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Your Brain On Motherhood, A Stripper's Brain In Heat, And Other Musings

I’ve been kind of obsessed with the way the female brain works for some time now.

This week babble published my piece, Your Brain On Pregnancy. I have read The Mommy Brain, The Female Brain, Origins and endless articles on how hormonal shifts throughout our lives shape our experiences. I have google alerts for “estrogen” and “oxytocin.”

Along the way, I’ve learned some really cool things.

A sampling:

  • Strippers make the most money when they are ovulating, and the least when they are menstruating.
  • A combination of things, including brain chemistry, cause women in labor to be extremely aware of what is going on around them. If a woman is not on pain medication she may look out of it– rolling her eyes, moaning, etc– but she can hear a pin drop in the room.
  • At around the age 50, oxytocin– the bonding, nurturing hormone– goes way down in women. This can pave the way for a woman’s renewed interest in her career or passions outside of mothering. I thought this fact had interesting implications for those of us who become mothers very late in our child-bearing years.
  • The feedback loop of oxytocin is partly responsible for why we do all the horrible grunt work of parenting. This hormone is released during breatsfeeding, labor and after spending lots of time with an infant. (Pheromones released from the baby’s fontanel actually trigger oxytocin release in the care-givers brain.) It makes us feel content, connected, bonded and “in love.” All of which makes it a lot easier to get up four times in the night for a crying baby.
  • The more time a dad spends with his newborn, the more oxytocin is released and testosterone drops. While mom usually gets her dose of bonding chemicals earlier on, dad takes a bit of time to get to that gooey, bubby, lovey place.

Now, of course, these chemicals don’t explain everything. Nor do the above statements ring true for every parent. You can breastfeed your guts out and still feel disconnected to your life or strange in your new role as mother. The way you experience the world is always influenced by a combination of nature and nurture. Also nurture affects nature and the other way around.

I hope that as we learn more and more about the “female brain” we can draw more attention to some of the extraordinary things we’re capable of doing and away from the idea that a woman’s biology is a prison. When you hear “female hormones,” what comes to mind?

All of this is to say, please check out my Babble piece: Your Brain On Motherhood. It went up yesterday. I hope you find it inspiring. Mothers are pretty bad-ass, when you really sit down and look at their brains .

photo: cathepsut/Flickr

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