Monday, November 3, 2008

"The Female Brain"

I've needed a good book and I think I found it. "Sassy, witty, reassuring, and great fun. All women - and the men who love them - should read this book." (Christine Northrup, MD, author of The Wisdom of Menopause)

For years I have said that one of the striking differences between men and women is that men get a body, and after they go through puberty that very body is their reality all their life. They can abuse it, train it, suffer aging etc, but it is the same reality.

Women, though, go through puberty and into a wild adventure of many many different realities. Each month forces changes on them that are so pervasive that they cannot be soldiered o
n through. Pregnancy radically changes a woman, and then when the pregnancy is over she does not go back to her old self, but to a new self, and I am not talking about a thicker waste-line. I am talking about deep self.

The September vol. of Monitor on Psychology has a cover article called The Pregnant Brain: H
ow pregnancy and motherhood change a woman's brain - for good. (Tori DeAngelis, pg 29) Pregnant women appear to experience slight decreases in learning and memory ability, some even exhibiting decreased ability in memory and speech. "Pregnant women do in fact experience a physiologically based baby brain, the likely result of a hormone flood that peaks in the third trimester as well as possible external factors, such as a more chaotic life during pregnancy, studies are showing."

Hah! Science supporting subjective observation.

Research, the article says, has found the brain actually shrinks a little during pregnancy (Jan 2002 American Journal of Neuroradiology, Angela Oatridge, PhD). Volume returns to normal after delivery.

And what about post partum downs? Hormone levels in a pregnant woman rise to 1000 times - let me write that out so you don't think I made a typo - a THOUSAND TIMES - normal levels and then plunge after birth ... a truly chaotic bit of human music, considering the power of hormones for all manner of things: thinking, well being, strength, energy, feelings ....

The good news is that rats, monkeys and bugs (beetles) increase in performance after pregnancy. The hypothesis is that women's spatial, cognitive and memory ability are enhanced after pregnancy, ostensibly to support childcare. The fact that they will be dead tired for the first six months after pregnancy means that any reported increase is, quite simply, a miracle.

The argument being made is that motherhood is as significant a stage of development as puberty and menopause. "This is another epoch in a female's life. The brain changes are as dramatic as what you see during the other phases." Go figure.


rachel said...

and frankly, no man could sustain the vast and miraculous shifts that a woman must endure!! :)

All 4 My Gals said...

After four pregnancies I am undoubtedly NOT carrying the same brain in my head! lol I think that mothering four extremely sassy girls had wreaked additional havoc on my hormonal stages as well. My 80 year old father has wondered why his second to youngest daughter is having the same age decline as he is experiencing. :-) He worries about when I am 80! And so do I.