Scientists who study the mind and brain have always been drawn to periods of intense change—to those life stages marked by rapid transformation. Infancy is one of those periods, of course. Adolescence is another. But there’s a less-discussed time of life when our brains and minds have to reconfigure: the window surrounding when we become parents.
My guests today are Dr. Winnie Orchard and Dr. Jodi Pawluski. Winnie is a cognitive neuroscientist and postdoctoral scholar at the Yale Child Study Center. Jodi is a neuroscientist, author, and podcaster affiliated with the University of Rennes in France. Both are experts in the neural and cognitive changes that surround pregnancy, motherhood, and parenthood more generally.
Here, we talk about the idea of “matrescence” as a distinctive developmental stage. We discuss the research around memory loss in early motherhood, as well as findings that certain brain areas get fine-tuned during this period. We talk about postpartum anxiety, depression, and psychosis, and what may be causing them. We consider the finding that having children—and, in fact, having more children—seems to confer a protective effect on the aging brain. Throughout we talk about which of these changes also occur in fathers and other non-birthing parents. And we consider the difficulty of scientifically studying a period of life—parenthood—that is not only rife with social and psychological changes, but also fraught with expectations and narratives.
Alright friends, I hope you enjoy this one. As you’ll hear, this research area is very much still in its infancy. There are definitely some provocative findings. But maybe more exciting are all the questions that remain.
Without further ado, here’s my chat with Dr. Winnie Orchard and Dr. Jodi Pawluski. Enjoy!