La matrescence, un état transitoire de femme, à mère - Élhée

Matrescence, a transitional state from woman to mother

There are times in life when a woman can feel between two waters, not really in tune with herself. Matrescence is one of them. Halfway between woman and mother, lost somewhere in the tumults of their new motherhood, women who experience matrescence experience a double birth: that of their child, but also that of their motherhood .


What is matrescence, and where does this notion come from?

Matrescence is the idea that motherhood also consists of an adolescent stage . That being a mother is not innate, but is learned, more or less easily. Thus, matrescence designates, for a new mother, the period following the birth of her first child . Rich in changes and upheavals on a physical, psychological, physiological, emotional or identity level, this new stage in a woman's life is also compared to the 4th trimester of pregnancy.

Behind this not really new concept, but still relatively discreet, is the idea that motherhood is not always, or not immediately, happy, and that this is worth saying, to be (better) experienced.

Dana Louise Raphael

It is to Dana Louise Raphael , American anthropologist and fervent activist for breastfeeding children and supporting mothers, that we owe the concept of matrescence. Born from the contraction of the words “maternity” and “adolescence” , the word would not be popularized until many years later, in 2017, by Alexandra Sacks, reproductive psychiatrist in her TED Talk .

In 1973, Dana Raphael published Prentice-Hall, The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding , a 200-page book based on in-depth research into breastfeeding and its perception by women, especially in the United States. It is in this work that the word “doula” (derived from the ancient Greek δούλη, doúlê, servant) and its concept appear for the first time , of which the researcher is also at the origin. Dana Raphael then uses it to designate and describe the woman who accompanies women during childbirth and after.

In addition, the scientist co-founded the Human Lactation Center, a research center focused on breastfeeding and infant nutrition. Subsequently and throughout her life, the activist will become a voice for breastfeeding and its acceptance throughout the world.

Matrescence: a concept closely linked to the 4th trimester of pregnancy

a mother holds her young baby against her, in her arms and her bottle in one hand

When a child is born, his mother is born with him. Thus, matrescence is directly linked to the way each mother experiences her 4th trimester of pregnancy. In its own way, with its physical and hormonal upheavals, this period can be as unstable as adolescence.

To explain it, Alexandra Sacks contrasts the effects of oxytocin naturally secreted by the female body to support the implementation of maternal behaviors, and the logic of the mind which wants each mother to be also a woman, defined by his own desires and needs. In his words, matrescence would be the result of this exceptional emotional tension, with the baby in the foreground on one side and the self on the other .

However, the psychiatrist still specifies that nothing is more normal than the ambivalence of feelings at the birth of a child. According to her, if the concept of matrescence were better known, mothers would be more forgiving with themselves and less tormented by their feelings.

Adolescence of a mother and dissociation of the woman

To understand or try to approach the idea of ​​matrescence, we must imagine that a woman giving birth to her first child learns to become a mother while being one . So she may naturally lack knowledge and confidence. From this lack of knowledge would come, for example, the demand for maternal perfection or the thought that taking care of a baby should always be a pleasure.

At the same time, the new mother is often preoccupied with the upcoming resumption of her work, the attention to be paid to her partner, the needs of her family, her own, or the requests of her friends... This is where We find the ambivalence defined by Alexandra Sacks, between the desire to be a mother and the frustration of being one.

At the heart of matrescence, the place of mothers in society

But the upheaval is not just internal. The views of others are also very important. Everywhere, testimonies from mothers teach us that motherhood is not always a spontaneous state . Where society praises an instinct that not all women feel, not at the same time or not in the same way, it is urgent to convey the following message: matrescence exists and is a normal period of transition between two states .

A concept that is all the more important to popularize because, as the center of family interest during their pregnancy, mothers often take a back seat when the baby arrives and can then feel very alone with their emotions.

Postpartum depression: the importance of taming matrescence

If matrescence is a normal period of upheaval, it is in no way comparable to postpartum depression which affects 15 to 20% of women, the year following the birth of their baby.

Still according to Alexandra Sacks, better knowledge of matrescence, associated with more exchanges between new mothers, would significantly reduce the trouble felt when faced with the complexity of feelings. This could even have an impact on the number of postpartum depressions diagnosed each year .

Paternity leave and the role of the spouse

a father holds his baby's bottle, they are seated on a bed

In France, the journalist Clémentine Sarlat, a pioneer on the subject and at the head of a podcast which clearly displays color - Matrescence - draws attention to another point. According to her, the role of the spouse — and by extension that of those around her — is essential in supporting the new mother in her transition .

Beyond not passing judgment, a spouse who is present, available and attentive, would be a valuable help in the journey through matrescence . In this sense, the journalist is campaigning for a significant extension of paternity leave so that each couple can move forward as a duo on the path to parenthood.

The Nordic countries seem particularly attractive here with parental leave of 480 compensated days in Sweden (to be divided between the two parents, including three months each) or 160 days per parent in Finland, plus the possibility of transferring up to 63 days. parental leave to their spouse. In comparison, French paternity leave seems very light. As a reminder, it is only 25 days!

Kindness and acceptance

Because well-being begins with understanding and continues with acceptance, putting words to your emotions is one of the first steps. This is all the more the case when they resonate as loud as matrescence. Maternity, paternity... all parenting can be complex to experience and observe, a word was needed to cover them.

De-idealizing helps you put things into perspective and better understand your new daily life as a mother. Thus, the more benevolence those around them show, the more the new mother can trust herself and easily make her transition to reveal herself as a free and unique mother .

In conclusion: some keys to moving forward

  • Talk to avoid negative questions and thoughts . Talk with your partner first, but also with your family and friends. Talk to other pregnant women around you, ask questions , to your doctor, your gynecologist, your obstetrician, ask to meet a psychologist if you feel the need, but don't be left alone with your questions.
  • Find out about the 4th trimester of pregnancy and matrescence . Today there are more and more books ( Living the fourth trimester naturally by Julia Simon , This is our postpartum by Illana Weizmann…) articles and podcasts (Matrescence, Bliss Stories …) to this subject.
  • Surround yourself , whether it's groups on social media or workshops in real life. Facebook and Instagram are full of discussion circles that will welcome you. Don't like digital? Contact the PMI, ask your maternity ward and consult the list of parent-child reception centers (LAEP) open near you.
  • Meet a doula . Specially trained to support pregnant women and new mothers, this perinatal professional will listen to you, collect your words and your emotions to guide you through this incredible transition that is matrescence.
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