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tv   A Mothers Brain  BBC News  October 17, 2021 10:30am-11:01am BST

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this is bbc news. the headlines: the home secretary, priti patel, says she is looking at a "whole spectrum" of measures to better protect mps following the death of sir david amess. i think it's fair to say we all have to be incredibly self—aware, conscientious about how we conduct our business and put safety front and centre of this. the man arrested by police following the killing of the uk mp sir david has been named as ali harbi ali and is being held under the terrorism act. officers have until friday to question him. a candlelit vigil was held last night in tribute to the southend mp, who was stabbed multiple times during a constituency surgery on friday. one of the closest associates of the venezuelan president, nicolas maduro, has arrived in the united states to face money laundering charges. a princely prize — the duke of cambridge prepares to reveal the winners of a new environmental award.
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some of the busiest rail routes between london and the south—east of england are being taken over by the government today. a trial using pigs to scare away birds from one of europe's busiest airports is showing early signs of success. now on bbc news, melissa hogenboom explores the hidden forces at play that shape a mother's identity. a few years ago i became a mother for the first time, an immersive new reality. i'm a science journalist at the bbc and i have spent over a year researching the science behind how motherhood changes us and why this change can feel so stark and overwhelming. i was intrigued when i came across these intimate diaries about the experiences of new motherhood written by a dutch doctor in the 1980s. her words struck a chord, even three decades later. i had a strong drive to do something
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and to be able to fulfil that. almost everything changes - during this time and i think women aren't fully prepared for that. yeah, maybe the maternal brain is a bit misunderstood. there is an orchestra of the brain activation. the way society looks upon you changes hugely. guilt doesn't necessarily to be intrinsically intertwined - with the experience of motherhood. i now live in the uk but i was born in the netherlands, so i travelled back to my home country of my two children in tow to meet the author of those diaries. you wrote a lot of diaries during your early time as a mother. can you tell me why you were writing about motherhood?
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i think as a way to express myself because life was changing rapidly and i realised, wow, this is really life changing. i had been longing so much to become pregnant, but it was impossible, i had to finish my studies, do my work at the hospital, so it wasn't possible. and i had never really dealt with children, it was a way to reflect and see how it could reflect on this new part of myself. it was just totally different. motherhood is emotional and can be difficult. for years, studying it has been somewhat ignored. these incredible academics are part of a growing body of research that is trying to correct this to understand why motherhood can be such a momentous, joy struggle. studying a maternal brain is immensely fascinating. if the role of parenting is really important for children's development, it is very important for us to understand how we become parents. we need to get that balance a bit more right between not wantingl to scare women but also giving the information that they need|
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in order to be fully prepared for what is happening. - and i think realising that and seeing how things are different within different cultures is just fascinating. i think we need to radically reimagine the way that we understand what it means to be a mother and a father in our society today. we can do different and better by mothers. am i already not - doing enough for you? i'm pregnant, i'm still working. how can i do it when you are here? can i do training? difficult for me to be - a doctor and to be a mum, how to combine that. i became a mother 31 years later, 30 years after you became a mother, and i had those same feelings. why do you think we had such similar experiences? the reality is that motherhood is common at the same time that it is also a source of inequality in day—to—day life. though motherhood looks different wherever you look, we begin with changes that are common to many mothers, as researchers at utrecht
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university explain. there is obviously the physiological change, your hormones and everything make a women change when they turn into being a mother. these physiological changes during pregnancy are probably the best studied part of motherhood. they are driven by hormones, tiny messengers that move around your body to start molecular cascade of events that generally result in genes being switched on or off in specific cell types, causing changes in the proteins that these cells are producing, hence changes in cell function and an overall physiological change. here we see how some key hormones change during pregnancy and their effects. and as amazing as these little molecules are at transforming a woman into a mother, many of these changes come at a cost. i spoke with psychologist catherine preston from the university of york and asked her to explain why. there's quite a lot of different changes going on and this can have quite a large effect on how people feel about themselves.
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there are three key things. there is the appearance of feeling dissatisfied with the way they appear to other people in the kind of clothes they have to wear, their change in wardrobe, or their developing bump being too small or too big. but there are also concerns about excess weight gain, and also the physical burdens of pregnancy. being frustrated that you can do the same type things that you could do before you are pregnant. some of our research has shown, negative feelings about these kind of body changes during pregnancy can impact on the bond that is developing with the unborn baby. there are many things driving these kind of negative feelings. unfortunately during pregnancy you still don't get a let up from the sort of pressure of how you should appear. that is, magazines, the media, and the construction of the ideal woman and mother. your physical state has such an obvious visual symbol, this baby bump. people kind of feel that they own it somehow. a lot of the time people wouldn't comment on whether your body was large or small, but they feel free to do that when you are
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pregnant, and also they sometimes feel free to touch the bump. it feels like everybody seems to own your body. for me, it felt both incredibly empowering and extremely fragile to be consumed by another human in such an increasingly visible way. gradually we become mum before a woman in a way that can feel uncomfortable with how people perceive as override perceive us override who we feel we are — pregnant first, woman second. we focus quite a bit on these negative aspects because we want to know how to help people and how to put interventions in. but there is also a very positive experience during birth. a lot of women reported feeling in awe of their bodies, feeling really proud that they were able to create this baby, and women who then go on to choose to breast—feed feeling in awe of the fact that their body is able to find this food for their child to help them grow. so there are all these really nice positive aspects and we should help them to focus on those, the wonder of their body being able to do this. and i don't feel restful in myself,
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i have to fight to find inner peace. i was complaining a bit to myself. i also used the diary to complain or to put my complex feelings down sometimes, and it was not always easy. i so it is not too surprising thatl drastic changes in the hormonal levels influence women's brain. it is definitely possible that the brain changes that we are looking at could constitute a shift in the attention of the mother. priming the woman's brain for motherhood. we found that during the first few months postpartum period there is greatest increase in the mother's brain size, and that seems directly contradicting to this common perception of the mommy brain. a lot of women feel that they don't do so well in this period when it comes to mental function. they say they don't remember so well. it could be that it is a period when the brain is sort of merging
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into focusing on something else. there are studies showing that these changes are linked to maternal behaviour, such as attachment to the baby. structural growth has been reported in a number of brain regions. these help mothers feel highly motivated to respond to babies calling, and feel lovely when they smile. these help regulate our own distress in response to babies crying. these help decide what is the most appropriate response to make. these help to take the perspective of the baby. and finally all the senses get a boost to help a mother interact with her baby. and if we think about it in an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that any change that would promote or protection would promote care or protection of the child would be beneficial, not only for the offspring, but also for the reproductive success of the mother. some changes may reverse
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after birth, but others may persist during the postpartum period and even years beyond. what we would like to know more about is whether these changes that we see later in life are driven by the hormonal fluctuations and immune processes that occur during pregnancy in women, or whether we are actually looking at brain plasticity as a result of parenting experience. brain plasticity, or neuro plasticity, is the process through which our brain reorganises and grows its neural network. it was once thought that only children did this, but we now know that many areas of the brain remain plastic, even throughout. i asked a neuroscientist from the university of denver to elaborate. those kind of changes we call experience dependant plasticity, brain changes that are depend on experience. so the more experience a mother has, we see a strong connections between neurons in brain areas that
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are important for parenting. that is true for fathers as well that we see. so the one study i could mention here is that in israel, people recruited same—sex fathers, couples who recently had babies, it is very interesting that not only the fathers show greater brain response to their own baby, but it is the primary caregiver show response to their own baby, but it is the primary caregiver father show even more greater brain sensitivity to his child compared to the partner. this means that women may get a head start but partners who do not birth a child receive a brain boost too. my children are regularly looked after by my husband, for instance, which benefits everyone in the process. women are not therefore biologically destined to be the primary carers. pregnancy definitely primes the body
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but is clear that is the time and the intensity of the emotional bonds that relates to how the brain changes. this neuroscientist and her team found even more lasting effects of motherhood on the brain, with all sorts of interesting implications. what we found was that women who had given birth to several children showed slightly younger looking brains compared to what was expected for their chronological age. what that means is that some of the brain changes that we commonly see with ageing, such as grey matter atrophy and white—matter decline, women who had given to several children show less of these changes. this may indicate that having had children earlier in life could potentially have a protective effect on the brain as we age. but before we get carried away, there is a slight disclaimer. it is maybe one thing i can add in solidarity with all the women who do not have children,
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such as myself, these effects that we see in brain ageing in women in later life, they are quite moderate, what that means is that having had children earlier in life is only a part of many factors that may influence how we age. ageing is indeed a complex process and stress has long been linked to it, and not all changes in the mother's brain may help reduce it. you feel stressed because you snap, you don't feel a good person. i have read when they scream, it literally releases cortisol in your brain, so you are actually having a sort of fight or flight response. you can imagine the intensity of being highly sensitive to baby's cues for 2h hours, that can be quite overwhelming. in these periods of brain plasticity, such as pregnancy, there is also a potential vulnerability to environmental stress, such as lack of sleep
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or decreased social interactions. we really need to the mechanisms behind this, and which factors that we really need to understand the mechanisms behind this, and which factors that_ may put some women at risk for mental health problems, such as maternal depression. |you're not an individual anymore, j you're a mum, which by definition gives you different roles in a society. _ now you are there to take care of your baby, but also - of the rest of the world, _ because that's what a mother does. there is quite a lot of impact on this very physical process of pregnancy and birth and how they feel about themselves, their own identity and sense of self. do you think that is also because of the way society views mothers, motherhood is a very separate sphere to the workplace? for me, anyway, that is why i felt such a strong clash. there is a saying, at work pretend you're not a mother and at home pretend you don't work. yes, that's right.
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as a doctor, you can't have a child running around, you really have to concentrate. it is also lovely to be able to have this concentration and to feel a different part of yourself. that wasn't... it wasn't compatible? not yet. i think later in life, i worked and it became more compatible. in different stages of life, yes, it has been a challenge. i think if you are faced with the question of how to do this, how to combine this thing... i had studied medicine and hadn't specialised yet. i had to do further training to be a doctor. i felt a bit guilty having those two aspects of life. how would they come together? i wasn't sure about that. sociologist caitlyn collins interviewed dozens of mothers to understand more about how this clash plays out in the workforce.
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i think women unfortunately feel like they are failing all the time, and it is that sense of abundant and perpetual failure that i think leads to abundant stress, exhaustion, burn—out amongst american mothers today as well as those in other countries. you have to be patient all day and after a while it builds up and it creates a fight or flight response. you can feel the stress building up. yes. and then when they're asleep, it's forgotten again. yes, that's right. there's beautiful moments when you look at you like they are totally in love with you, and of course they are when they are young, and to feel that... i think the united states has the most family hostile public policy of any country in the western industrialised world. among dutch mums, stress might be less because we have a long maternity leave, 16 weeks, it's long compared to the us.
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we have no paid paternal leave. that means alot of folks, men and women, work right up until they have a baby. i can't tell you how many women i've interviwed who have told me they were responding to e—mails on their phones while they were in labour, between contractions in the hospital. that is not the norm in other countries. we have four weeks before childbirth, you have to take them. not every mother might need those four weeks. i worked until childbirth for each of my children, but not at the office, at home. that helps definitely in calming down or aking your physiology down or making your physiology a little more relaxed. also in that first week you have help in your house, there is the maternity nurse, it helps. the united states is a laggard in this regard. we have no universal childcare,
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no universal social insurance entitlement, no federal minimum standard for vacation and sick days. this means in the us most parents have to adopt private solutions to reconcile their caregiving with their paid employment. when we leave it up to individual parents to reconcile these competing demands, what we get is disparities reproduced between typically wealthier, more highly educated workers, who can secure daycare facilities that are open the hours that they work to help care for their kids. it is lower income, vulnerable hourly wage workers who most need access to work—family policies, and at the same time are least likely to have access to them. there are lots of things different in our culture compared to the us in terms of mothers' stress. going back to work is after 16 weeks. for most of our mothers that is just for two or three days a week. it is not all positive, that also has downsides. our child system is good, but it could be better. but the positive side is that our culture might be a little more family focused and a little less work
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focused than the us. so there are these competing cultural expectations, this ideal worker model which suggests all your time and energy should be focused on yourjob, and then you have got these intensive mothering expectations that say all of your time, energy, attention and money should be invested in your children's well—being. being caught between these cultural ideals really leaves women feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, burned out, and to be honest tremendously guilty. i have interviewed working mothers in the us, as well as sweden, germany and italy, and i do have that here in the us working mothers really stood apart in the amount of guilt that they expressed to me in feeling these competing cultural norms and feeling caught in the middle of them, they felt this double bind they were failing on the job and their children. to me, this gets to the heart of why it matters that we study motherhood. i can't tell you how many times
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i sat down with mothers, whether at their dining room table, their living room, or in a cafe near their work, or maybe even in their office in the middle of a workday, and mums broke down in tears, telling me they felt they were failing their children. there is not a focus on over work. there is in some jobs obviously and some areas, but i think in general we don't have that culture. i think if people have the choice, unfortunately lots of people don't, but if they do, they will choose a job where theey are home at six and work a little less. i think you see many more parents of these years working four days a week than ten years ago. i think it is fine going home at four or five, it is ok as long as you put in your hours, which is 40 hours a week. we don't have a culture that stresses excellence, so you don't have to excel. that makes life a little bit easier.
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if you don't have to excel, whether at work or parenthood, or any sports or anything, if you can just be who you are, and that's fine, that makes life easier. she speaks dutch. what does that mean? it really means, if you are you, that's fine, you don't have to be anybody else, you don't have to be extreme, you don't have to be excellent. just being normal is ok. having grown up in the uk and peering in from the outside, there are other benefits of dutch culture that to me make parenting seem a little less stressful. there is close proximity to your own parents often. most dutch people don't have to take a flight to visit their parents, which is a huge difference with the us. it takes a village to raise a child. i think in the past it was more
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common that a mother had support from her own mother, or sisters, or neighbours. i also learned an intriguing concept that the dutch emphasise three themes — rest, regularity and cleanliness. it is these three themes that researchers say contributes to dutch kids being amongst the happiest in the world. where it stems from, it is 100 years old. it was from a a theory from a paediatrician who wrote a book about rest and regularity and happiness, he makes the link very clearly 120 years ago. rest and regularity is not only great advice, it is also an excellent example of how adaptable societies are and how quickly societal norms can be changed when they improve people's lives. many western industrialised
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countries have implemented a series of work—family policies, like paid parental leave, high quality affordable universal childcare, and a series of benefits like robust paid vacation and sick days to help parents reconcile paid work with caregiving. we need to change thatj narrative from early on, even before pregnancy, just that general sociall narrative of what birth - and pregnancy should be like. i think also being aware this experience is very differentl for different individuals. looking back, what are you grateful for in terms of the fact that you were able to have three children, be mother? it's such a lovely thing to be a mum. it's lovely, you're here with your grandchildren. yes... aw, that's sweet. if you haven't guessed, she is of course my own mother. when it comes to parenting,
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i have learned a lot from her, such as gentle nudges that emphasise the importance of rest, and of being a calm, reliable presence. but some of the expectations generally put upon mothers still seems impossible to reach, so there remains a long way to go to make the motherhood experience something that is filled with less stress and more joy. only then will we recognise just how extraordinary motherhood is and place greater value on the parents who are nurturing the next generation. southerly winds will bring mild or even warm weather over the next few days. but warm weather doesn't always mean sunny and actually we are going to see some rain at times. quite a lot of cloud out there at the moment. some outbreaks of rain
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moving east. that rain will turn increasingly light. there wis be some brighter spells in the far north of scotland and down to the south of england, parts of wales and the midlands. sunshine in the south could lift temperatures to 19 degrees. as we head through this evening, expect a lot of cloud, that cloud will produce some rain and it could turn misty in places, but with that southerly breeze it won't be a cold night. minimum temperatures between nine and 13 degrees. tomorrow we have that southerly wind, quite a brisk wind in the west where we will see some rain. some early brightness in north—east scotland and eastern england. the temperatures will above where they should be, 11; to 19 degrees. and the temperatures have a little further
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to climb. as we move into tuesday, this system will bring another pulse of heavy rain into the west. but the winds from the south will tap into this very mild or even warm air. sending that northwards across the uk. and the highest temperatures will be seen where we get a bit of sunshine. many of us will have a lot of cloud and some rain, brisk winds, particularly in the west, where the cloud breaks, north—east scotland and the south—east of england we will see sunshine and temperatures up will see sunshine and temperatures up to 21 degrees. but we don't keep values like for all that long. this cold front sweeps in on wednesday, bringing cooler air, low pressure in charge for the middle of the week, bringing showers or longer spells of rain and some of the rain on the heavy side. for the end of week, the winds go the northerlies and that will bring a cool down, although it
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may turn a bit drier for a time.
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this is bbc news with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. the home secretary, priti patel, says she is looking at a "whole spectrum" of measures to better protect mps following the death of sir david amess. i think it's fair to say we all have to be incredibly self—aware, conscientious, as to how we conduct our business and put safety front and centre of this. a candlelit vigil was held last night in tribute to the southend mp, who was stabbed multiple times during a constituency surgery on friday. i don't know where we go from here. as a nation, i don't know where we go from here, i really feel sad. a princely prize — the duke of cambridge prepares to reveal the winners of a new environmental award. some of the busiest rail routes between london and the south east
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of england are being taken over by the government today.

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