Paving a Path for Women: Christian Northrup, M.D.

“We get to a point where we must put up or shut up,” says Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and a national ground-breaking leader in the field of women’s health. “If we believe in empowerment and we believe in the law of abundance, the law of prosperity, if we believe thoughts create things, so choose the good ones, we have to be willing to take a risk to put ourselves on the lives for our dreams.”

“It takes courage to be healthy. It takes courage to be happy. It’s much, much easier to get caught up in the chain of pain or to believe that everyone is equally at risk…”

Following the release of an updated version of Northrup’s landmark book, she spoke with about how women can find their passion, their voice and their purpose. Dr. Christiane Northrup is the New York Times best-selling author of The Wisdom of Menopause and Mother-Daughter Wisdom. She has hosted seven public television specials, is a board-certified OB/GYN and past president of the American Holistic Medical Association, with more than 25 years of clinical and medical teaching experience.

Dr. Northrup was a pioneer in the partnership between conventional and complementary medicine. Her work has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show and Good Morning America. She lives in Maine and is the mother of two adult daughters.

Just before Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom was originally released in 1994, Northrup was tested. “This book is a prayer for women’s bodies — we have to embrace the wisdom of our bodies. I’ve had to walk through fire…but it’s all based on my unshakeable belief that we have the ability to create the life of our dreams and that our bodies will lead us in the direction we need to go. Illness is just a reset button and you have to pay attention.”

Northrup views mid-life as “adolescence in reverse. I ask women to think about what they knew and what they loved between the ages of 9 and 11. This is when a girl’s voice is very strong. They tend to be mouthy, enthusiastic, outrageous. And then, when you get your period in this culture, you shut down your own voice and your own knowing. It’s as though a hormonal veil drops and you become biologically programmed to fit in.”

Coming from a family of doctors, Northrup’s career has followed her emotions. Relatives were doctors and dentists, making “family Thanksgivings like an AMA meeting! I had a lot of medical people in my family and my dad believed in organic gardening and the work of Weston Price,” she says. “We were one of those families that were considered health nuts.”

Early on, their beliefs were tested. Northrup had a sister die at the age of 6 months, after refusing to eat. “No one knew the cause,” she recalls. So when her brother was born and refused to eat, her parents whisked him out of the hospital against medical advice and began tube-feeding him at home. They tried different things until they discovered what was going on and nurtured him back to full health.

“You go to medical school, with this kind of family history, where doctors are not the enemy, they’re your family. But you also understand the extreme limitations of the current western model. That was my background,” she says.

Northrup went into OB/GYN after being moved when watching a delivery. Still, she followed alternative paths wherever possible — exploring the impact of macriobiotics when a cousin treated her fibroids that way and learning with Michiko Kushi, the doctor who brought the macrobiotic diet to the U.S. from Japan.  Pregnant with her first daughter, Northrup tried the macriobiotic vegan diet herself and delved into studying the impact of alternative approaches on human health.

“The most striking thing that doctors of that era did not understand was that people came to macrobiotics…after they had completely exhausted everything western medicine had to offer,” Northrup says. “Some of them reversed pancreatic cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer. Not a lot, but some. And in the world of medicine, when you got that far away from the medical model, you were given up as hopeless. You were told, ‘Go home and make out your will.’ I quickly understood that there were other paths than drugs and surgery.”

After the birth of her first daughter, Northrup began integrating nutrition and diet into her medical practice. In 1983, the first rumblings about PMS, pre-menstrual syndrome, as verifiable, hit the airwaves, thanks to an article in Family Circle. Doctors thought women were crazy, that PMS was “all in their heads,” Northrup said, but women started paying attention. Northrup started researching PMS and saw the hormonal imbalances at that point in a cycle — and she concluded that “those hormonal imbalances pointed to imbalances in the woman’s life — and if the emotional issues were not addressed, nobody could continue the dietary change, the lifestyle change necessary to heal the symptoms. The baseline was thoughts and beliefs.”

“Premenstrually, what comes up and hits you between the eyes is everything that is not working in your life,” she says. “Our culture believes that women are like they are, perimenopausally and premenstrually, because we are the victims of raging hormones, that women are unreliable creatures because of our hormonal cycles.”

“I discovered through years of clinical work that exactly the opposite is true — our hormonal cycles actually were designed to be in the service of the dictates of our souls. And therefore they are part of our inner guide system,” she says.

After the birth of her second child, Northrup felt in over her head. She realized she couldn’t work 80-hour weeks and nurse a newborn while raising a toddler. Wanting to spend more time with her family, she asked her mostly male practice for flexibility — come in at 10 a.m. one day a week — but they wouldn’t agree to it. So she started her own practice, Women to Women, with another female OB/GYN. They wanted to create something different. Built on the idea that women are most comfortable birthing at home, they bought an old Victorian house that had seen 12 children grow up and in 1985, built a practice there. It is still going strong.

Today, Northrup sees women standing up for each other. Her daughters, in their late 20s, are dating men who believe in, and embody, the practice of equal partnership in, and out, of the home.

At 49, Northrup is divorced and loving every minute of her life. She tells women at mid-life to ask themselves the following questions:

1. If anything were possible, what would I be doing? Who would I be with? Where would I be going? You can do this with a partner. Just free-associate. You don’t even think about it. Just start talking or writing.

2. OK, it’s 5 years from now, you have gotten everything you just said you wanted — now where are you?

“When midlife women don’t have a specific mission, then their mission is to go with what brings them pleasure and joy,” Northrup says.

“Last year I decided to learn Argentine Tango — I’d always wanted to do it. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. It pushed every button — all the 8th grade wallflower crap, there aren’t enough men, etc. — Now, I have an entire tango community and I dance with all these men and I’ll probably go to Buenos Aires, but all that follows the courage to follow something you want to do.”

At midlife, “I know I don’t have forever, I know someday will never come unless I make this happen. What is it you want to do? A friend of mine rides dressage. She has a gorgeous stallion. A surgeon I know decided to become a beekeeper. Here’s how to tell if it’s the right one — it feels like a self-indulgence, like something your mother might say, ‘Uh oh — honey how can you possibly allow yourself to do that?’ If it’s so fun because you’re so present in the moment. Then it’s right.”

“When you can raise the energy, you are part of the solution. When you follow your joy and bliss, you make a pathway in the universe that others can follow. It’s like the lighted aisle in the airplane. And the more women who are following their pleasure, the easier it is for the next woman to do it.”

This post was written by Lynne Golodner

© 2011 Copyright   Allison Stuart Kaplan LLC

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