Education, Theory & Practice



"Like Adolescence, the transition to motherhood is quite a change." - Aurélie Athan, Ph.D.

I am a psychologist and faculty member at Teachers College, Columbia University where I revive the term matrescence through education, theory, and practice. My courses and certificate program are firsts in Reproductive Psychology.  I study mothers' development holistically, both their thriving and distress, to normalize the transition to motherhood. I am in private practice and work with women of all ages as well as offer consultation to professionals working with mothers. I was last heard saying: "We all have a psychological relationship to our reproductive life, from menstruation to menopause and everything in between!" 

Aurélie Athan, Ph.D.

Teachers College, Columbia University

Ph.D. Clinical Psychology

Licensed Psychologist




The more people spreading the word  Matrescence , the better.

The more people spreading the word Matrescence, the better.

Spread the Word

We have a lack of language and theoretical paradigms for the psychology of mothers. I've tried to change that by reviving matrescence to provide a developmental framework for the transition to motherhood. I originally applied the term in 2008 from anthropology to mental health in order to normalize mothers' experiences and offer them a nonpathological description. As an educator, I know the power of words to help people understand things in a new way. Start using matrescence today and teach someone about this concept! You can read my own efforts to spread the word to professionals and the public in this blog.

First graduate Psychology course to focus on  Matrescence

First graduate Psychology course to focus on Matrescence

first Course

In 2010, I launched the first course solely dedicated to matrescence, the psychology of mothers from a developmental perspective, under the borrowed title Mother-Child Matrix. Ten students signed up expecting a class on maternal-child attachment theory. After their initial surprise that I would emphasize mothers, they began to learn about this nascent subject in earnest. They requested more coursework and with it came the creation of another class on Perinatal Mental Health. Eight years later, hundreds of students have graduated - many of whom now place the mother at the center of their own work. These remain the only graduate level courses of their kind nationally!

Our laboratory follows Trends in Research & Funding

Our laboratory follows Trends in Research & Funding

A Lab is Born

Matrescence, like adolescence, deserves its own field. In 2012, my Maternal Psychology laboratory started with no funding and a small, dedicated group of graduate students with a core commitment: study mothers as subjects of interest in their own right and provide evidence that they are understudied. Our goal was to uncover the biases in the field of maternal mental health, and to coalesce the scattered research across disciplines. We indeed found an overemphasis on perinatal psychopathology, few examples of normative adjustment to motherhood, and the need for a unifying theory akin to adolescence. The lab's commitment to illuminate a mother's resilience in addition to risk continues today. See what we are up to today! 

Calling future maternal care providers - get certified!

Calling future maternal care providers - get certified!


Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City offers the first State approved certificate program - a world-renowned training ground for those interested in learning the next wave of theories and practices to improve the lives of parents and mothers. Since 2015, the specialization track of Reproductive & Maternal Well-being prepares researchers, educators, practitioners and activists through online and in-person coursework in Perinatal Mental Health, Women & Mental Health, Helping Professionals Working with LGBT Families and my seminal course Matrescence: Developmental & Clinical Implications.

Matrescence  shouldn't stay in the Ivory Tower- read more!

Matrescence shouldn't stay in the Ivory Tower- read more!


The concept of matrescence has spurred my writing and thinking on the subject in an expansive way-- it has that effect! My publications include other topics related to reproductive life such as gender roles, spiritual development and sex education. Here are selections that honor the psychological experiences of mothers I've studied through systematic research where you will see how they have inspired me to advocate for their wellbeing leading up to and far beyond the perinatal window.


My Working Definition

The process of becoming a mother, coined by Dana Raphael, Ph.D. (1973), is a developmental passage where a woman transitions through pre-conception, pregnancy and birth, surrogacy or adoption, to the postnatal period and beyond. The exact length of matrescence is individual, recurs with each child, and may arguably last a lifetime! The scope of the changes encompass multiple domains --bio-psycho-social-political-spiritual-- and can be likened to the developmental push of adolescence. Increased attention to mothers has spurred new findings, from neuroscience to economics, and supports the rationale for a new field of study known as matrescence. Such an arena would allow the roundtable of specialists to come together and advance our understanding of this life passage. 

Mother of Mothers

An Origin Story

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For all who walk this path, we owe first and foremost a debt to our Mother of Matrescence, Dana Louise Raphael (1926–2016). We stand on the shoulders of others, and must acknowledge our foremothers…

During my years in Clinical Psychology, I was unable to find good explanatory models for the psychological transition to motherhood. I set out to find out everything I could from every field. With the help of my students, we conducted an extensive literature review of all of the scientific studies in the past 25 years, in a variety of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, medicine, nursing and others. This revealed a strange neglect of focus on mothers themselves without the impact on their children, and the vast majority spoke about their risk for illness with few other perspectives. I was encouraged by the few maternal developmental theorists that existed, but it was in the writing of another Columbia University trained scholar that I found my answer and ultimately the conceptual basis of my own theoretical work as a burgeoning reproductive psychologist. Dana Raphael had coined the term matrescence (and "doula") and I immediately applied it to mental health to expand the conversation. It deserved a revival and "matrescence like adolescence" became my new mantra to educate others both in and out of the classroom. Now I could include the whole spectrum of experience from stress to wellness---the possibility of resilience and even flourishing. I spread the word locally in NYC through my teaching, talks, and writing as I called for a developmental model of motherhood to normalize the psychological transition women were experiencing—- and to finally shift the paradigm! On Mother's Day of 2017, I saw these efforts popularized in the New York Times article: The Birth of a Mother and later TED talk.

The critical transition period which has been missed is matrescence. the time of mother-becoming...Giving birth does not automatically make a mother out of a woman...The amount of time it takes to become a mother needs study. 
— - Dana Raphael, Matrescence, Becoming a Mother, A New/Old Rite de Passage (1975)
Childbirth brings about a series of very dramatic changes in the new mother’s physical being, in her emotional life, in her status within the group, even in her own female identity. I distinguish this period of transition from others by terming it matrescence to emphasize the mother and to focus on her new life style.
— - Dana Raphael, The Tender GIFT: BreastfeedinG (1973)


Aurelie Athan, Ph.D.

The term “matrescence,” coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael in the mid-’70s and brought into common use in psychology by clinical psychologist Aurelie Athan, head of the maternal psychology lab at Columbia University, describes a woman’s transition into parenthood. The term deliberately evokes the passage into adulthood — adolescence — though the two aren’t exactly on equal footing in our collective consciousness.



Perhaps reviving the conceptual term matrescence, coined by and borrowed from anthropologist Dana Raphael (1975), would be most apt within the landscape of maternity. Much like adolescence, it is an experience of dis-orientation and re-orientation marked by an acceleration of changes in multiple domains: physical, psychological, social, and spiritual. We are indeed indebted to the early ‘maternal developmentalists’ who aptly characterized motherhood in its multi-dimension and dynamism, both the oppressive and the liberating—the dichotomous phenomena that are often the hallmark of any major life transition. Their perspectives equalized and served to normalize, rather than pathologize, the 'mixed-feelings’ of women.



Athan & Reel argue that there is little interest or up-take of research in the psychology of mothers or maternal development per se. They call for a study of ‘matrescence’, to explore women’s lived experience of becoming and being mothers, to challenge the pathologisation of women’s ‘mixed feelings’ about mothering, and to normalise more complex and varied experiences of motherhood than just fulfilment or illness narratives enable.



Athan has helped put matrescence — a term coined by the late medical anthropologist Dana Raphael — front and center in the larger discourse. She helped create TC’s new curriculum in Reproductive & Maternal Well-being (including) her own “Mother Matrix: Developmental and Clinical Implications...



Mothers’ experiences are largely invisible because we haven’t asked, “What is this like for you?” Generally, in psychology, the best practice is to understand what’s normative and what the challenges, expectations and setbacks are for a given subject. Then we try and understand the risk factors for when things go off course. We can’t begin to understand why things go wrong for some mothers if we don’t understand the whole passage. We also only focus on motherhood within a very limited time frame from conception to childbearing and then, that’s about it.



We must give a nod to Dr. Raphael. She coined the term “matrescence” and by doing so gave us the word to imagine a new, unexplored territory. Motherhood, like adolescence, is a stage of human physical, psychological, social, and spiritual development. Unfortunately, women’s experiences of this transition remain one of most under-developed areas of scholarship and training. Each year I revive “matrescence” in my classroom to awaken students and enlarge their scope of understanding from a simple focus on the child. Mothers may form the cornerstone of our most precious theories, yet the process of becoming a mother has not been examined sufficiently despite the fact that we all, every living being, are brought forth by one. There also remains a stronghold of maternal psychopathology and crisis as the core area of interest, with fewer formulations mapping out both the costs and benefits of the psychological work that is undergone. Understanding the birth of a mother can hopefully allow a more holistic view of this adaptation and with it new fields of study can be born. The creation of more research laboratories and coursework such as my own on Maternal Psychology and Reproductive Mental Health and Wellbeing, while at their infancy, can help the next generation of scholars and practitioners to get started.



Last fall, Hansen took The Mother Matrix, taught by Aurelie Athan, director of TC’s Maternal Psychology Laboratory. Athan is a leader in the fledgling field of “matrescence,” which views the transition to motherhood as a developmental phase like adolescence and other periods of major physical change. Her course is part of a broader initiative, The Sexuality, Women, & Gender Project (SWG)... Hansen says about Athan's class, “We read articles, mostly from the nursing field. We interviewed mothers. It was exciting, because growing up you see a lot of images that don’t reflect what it feels like to be female. TC is creating a counter-narrative.