Menopause is not a disease

Menopause is not a disease

Menopause is not a disease
I wanted to write an article for International Women’s Day to celebrate the amazing progress the world is making in women’s health, in particular brain health and mental wellbeing.

I wanted to rejoice with you how we are finally beginning to educate and support women through the huge hormonal and neurological transitions of postpartum and menopause, so women can thrive.

But then The Lancet’s series on menopause came out on Wednesday and took us straight back to 2002.

The commentary Time for a balanced conversation about menopause suggests more empathy by prescribing physicians, yet cites outdated studies to scare women and gaslight their experiences. They suggest that menopause is a natural process (Yes!) that has been overmedicalised (No!) and is being positioned as a disease (No!)

Menopause is not a disease; it is a transition due to declining hormones that can lead to disease.

Menopause (the end of the menstrual period) occurs due a reduction in hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) from the ovaries i.e., there are no more eggs being released, so women can’t get pregnant. This is not a chance occurrence (or a measure of probability), it is a medical fact! A woman’s hormones will decline as she enters midlife (sometimes even before). It happens to every biological female if she lives long enough.

But it isn’t just a sudden stop of periods. For reasons we don’t know yet (but I am sure it is at least in part to do with the brain needing time to adapt to the reduction in hormones) there is a long transition period into menopause, known as perimenopause. This is a turbulent hormonal time for most women, that can last from a few months to 10 years.

80% of women in Australia report experiencing perimenopausal symptoms, which are due to the reduction in hormones.

Let me tell you in simple science why.

The body and the brain have an abundance of oestrogen receptors. These need oestrogen to bind to them so they can carry out their function; like decreasing inflammation, lubricating joints (and your vagina), regulating neurotransmitters, protecting your heart, your bones, and your brain.

 

Think of an oestrogen receptor like a light fitting, and oestrogen like a light bulb. Only when the lightbulb (oestrogen) is in the light fitting (receptor) will the area be illuminated (function). 

 

Otherwise it is dark, much like the experience of perimenopause for many women.

This is a medical fact that does not paint menopause as a disease. However, this oestrogen deficiency can lead to many diseases in older age including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and dementia.

To suggest that replacing hormones in perimenopause, so a woman can increase her physical and mental wellbeing, makes it a disease, devalues and excludes women. This is not at all in line with the International Women’s Day 2024 theme of “inspiring inclusion”.

For some women perimenopause is too much to bear.
Statistics show that suicide in midlife-aged women increases tremendously, as does depression, women leaving their jobs and alcohol consumption.

 

You don’t have to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) when your hormones start to decline, but you need to know how the reduction in hormones may affect you physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually, so you can make educated decisions about your current health and your health into older age.

It is inspiring and empowering when a woman takes her health into her own hands and decides she wants better for herself. Every woman is unique, and menopause is not a one-size-fits-all experience. My advice is read and research what you can, and find a doctor who is educated on the latest research, who has your back and who honours your personal experience.
If you read information ask who wrote it, who sponsored it and what have they got to gain from it (yes, even ask that about me!). You don’t need to white-knuckle through perimenopause and play down how you feel. You deserve a wonderful midlife and you deserve to feel illuminated.

 

Dr Jennifer Hacker Pearson is a PhD-qualified neuroscientist and trained psychotherapist. She teaches science-informed education and tools to help women boost their brain health and mental wellbeing, from postpartum to menopause, so they can thrive in life and work.

For more see www.DrJen.com.au.

When a woman becomes a mother: Why you need to know about this developmental transformation, to thrive in motherhood

When a woman becomes a mother: Why you need to know about this developmental transformation, to thrive in motherhood

Why you need to know about this developmental transformation, to thrive in motherhood

Even before we have a baby, we are aware that as our child grows it will go through a developmental transformation. With babies these are measurable, developmental milestones like cooing, crawling and first words.

But did you know that women also go through a developmental transformation as they become mothers?

A mother’s developmental transformation is called matrescence. And even though there are no measurable milestones in matrescence, just knowing this transformation happens to women will help you thrive in motherhood.

My third baby was almost three years old when I first heard about matrescence. Suddenly, so much about my motherhood experience made sense.

This is why I felt different, lost, confused and unsure. This is why my feelings were mixed and contradictory. This is why I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.

Matrescence.

Why are we taught so much about our baby’s developmental transformation but not our own?

Well, I would like to tell you and hopefully it will illuminate your motherhood experience too.

The word matrescence was coined by medical anthropologist Dana Raphael in the mid-1970s. Matrescence (it gets its name to from the developmental similarity it bears to adolescence) is the all-encompassing transition a woman goes through when she becomes a mother. She is transformed physically, psychologically, emotionally, hormonally, socially, and spiritually.

Dr Raphael hoped that the word matrescence would acknowledge the transition from woman to mother, and to normalise, rather than pathologise (regard as psychologically abnormal) the mixed feelings women experience in motherhood.

This is huge! Because the feelings you have in matrescence are huge. And they truly are mixed. And sometimes they are unusual or new to you, or you can’t make sense of them. You may even feel there is something wrong with you.

There probably isn’t!

Matrescence can bring out differing and conflicting emotions and opinions of yourself. You can feel split, between the woman you used to be and the one you are now, while wondering who you are now you’re a mother. That is normal.

Acknowledging this and the mixed feelings that motherhood brings as normal and acknowledging that becoming a mother is a rite of passage, and giving it a name – matrescence – is so so so important because it validates you, it validates how you feel, it lets you know there is nothing wrong with you, and it offers you the opportunity to thrive. This is matrescence.

Matrescence is not linear or measurable like the development of your baby, or even like adolescence is. Every woman will go through matrescence every time she has a baby. And every time it might look different. It has been suggested that matrescence begins when a woman starts thinking about becoming pregnant, and lasts her whole lifetime – because as our children change and enter new phases, you – the mother – will change as well.

My research suggests that the greatest impact of matrescence is experienced from just after you have given birth through approximately the first two-to-three years. So, if you are experiencing matrescence and are wondering whether your feelings are normal, the answer is probably yes.

Examples of the mixed feelings of matrescence include:

  • feeling up and down
  • uncertainty
  • overwhelm
  • teariness
  • disconnect
  • worry and
  • confusion

While women are navigating these mixed feelings of matrescence, of course she is also learning how to mother her baby, and learning to understand her baby. There is a lot going on. She does not need the confusion and concern about what is going on with her, and why she might be experiencing these mixed feelings. Therefore, it is imperative that all mothers and people who work with mothers have knowledge, understanding and terminology around matrescence, so we can help ourselves and other mothers thrive. For when mothers thrive, their children thrive.

If you would like to know more about matrescence and learn how to thrive in motherhood, take my course Write Your Empowered Matrescence Plan today and tell a friend who is experiencing matrescence, or about to have her baby. Or check out www.DrJen.com.au to learn how to psychologically thrive in postpartum.

Episode #36: The 4 Seasons of Matrescence w/ Nikki McCahon

Episode #36: The 4 Seasons of Matrescence w/ Nikki McCahon

Motherhood fears and how to overcome them – with Belinda Hughes

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Imagine a world where matrescence, the developmental transformation from woman to mother, was truly recognised. Where this rite of passage was as understood and spoken about as adolescence.

While matrescence isn’t a household word YET, my guest today on MAMA, UNLEASHED!, Nikki McCahon, has created a framework and language around matrescence to make this uncertain, and often challenging, time of becoming a mother more clear and less scary.

Nikki created her Seasons of Matrescence model to support mothers through the varying transitions and changes of motherhood and to offer the woman a map of where she is, and where she is most likely heading.

In this episode we talk all about matrescence, Nikki’s model (which incorporates the 4 seasons of the year) and how matrescence has the power to break the societal standards of motherhood.

In this episode you will learn: 

[Timestamps]

[3.45] In matrescence we ask ourselves a lot of questions: who am I now I’m a mother?

What happened to me?
What happened to me?
What’s going on in my life?
What’s happening to my relationship with my partner and with myself?
Why am I alone and isolated?

[5.45] Mothers need community to thrive. Isolation and loneliness are risk factors for postpartum/ postnatal depression.

[8.45] The importance of having language and a framework around matrescence. Otherwise, every mother will feel “there is something wrong with me”.

[11.30] Motherhood is a rite of passage – a moving from one group into another. Society tells us who we need to be to fit into the new group. This puts immense pressure on new mothers.

[13.00] How our society and culture benefit from us feeling like we are an inadequate mother and feeling like it is all our fault.

[14.33] The follow-on and full-circle effect of not supporting mothers: if society doesn’t look after the mother, the mother struggles more to look after her children. Research has shown this can lead to mental health issues in the children, which in turn will burden society.

[16.00] How Nikki created her Seasons of Matrescence model and program.

[19.55] The importance of understanding yourself, and how your life experiences have shaped you to this point, when you enter matrescence. How your current situation affects your transformation.

[22.00] Matrescence is different for every mother, and even every time the same mother has a new baby.

[23.20] The Seasons of Matrescence model – the Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer transformations of motherhood. We cycle through. Matrescence lasts a lifetime.

[36.40] Why pregnant women need to know about matrescence before they have their baby.

[40.00] How the transformation of matrescence empowers women to challenge the status quo and find their voice.

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MENTIONS AND MORE INFORMATION

Find out more about Nikki McCahon and her Seasons of Matrescence program

Explore Dr Jen’s new masterclass How To Be A Happier Motheruse your unique neurobiology and your motherhood transformation as the catalyst to thrive. Released late January 2023.

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About my guest NIKKI MCCAHON

Nikki McCahon is a matrescence educator, women’s life cycle guide, podcast host and mother to her six-year-old son.

As a matrescence educator and guide, Nikki helps mothers navigate the often-unexpected changes and challenges of becoming and being a mother, whilst simultaneously supporting mothers to explore the opportunities that mothering can provide for their own personal growth and expansion.

Her model – the seasons of matrescence – applies a seasonal and cyclical lens to matrescence, providing a map for mothers to use when navigating times of change and transition and support to explore their matrescence journey within the context of their broader life cycle and rites of passage.

Nikki is passionate about creating community and normalising the physical, psychological, and emotional changes women go through during matrescence. In 2017 Nikki founded Australia’s largest meet-up community for mums, which grew to 40,000 members in three years, before it was acquired by a national not for profit, the centre of perinatal excellence (COPE) in 2020.

Her work now focuses on providing matrescence guidance and education to mothers through her podcast and group programs, and supporting those who work with mothers to integrate matrescence education, guidance and support into their practice through her Seasons of Matrescence teacher training program.

You can find out more about Nikki and her amazing work HERE.

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Episode #35: Do This To Feel Happier In Motherhood (“Hack” 1)

Episode #35: Do This To Feel Happier In Motherhood (“Hack” 1)

Motherhood fears and how to overcome them – with Belinda Hughes

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What is the best motherhood brain hack to be a happier mother?
Today on MAMA, UNLEASHED! I explain why I don’t like the term “hack”, especially in motherhood, and why we should instead be focussing on tools, strategies, exercises and protocols, to get real and long-lasting results.

In this episode, I talk about the similarities, differences and connections of the brain and the mind, and the role each play in your feelings of happiness in motherhood. I give you my first of many non-hack motherhood brain hacks (you’ll see why I named it that) and steps for how to use it immediately and start feeling happier.

In this episode you will learn: 
[Timestamps]

[1.50] Why it is important to decide what happy means for you.

[4.30] What is matrescence?

[5.11] Two reasons I don’t like the term “hack, especially in motherhood.

[6.36] Why you can’t hack your way out of doing the work to feel happy – physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual work.

[7.50] Neuroplasticity and how our thoughts help shape our brain and mind.

[8.13] What are the brain and the mind are and how do they work?

[13.28] Steps and tool you can use to influence your happiness.

Listen to the full episode FREE 👇
MENTIONS AND MORE INFORMATION

WORKSHOP POSTPONED: How To Be A Happier Mother – use your unique neurobiology as your catalyst to thrive in motherhood
An introduction to the motherhood brain and mind, yourself in matrescence, neuroplasticity (the way your brain changes especially when you become a mother) and how you can train your brain and mind to feel happier in motherhood.

MAMA, UNLEASHED! episodes about matrescence

 

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Episode #34: The Myth of Baby Brain: How Motherhood Actually Upgrades Your Brain w/ Dr Jodi Pawluski

Episode #34: The Myth of Baby Brain: How Motherhood Actually Upgrades Your Brain w/ Dr Jodi Pawluski

Motherhood fears and how to overcome them – with Belinda Hughes

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Amazing things happen in a woman’s brain when she becomes a mother, and we don’t even know half of it yet. Thankfully maternal neuroscience researchers like Dr Jodi Pawluski are making great progress in this very understudied area of science.

In this episode of MAMA, UNLEASHED! I have the absolute pleasure of delving into the brain of Dr Jodi Pawluski, a leading maternal neuroscientist, psychotherapist, and mother of two. We talk about so much, from why we must remove the negative connotations associated with baby brain, to the neuroscience of maternal mental health and how our expectations in motherhood and our understanding around maternal mental illness can influence our experience of matrescence.

In this episode you will learn: 

[Timestamps]

[4.35] About all things baby brain, pregnancy brain, lactation brain.

[5.55] Memory differences in the brain of (pregnant) mothers vs non-mothers.

[7.13] Studies show mothers’ memory improves when it comes to looking after their baby.

[9.10] We have to change the narrative and mindset that there is a deficit in the brain in motherhood.

[10.50] The mental load of motherhood – the “mother load” – evolution will have us pick the most important things

[12.24] Your brain is doing amazing things when you become a mother (or a dad).

[12.50] Neuroplasticity and the brain changes that happen in matrescence – when a woman becomes a mother.

[13.36] What areas of a mother’s brain changes in size, structure and activity, and what outcome this results in.

[18.00] Brain changes occur in all caregivers, including fathers, adoptive parents, and grandparents, but the effects of pregnancy on the brain are still the greatest in the biological mother.

[20.00] The glorification of motherhood and the expectations that come with that.

[20.23] Matrescence has many similarities to adolescence – we must also look at patrescence.

[28.15] What is going on in the brain of parents as their children get older and change?

[30.10] How postpartum depression and postnatal anxiety affect a mother’s brain.

[34.10] Postpartum depression affects the brain differently to non-postpartum depression.

[35.35] There is treatment for postpartum depression that is not medication. This can also lead to neuroplasticity and change in feelings and emotions.

[37.00] How much postpartum depression is undiagnosed because women are afraid to speak up due to stigma?

[38.20] There are 6 different types of perinatal depression – we also need to talk about postpartum rage.

[41.00] Education around becoming a mother (not just the birth!) is a must! – So much can happen during birth and early motherhood and it might not go to plan.

[44.28] The importance of knowing who you can talk to (and where to find them) after giving birth and in early motherhood.

[45.45] Exploring yourself and your roots before having a baby so you can be aware of what might come up for you emotionally in motherhood.

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MENTIONS AND MORE INFORMATION

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About my guest DR JODI PAWLUSKI

Dr Jodi Pawluski PhD HDR is a Behavioural Neuroscientist, Therapist and Author based in Rennes, France. Her research is affiliated with the IRSET (UMR_S 1085) a research unit of the INSERM institute, the University of Rennes 1, and the EHESP School of Public Health.

For over a decade Jodi has studied the neuroscience of motherhood and the effects of perinatal mental illness and antidepressant medications on the mother and developing offspring. She regularly speaks nationally and internationally about her research findings as well as the fascinating effects of parenting on the brain.

She is a Postpartum Support International Coordinator for France and a member of the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative. She is active in publishing, counselling, mentoring and advocating for improvements to perinatal mental health care.

In 2020 she started a podcast called Mommy Brain Revisited which focuses on bringing current research on the parental brain to the general public. She also regularly blogs about the neuroscience of parenting and perinatal mental health at Inspire the Mind and is the author of Mommy Brain (Larousse).

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