Ok, it’s no news to anyone especially to new dads that women change when they are pregnant. The external physical changes are obvious and some of the internal ones make themselves known too. But what about the question of whether dad’s change too? I think that when you look into the eyes of even the biggest toughest ‘blokiest’ dad you can see this change.
It’s always good to have a bit of science to explain what is going on – and personally I love a bit of neuroscience too. Currently in 2020 Matrescence is only just being explored and as research happens there is often almost as much that is being proved to be true as there is being proved not to be true. So without any scientific claims on my behalf I share with you that which resonates with my personal experience and my 35 years of working with parents.
If you haven’t come across it yet (you are not alone) Matrescence is the period between womanhood and motherhood encompassed by changes in fast physical growth caused by pregnancy hormones. These hormones act on both body and brain. They often start acting even before pregnancy (the ‘maternal drive’) when women start baby gazing and getting tearful at puppies and kittens…
As pregnancy progresses, not only do women change their focus of attention but their Oxytocin (love hormone) increases and their cortisol (stress hormone) level increases. When a child is born the mum is already pre-primed (with very high oxytocin and cortisol) to hold their baby close and watch out for danger. The first few months post pregnancy are a time when a mum’s brain is really changing – she gains or increases five main attributes
- Perception – (eyes in the back of her head) sensing things going on in her environment that she may have missed before.
- Efficiency – (multitasking) switching tasks, dropping tasks and ideas and coming back to them in time.
- Resiliency – an ability to power down yet power on – just keeping on keeping on.
- Motivation – the powerful drive to make a difference.
- Emotional Intelligence – the ability to read others and influence them through feelings rather than words.
* These 5 attributes of a baby boosted brain were identified by Katherine Ellison in her book ‘The Mommy Brain’ in 2006.
For more about Matrescence Alexandra Sacks has a great TED Talk and a book on the emotions of pregnancy and motherhood.
So dads, what about you? Is there such a thing as Patrescence? The science is even further behind on this. But let’s look at the implications.
Dads – don’t have all the hormones that women go through in pregnancy and it varies hugely how interested or attached dads are before their baby arrives. Many dads enjoy the journey through pregnancy with their partners and some feel more loving and protective – perhaps inducing their own rise of oxytocin and cortisol. However when the baby arrives the pheromones that come from the newborn’s head act on the hormones in the dad. And many men have a huge surge of the feeling of bonding as well as relief that the baby has arrived safely and the excitement of meeting him/her for the first time. The skin to skin practice increases the connection between father and child boosting oxytocin in both of them (and of course mum too).
So now we have a dad who is riding the rollercoaster of hormonal change. If you can’t get your head around Matrescence yet – look at the definition of adolescence below and remember your own experience.
Whilst you do not experience the withdrawal of pregnancy hormones you DO get a raised Oxytocin and Cortisol. And with many men the Oxytocin spike in turn causes a Testosterone (Hunter warrior hormone) spike. The effects of these hormones racing around your body and marinating your brain must cause rewiring – just like adolescence and matrescence.
Baby brain is a thing! It’s great! It changes the way you show up in the world, and most of all it helps to protect your genes and the next generation. You do not go back to pre-birth you. You change. Just like you do not go back to being a child after adolescence. Of course much of you is the same, but it is as if you discover an extra organ in your body that you didn’t use before.
Embrace the changes of matrescence and patrescence, if you are less than a year through the process give yourself and each other a break. Your priorities are shifting. Let your feelings of love drive you towards your family. Let your cortisol help you keep an eye on protecting yourselves and your business and your beliefs. Let your testosterone drive your creativity and carve out your future. Things will settle as time goes by and the new you will find that your purpose is clearer, you will let go of what no longer serves you and your feelings and thoughts will start working together instead of competing with each other. Let go of the ‘oughts’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’. Focus on what you need to in the present. You are going through a process that every father who has come before you has gone through. They didn’t know the science either, but neither you nor I would be here today if we didn’t have enough paternal love, protection and strength in our world.
* Adolescence is the period between childhood and adulthood encompassed by changes in fast physical growth caused by an influx of sex hormones. psychological (think differently), neurological (rewire and ‘pruning of non-essential wiring’) and social development (different interest groups).