George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being thoroughly worn out before being thrown on the scrap heap, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
Dr. Christiane Northrup has indeed become a force of nature. She’s a visionary pioneer and a beloved authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. She is a board-certified OB/GYN physician who graduated from Dartmouth Medical School and did her residency at Tufts-New England Medical Center.
Dr. Northrup was also an assistant clinical professor of OB/GYN at Maine Medical Center for over 20 years, and recognizing the unity of body, mind and spirit, Dr. Northrup helps empower women to tune in to their innate inner wisdom to transform their health and their lives. She’s the author of two New York Times bestselling books, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause, which has just recently been re-released.
Dr. Northrup’s third book, Mother-Daughter Wisdom was a 2005 Quill Award nominee and voted Amazon’s number one book of the year in both Parenting and MindBodyHealth in 2005.
She’s also hosted five highly successful public television specials. Her latest, “Menopause and Beyond: New Wisdom for Women,” will air nationwide in March 2007. Her work has been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Today Show,” “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” “The View,” and “Good Morning, America.
Interviewing Dr. Northrup is Debbie Ford, also a number one New York Times bestselling author. She wrote The Dark Side of the Light Chasers among others. She’s been a guest on many national shows including “Oprah,” the Fox channel, “Good Morning, America” and many others.
Debbie is a remarkable woman who brings a completely radical and highly effective perspective to self-acceptance, and she also brings a deep intimacy and closeness to every interview and every situation. Experience more of Debbie Ford’s work by going to www.DebbieFord.com.
DEBBIE FORD: I’m so excited to be here with all of you. Dr. Northrup, I am just thrilled beyond measure to be able to do this with you, so thank you so much for being here.
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: My pleasure.
DEBBIE FORD: You are such a remarkable woman whose wisdom and advice have changed the lives of millions and millions of women worldwide. I was thinking if you change the lives of millions of women, that means you change the lives of millions of men, as well. You’re considered a leading expert on women’s health issues; can you share with our listeners how your own passions led you to the work that you do today?
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: Absolutely. It all started with passion, and it’s really all about passion. When I first saw a baby born in medical school, I was moved to tears. It’s that emotion that you can all relate to. It’s pain-filled joy, joy-filled pain where you are so happy but you feel like crying at the same time. I was literally brought to my knees.
Nothing I’d ever seen was so beautiful or so moving. I remember the nurse was yelling at the medical student because he had not clamped the umbilical cord properly, so the thing was acting like a little fire hose; there’s a lot of pressure in the umbilical cord when it’s still connected to the placenta. So it was spraying blood around the walls in the room.
I remember thinking this is a holy, sacred moment. How could you possibly be doing anything but standing in awe of what has just gone on? That’s why I went into women’s health because of that one experience. Nothing had moved me like that in medical school.
DEBBIE FORD: Wow that is some story! What led you toward menopause? I know you have a PBS series that’s going to be airing, “Menopause and Beyond: New Wisdom for Women.”
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: Here’s the fun part. Because I’m on the leading edge of the baby boom generation, and you know that’s people born between 1946 and 1964, and there are 70 or more million of us, 45 million of whom are women, all of us have kind of gone through the experiences of, first, the women’s movement in the 60s and 70s.
Then we all had our babies at the same time, and now we’re all getting hot flashes at the same time or, at least, I’m on the leading edge of it. So I’ve been inspired simply from what’s going on not only, first of all, with my patients, but in my own body and with my own family. Those two things have always been inextricably linked.
Though I was taught to objectify the female body, I noticed along the line that I actually was in one. So everything that was happening to me and everything that was happening to my patients, it was the same. Then menopause came. First of all, when I went through menopause, or when I was in my 40s, I said why would anyone write a menopause book?
I thought there were too many of them out there already. I thought that everything had been said that needed to be said, and then I went through the process and I realized, “Oh, my goodness!” This is the mother of all wakeup calls. This is a birth canal. This is probably the biggest birth canal of our lives, where we’re ushered into the second half of our lives.
Everything that’s not working or will not sustain us in the second half of life comes right up and hits us between the eyes so we can wake up and change and have our lives fueled from our soul and our unique passion. Not from what our children want us to do, not from what our husband wants us to do, not what society or our boss or our mothers want us to do, but what we really, really want to do, and that’s what the wakeup call is about.
The degree to which you heed that is the degree to which you will go through this period in touch with your deepest wisdom. When you ignore it and think this is just a bunch of raging hormones and this is the beginning of the end, that’s the degree to which you will set yourself up for chronic degenerative disease. That’s why the incidence of cancer, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, et cetera, increases at midlife.
It’s not because it is supposed to or because your body is naturally breaking down. It’s because you really have to wake up in order to keep yourself healthy for the rest of your life.
DEBBIE FORD: I would love to hear more about that. What are some of the ways in which we can wake up?
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: The first thing is you have to absolutely get rid of the notion that you’re being victimized by your body. You need to get rid of the notion that this is the beginning of the end. However, and this is really important, it will feel like the end because for most of human history, and right up until 1900, the average age of death for a woman was 40.
This is a pretty new phase of life for human beings on planet Earth. Now, that doesn’t mean that maybe 30,000 years ago people didn’t live longer, but really, at the turn of the 20th century, the 1900s, the life expectancy was only 40. Now it’s up to 83 for the average woman. So this is really just the halfway mark. I’m sure you’ve noticed this, Debbie, that women are looking younger and younger at the age of 40, at the age of 50, so they say 50 is the new 40, and that’s really true.
I think it’s because the baby boom generation has been very youth oriented, and it has been said that we were the most overindulged generation in history. In the 70s, they dubbed our generation the “Me Generation.” We don’t want to get old. Because thoughts create the physical body, being youth oriented, actually, over time makes you younger.
But you will still have that feeling inside you that something is dying, and it is true. Your old way of being has to die. For me, the menopause transition was marked by the end of a 24 year marriage, and that really did feel like a death to me. In fact, at the time, and I want to say this for all of you who can relate and perhaps are in a position where I was before, it felt so bad I actually felt that being a widow would have been a lot easier because being divorced felt like a failure.
That was simply because of the load of conditioning that I was born into. I remember a quote from Joseph Campbell at that time that really helped me, which is, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we had planned in order to have the life that is waiting for us.” It’s a leap of faith. I didn’t know that my life would get better and better.
I knew that my life had to be fueled from my inner wisdom. I knew that trying to please others, trying to live up to standards of others had to die, but I didn’t really know, because I had almost no role models, how good it could be. But I want to report from the other side here, really good!
DEBBIE FORD: Really good, right?
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: Really good, yes.
DEBBIE FORD: Isn’t that extraordinary? I had the same kind of experience, and I know that the people who are part of the Healthy Wealthy nWise community are really people who are looking to live extraordinary lives. You and I and many of us who teach have had crisis as a wakeup call, and then seeing that really it isn’t a crisis at all; it’s just a spirit trying to move us.
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: Oh, yes. I mean, really, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. My divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me, but at the time, I thought I was ruining my daughters’ lives, for instance. I want everyone out there to get that. You’ll feel that way, but then you’ve got this wonderful soul within you that’s whispering, “Keep going. It gets better,” and you trust that inner voice.
But let’s be clear. You know and I know to live an extraordinary life means that you need to let go of some of the things that you’ve identified with. In my case, it was the white picket fence, the marriage that goes on for 50 years, and looking good, like having the perfect looking family and the perfect looking husband and looking good when you went out to dinner or you went to New York together.
I had to give up looking good, and then I had to endure everyone thinking that I was a lesbian because I was close with a girlfriend for a while. It was a Seinfeld moment, not that there is anything wrong with that. I don’t know what that noise is. Anyway, you have to go through that.
DEBBIE FORD: The universe is affirming what you’re saying.
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: By the way, I once gave a talk; I was named the Girl Scout Woman of the Year for the Kennebunk Valley Girl Scouts. This was one of those moments when your spirit takes over and you just decide you’re going to say the truth. So I got up and I said, “In the early years of women to women, we were called witches and lesbians at least once a week, and the guys would stay in their trucks rather than come into the waiting room.” This is very interesting what we’re having with the phones here.
DEBBIE FORD: I have no idea what that is.
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: I’m going to just try this other phone to see if it’s better. Anyway, what I said to the Girl Scouts was that we knew that we weren’t doing anything of merit for women unless we were called a witch, a bitch, or a lesbian at least once a week. Then I said, “And it’s very good to embrace each of those terms so that it can’t stop you from moving forward to a passionate life. Therefore, I will name myself as a witch.
This is someone who believes in the religion of the earth and honors the cycles of the earth, like the solstices and equinox. And what’s a bitch? It’s somebody, a dog, who protects her young. And what’s a lesbian? It’s someone who loves women. I guess I must be a lesbian.” I got a standing ovation at the Girl Scouts, so I just want women to not be stopped by things like, “Oh, what does eating alone at a restaurant mean? That means that you’re a loser” kind of thing.
Many women have to go through that. To live an extraordinary life, you have to be willing to go through the dark night of the soul and know that there’s something more. On the other side, it really is worth it, and you get to be very comfortable in your own skin and very comfortable being alone on your own. It took me about six years, I think, to be happy being alone but not lonely, and that’s the point at which life really started to turn around.
DEBBIE FORD: Did you start writing after that, or were you already writing?
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: I wrote The Wisdom of Menopause, the first edition. I wrote it during the whole process of divorce. What happened during that process was that I began to lose weight, to look younger and to sleep better. I hadn’t realized how much energy I was spending trying to make my marriage work.
I also had had surgery for a big, big fibroid. I jokingly say I had a fibroid as big as my husband’s head, and this had nothing to do with him, let’s be very clear. I was the one who was just pouring energy into trying to make him different, you see, and that’s crazy, isn’t it?
DEBBIE FORD: That is crazy.
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: But we do that. I’m so sorry about that phone ringing; I don’t know what that’s about. But we do that and it’s crazy to do that. And we women keep thinking that if we work hard enough, if we’re good enough, if we sacrifice enough, if we give enough that people will see how tired we are, they’ll see how good we are, how sanctimonious we are. By the way, that doesn’t work. I want to tell you what does work, and it’s something I’ve been doing more recently.
When I was revising both Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause, I was updating the sex chapters, and I wanted to know what was new in sex. We all want to know what’s new with sex! I had an old copy of a book called ESO: Extended Sexual Orgasm from 1983, and I went online to see if the person who wrote that had an updated version.
I didn’t find that one, but I did find one called EMO, Extended Massive Orgasm by Steve and Vera Bodansky, so I got that. Then that book said if you liked this, you’d like this, you know, Amazon has that brilliant marketing. So the one that they recommended was Mama Gena’s Owner’s and Operator’s Guide to Men and Mama Gena’s Womanly Arts 101.
So I got those books, I read them, and I found them so helpful, really kind of articulating the new feminism, that I sent my daughters to her school in New York City, to Regena Thomashauer’s school, and her teaching is that the highest principle on which to guide your life is pleasure. This went along with a book that Maria Rodale, who you know is the heir of the Rodale Press, she and her daughter Maya wrote a book called It’s My Pleasure.
And Riane Eisler wrote a book called Sacred Pleasure where she has documented the connection between sexuality and spirituality and how many cultures have made that connection. I realized that we women have been taught to be martyrs, to put our good last, and the good of everyone else first, the burnt toast syndrome.
I began to actually do some teaching at the Mama Gena School of Womanly Arts and have become friends with Regena. I have seen how when women make pleasure and happiness a priority in their own lives, which you simply do by choosing to have pleasure, just enjoying the meal that you’re eating more, for instance, by refusing to go negative, the minute you do that, your whole life begins to change.
I watched people actually begin to recover from chronic diseases or from acute diseases within the classes, and it was very much what I had been teaching, but I had a laboratory of watching hundreds of other women doing this. That’s what really works, but to get there, you and I both know because you wrote a book about the shadow, you have to work through these painful emotions that you’ve been holding.
The thing is, you can do it a whole lot faster than you thought you could. I don’t think any of you out there need to take seven years like I did. I think you can do it much quicker, but there’s no bypass from getting over painful emotions. You have to feel it to heal it.
DEBBIE FORD: I love that because, of course, I’m a true believer of that. I agree with you; it doesn’t need to take seven years, but it is a process. And when you were talking, I started thinking about women and their shame.
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh! Now, see, here’s the deal. If you want to learn about women and shame, I would recommend you all become board-certified obstetrician/gynecologists because where do you think you’re working? Do you know the number of women back in the 70s, 80s, 90s who would say to me, “How can you do this job? It is so shameful. You’re always working ‘down there’.”
Women feel so embarrassed about their genital organs and so on, and, in fact, if you think about it, the genital organs is where the clitoris is located, and that is an organ whose number one function, only function, in the body is pleasure. There are 8,000 nerve endings in that little puppy, and their sole purpose is pleasure. So I don’t think God made any mistakes here.
One of the things that I’ve learned in my career is if you want to know where the power is as women, you go to the places that we’ve been taught to be ashamed of. One is our sexuality, one is our genitals, another is the process of labor. We’ve been taught to be afraid of labor, the process of the menstrual cycle. How many women get together and talk about the magic of their menstrual cycle?
How the veil between the worlds is thinner the day before they get their period and right when they start to bleed, and how you get your best ideas then and often your best sex drive just before you start to bleed or the first day of your period. We don’t hear that, do we? And then, of course, menopause is like the last shameful thing.
Oh, my God! This means I’m going to die, I’m getting older, no one will ever want me because I’m no longer sexual and my libido’s going to go away, all of which is hogwash; not true at all. In fact, what is her name, the woman who did the ISIS Study? Gina Ogden. Her newest book, which she’s now researching, shows that the women having the best sex of their lives are in their 60s and 70s.
DEBBIE FORD: Is that true?
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: Yes, yes. That is true. Do you know why?
DEBBIE FORD: I love that. No.
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: It’s because they’ve recovered from the shame. It amazes me, and I remember being in my 20s, going into a women’s locker room, right? You didn’t want to appear naked before other women. You’d have the towel wrapped around you. You don’t want to get in the hot tub. Now if I go someplace and you actually have to have a bathing suit on in the hot tub, it’s like, “Oh, bummer! I hate the way that feels!”
You know, I had a way better body when I was 20, but I thought I was too fat, like we all did. Then you look back at the yearbook pictures and you say, “Who was in my mind? What bitch was in my head? I looked pretty good!” Now that you don’t look as good, I mean, objectively speaking, you still can look great, you don’t care.
You know what else? Guys don’t care the way you think they care. They don’t care. Do you know what turns men on? A woman who’s turned on. That’s what turns men on. And you can turn yourself on. That’s what the midlife transition is really about. What turns me on? Isn’t that what we’re doing here? We’re having a talk about passion. What turns me on?
DEBBIE FORD: So what I heard you just say, I love it, is that really women can be their sexiest selves and have the best sex while they go through and after menopause.
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: Yes, yes. Now, listen.
DEBBIE FORD: That’s radical; you know that.
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: It is radical, and yes, it’s really radical, but you know, like I said in the beginning, I just go along with what’s happening in my own life, and then I notice that it’s happening in a lot of other lives, as well.
DEBBIE FORD: So is this the PBS series when you’re talking about “Menopause and Beyond: New Wisdom for Women” where you talk that there’s a close connection between passion and menopause? Is that part of the connection?
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: It is. The whole fourth part of the show is devoted to sex, and then there’s bonus material with material I was not able to say on PBS. But it’s on the DVD; if you support your local PBS station, you can get the DVD. And then I’ve got my bonus material on sex.
DEBBIE FORD: I love that. Everybody should get that, and if they go to your website, if they go through www.HealthyWealthynWise.com/DrNorthrup, will they be able to see the schedule of the PBS?
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: I believe they will. Or, I will tell you, it’s going to be all over the nation with the pledge special. It’s the very first week in March, so it will be showing on your local PBS station in March without a doubt. And you know how PBS is with a pledge special. If it goes well, they show it again and again so you’ll have ample opportunity. And then, if you don’t see it in March, they’ll probably replay it in June and maybe again in September. That’s how it works.
DEBBIE FORD: Can you give us a little education? I remember when I had my first hot flash; I didn’t know that I was having hot flashes. Actually, my sister told me. I thought I was dying of cancer or something because I was waking up with night sweats, and I just had no clue. Then my sister, Ariel, said to me, “I think you’re having hot flashes.” All of a sudden, a whole world opened up to me. So when do women start, how do they know, and what’s the difference? Can you give us some education?
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: Yes. Let me just start with a couple of terms. Menopause itself just refers to the final menstrual period, and the average age is 52, but it can be as late as 58 and it can be as early as 37. So that’s the final menstrual period, and you don’t know when that is until a year has gone by, you see, because you think it’s the final menstrual period and then six months later, you have another one, and it works like that.
You can still get pregnant, by the way, until a year after your last menstrual period, so that’s just my ‘station identification,’ and it’s true. The second largest group of women having abortions for unwanted pregnancies are perimenopausal women who thought that they couldn’t get pregnant, so I’m just putting that out there. However, perimenopause simply refers to the years around menopause.
Remember, this is a process, not an event. Perimenopause can last anywhere from six to 13 years, and it simply refers to the time when the ovaries are producing fewer and fewer eggs, but the brain is changing, and I think this is the most important part. It’s just like adolescence, and if any of you have a nine year-old girl or an 11 year-old girl, you know the way her brain is changing from one moment to the next.
She’s a little girl and she wants to sit in your lap, and the next minute she’s rolling her eyes at you: “You’re going to wear that?” Her brain is changing and, in fact, her temperature will swing a full degree as the LH, luteinizing hormone, begins to surge in her brain. Well, the same thing’s happening, but in reverse, during perimenopause.
So the neuropeptides, FSH, follicle-stimulating hormone, and LH, luteinizing hormone, are jumping all over the place, and they’re reaching the same level that they reached just at ovulation. Now, during your cycling years you get this surge in the brain of FSH and LH at mid-cycle, and this is associated with pheromones that make you sexually more attractive to the opposite sex.
But it’s also associated with being maximally receptive to cross-pollination, maximally receptive to fertilization from sperm, of course, but also maximally receptive to new ideas, receptive to new people and so on because your biology is simply a reflection of a larger spiritual reality. So during cycling years, FSH and LH peak at mid-cycle when you ovulate.
During perimenopause, the FSH and LH levels are swinging all over the place but eventually, after menopause, those levels stay up in the same range that they were only at ovulation in your cycling years, which means your brain has changed so that you are now maximally receptive to cross-pollination from other people, from other ideas for the rest of your life. That’s really important.
Now, during this process, yes, estrogen levels fluctuate and the hot flashes come from a change in estrogen, not necessarily a lack of estrogen. So it’s that the estrogen goes up and then it goes down, and that will trigger a hot flash, but nobody really knows what causes hot flashes. We do know that you can have hot flashes when your estrogen levels are totally normal and totally stable.
The main cause of hot flashes, once the menopausal transition is over, is emotional stress that causes your adrenal glands to put out too much cortisol and too much norepinephrine, and that results in increased insulin, increased blood sugar, and a change in the way your hormones are metabolized. That’s why meditation, like Herb Benson’s Relaxation Response, will cool hot flashes 90% of the time if you meditate twice a day for 20 minutes.
DEBBIE FORD: Isn’t that extraordinary?
CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP: Yes.
DEBBIE FORD: That is really mind blowing. What are some of the physical and emotional things women will experience during perimenopause?
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