth is, it’s my greatest role (other than motherhood).

I grew up wanting to do two things in this world: tell stories, and help women. And so a career at the ABC made sense to me. As a producer and journalist, I travelled the country, covering everything from bushfires to elections, living in regional Australia and capital cities, finding stories that wouldn’t usually be told. I loved every minute of it.

But then, as I got closer to 30 years old, something started to shift and stir in me: I wanted a baby. I was newly married, and thought adding a child to my life would be a little like adding another skill to my resume. I assumed it would only make my life and career richer, and nothing else would change. (Yes, I know how crazy that sounds now).

And so, when I entered motherhood, I was totally unprepared for the reality of it. I loved being a mama, but I really struggled with the changes in ME. It was the first time in my life I didn’t feel in control or that I knew what I was doing. I struggled with stepping back from my career (even for a few months), and I really struggled with what I call my ‘Inner Mean Mama’ – an inner voice that was always telling me I should be loving this, I should be doing better, I should know how to do this.

Two more babies, and endless unanswered questions later, I began writing about my experience of motherhood and the struggles I had. Suddenly it connected. Before I knew it, I had created a business that was doing everything I had always wanted to do: tell stories about women that helped change lives.

Can you please explain the concept of ‘Matrescence’ to someone who’s never heard of it?

Matrescence is a term that refers to the massive identity shift that occurs in a woman as she becomes and grows as a mother. It was first identified by Dana Raphael in the 1970s, and has then been expanded by my teacher Dr Aurelie Athan, Columbia University, among others.

But in my own words, this is how I describe Matrescence:  When we become a mother, we split in two: who we used to be, and The Mother. And we FEEL that split. It’s why we love our kids but also want a break. It’s why we want to return to work, then miss them while we’re there. It’s why we feel differently about politics, money, sex, our friends, and (usually most of all) our partner. 
It’s because we’re not who we used to be. And we never will be again. We’re becoming someone new. Matrescence is the experience of discovering how motherhood has changed you, and who you are going to be now. 

What are some of the most common psychological & emotional challenges women face when transitioning from woman to mother?

The beautiful thing about Matrescence is, everyone experiences it in their own unique way, and yet at the same time, we’re all the same. The biggest challenges come from our belief that we’re not meant to change – that we’re meant to return to ‘normal’, whether it’s our jean size or sex life. Our culture celebrates women never aging or changing, which makes it even harder.

On top of that, mothering is not valued. The reality of raising a child is hidden behind closed doors and in isolation. We value work ethics and productivity, not building Lego and cutting crusts off sandwiches. And so, one of the biggest challenges I see in mothers is that what they used to pin their identity on (and therefore their value) changes in motherhood. This can result in them feeling undervalued, unseen and unworthy. 

You released your book ‘Mama Rising’ in 2019. What inspired you to write it?

Mama Rising is the culmination of my own experience of motherhood, the studies and research I’ve done since first discovering the term Matrescence, and hundreds and hundreds of mamas who have taken part in my programmes.

The most common feedback I get from women around the world is: ‘It’s like you were writing about my life’. And that’s because there’s something so universal about Matrescence, it makes us all feel so much less alone. My struggles are your struggles. And because I’ve had the privilege of hearing so many women’s stories over the years, I knew that if I could share my story, every mama who read it would feel the same: ‘It’s not just me.’ 

What is the most important message in the book?

That Matrescence is a beautiful and important rite of passage, but because we were never told about it, we have been silently suffering and trying to prove to the world that we haven’t changed. When in fact, you are MEANT to change.

You’ve written a book, run 5 online programs, host a podcast and manage a busy household with 3 kids. How do you hold it all together?

To be honest, my life has dramatically changed in the last 2 years with an unexpected separation and divorce from my children’s father. It’s really thrown a lot up into the air. I’ve asked myself, ‘How do I do this? Do I want to do this? What are my highest values? What do I need to prioritise?’

I’m brutal with my time now. I do what I can every day in order to serve the women who’ve said ‘yes’ to themselves. Sharing this work with the world also means saying ‘no’ to a lot of things my old self would have really struggled with. I’ve always wanted to do it ALL, and do it NOW, so this has been a wonderful lesson in letting go.

The other thing that’s helped me enormously is to know that there are so many other women now doing what I used to do. I used to hold space for hundreds of women at a time, personally commenting on every single one of their comments in our Facebook groups. I was there when they lost their baby and I was there when they proudly shared about not yelling that day. And I loved that so much.

But in the end, I couldn’t be the only one to hold that all the time, which is why I created the Mama Rising Facilitator training. Now, when I feel like I’m not doing enough (an old perfectionist habit), I remind myself, it’s not just me anymore. We have over 100 Mama Rising Facilitators now creating spaces and supporting mamas all over the world. That helps a lot.

What do ‘Mama Rising’ facilitators actually do & why would someone hire one?

Mama Rising Facilitators are just like mothers. They come in all shapes and colours with the most divine experiences. We have doulas, midwives, lactation consultants and nurses. We have social workers, psychologists, physiotherapists and healers. And we have mamas who have experienced their own struggles with Matrescence, have done my courses, and decided: I need to do this.

At the core of it, Mama Rising Facilitators are coaches and space holders who have been trained in the understanding of what it means to be a mama and a woman in our current culture, and have the tools and skills to support her to understand how she has changed in motherhood. In other words, they are there to support a woman to reflect on who she is now, and who she wants to become.

I also think it’s important to say, we don’t have all the answers, but we know the questions to ask, and how to guide you to find your own answers. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all coaching model. The Mama Rising formula of support (which is what a facilitator uses with you) is the most empowering process of self-discovery.

So if a mama is struggling with any part of her life, if she feels like she’s lost herself, if she wants to connect more with her partner or stop yelling at her kids, or she feels unmotivated by her career and is craving something new, a Mama Rising Facilitator meets her where she is and says: “Yes, mama. You’re going through something. It’s called Matrescence, and it’s the most beautiful invitation to ask: ‘Who am I now? What do I really want?’ I’m here to support you through that.” 

Do you believe true balance is really achievable or is it an unrealistic ideal that working mothers are chasing?

What is true balance? I don’t know if we really know. All I can say is, I’ve realised over the past two years of a pandemic, the ending of a marriage, and the mental health struggles of one of my children, my new definition of balance and success is that I DON’T have to do it all. I’m trying to surround myself with people who can step in when I can’t, whether that is in my coaching calls for my programmes, in my inbox for my mamas, or in my kitchen for the family meals.

I simply cannot do it all. And success, to me, is now building a business and a life that allows me to have these people around me who can rise when I can’t. It’s taken me a very long time to be ok with this, but when I allow others to help me, I’m so much more present and ready when I step back into my work or family. I’m so THERE, because I haven’t tried to do all, and be everything to everyone else first.

What advice would you give a sleep-deprived new momma who is suffering from symptoms of postnatal depletion, anxiety or depression?

First, I want to say to her: I see you, mama. This is the biggest transformation you will ever go through, and I bet no one is holding you. I bet you think you’re doing it all wrong. You’re not! If I had my way, I would surround you with a group of women who are there simply to nurture YOU,  the new mama. Not your baby (you’re already doing a great job at that), but YOU. This is the birth of you too.

And then I would say - your strength comes from your admission that something is not right. Don’t ignore that. Your intuition, your body, your anxiety are trying to tell you, something needs to change. So please follow that. Reach out to a doctor or healthcare professional, and find a place to share what you’re feeling. And if you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, keep going. Don’t ignore it. Your feelings are real.

And finally, I would then lean forward, give her a hug, and whisper in her ear: It’s going to be alright. This is the breaking down of who you used to be so you can become the most divine empowered woman and mother. This is the dark before the light. But the light will come. Hold on, reach out, find the support and the answers you need. You’ve got this!

Why do you think supporting mothers is so important?

Because mothers hold up the world. At the core of it, I believe that if we supported a mother differently, allowed her to see that everything she is feeling is a part of the rite of passage of motherhood and is actually a beautiful new beginning, she will stop pushing herself to her limits.  She will stop burning out and getting overwhelmed, and she will realise that the world is not set up to support mothers right now, but she can change that. When a mama is empowered, she can do anything!

For more information about Amy and her offerings, visit https://www.amytaylorkabbaz.com/